The physical evidence

Nonto Masuku

THE last couple of weeks have been about looking for a primary school for my children to attend. I have visited a number of schools looking for one that ticks all the boxes.

One of the things on my list has been the general outlook of the school. In essence, the general state of the buildings, how well the grounds are kept and the condition of the furniture. I have also watched the general behaviour of the children themselves, their grooming and their manners. All these things are cues one can use to judge the standards of the school.

This week we will look at the seventh P in the marketing mix: Physical evidence. Booms and Bitner describe physical evidence as: “The environment in which the service is delivered and where the firm and customer interact, and any tangible components that facilitate performance or communication of the service”.

A service cannot be experienced before it is delivered. This means that choosing to use a service can be a risky business because you are buying something intangible. Customers have to depend on other cues to judge the offering. This uncertainty can be reduced by a company helping potential customers to see what they are buying.

For instance, case studies and testimonials can provide evidence that an organisation keeps its promises. Facilities such as a clean, tidy, and well-decorated reception area can also help reassure potential clients. For instance, a private school that charges premium fees has to justify this by ensuring that its standard of education is high and the school also looks the part.

I do not expect to see unkempt grounds or broken furniture at a school that charges $1 000 per term. To the customer or potential customer, the physical environment has to feel right and be in line with their expectations.

Company vehicles are another example of physical evidence that customers take note of. What type of cars are you using as your company vehicles? A Mercedes- Benz for instance communicates class and sophistication. If you are running an upmarket hotel, those may be the type of vehicles you would want to use for marketing purposes.

We can also experience the physical environment in the digital world. Digital tools and techniques now play an increasingly important role in providing physical evidence that can either support or detract from the other elements of the marketing mix.

Websites, blogs, social media and other forms of digital activity are now an important part of the physical evidence element of the extended marketing mix. For many people, that is the only type of physical evidence that they will be exposed to. Marketers will need to pay particular attention to this in the future.

 Nonto Masuku is an executive partner of an image management consultancy firm