Marketing: Mind the gaps

In his monthly column, Brian Gray from Glasgow-based erotic marketing agency Lascivious Marketing offers his thoughts on all things marketing. This month he’s bringing to light the various ways your service delivery might be falling short.

It’s been a funny few weeks in erotic-land. I’d previously opined on the news that Mel B was thinking about launching a range of sex toys. Then, whad-a-ya-know, fellow Brit singer Lily Allen is reportedly doing the same. Talk about opening the floodgates.

A few months earlier, I’d written about the perils of Instagram for adult brands. And sure enough, as reported in EAN, the platform recently pulled the plug on We-Vibe’s account. I’m unsure if their marketing and comms staff read my suggested response to such social media puritanism, but their #unmutepleasure campaign is somewhat similar. Behold the power of EAN columns? But don’t worry: you can rest easy knowing that I’ve no immediate plans to plonk a wig on my head, wear big earrings and grope a crystal ball in return for your pieces of silver. Buy me a pint instead; the wisdom imparted will probably be better.

Anyway, to business. And a play on words. After last month’s tennis themed column, it got me thinking about ‘service games’. And thinking of London and all my years living there and now travelling there regularly, one is constantly reminded to ‘mind the gap’ when using the underground. It was inevitable therefore I should start thinking about, wait for it…‘service gaps’.

“Service what?” Gaps. Service gaps. And there’s five of them you should be aware of when it comes to running your erotic retailing company. And it’s not some new happy-clappy, woo-woo nonsense either. Besides, you know me better than that. No, this comes from – in my opinion – the ground-breaking work of Berry, Zeithaml and Parasuraman thirty or so years ago. It stuck in my head in business school a decade later, and it’s still there to this day.

The first potential gap to exist refers to a management perception gap whereby owners and senior staff possess different – and incorrect – ideas of what the customer expects. By and large it’s not attributed to managerial incompetence per se, but can be attributed to little or poor customer insight and research, or too many organisational layers between customers and decision makers.

The second gap is one of quality specification. Put simply, this can exist when decision makers are aware of customer expectations regarding service delivery and quality, but for some reason – perhaps a lack of genuine commitment to service quality (tut tut!) – this isn’t taken into consideration when formulating the appropriate service quality specifications.

Thirdly, there can be a service delivery gap whereby the service delivery specifications are not being adhered to during the production or delivery stage. The reasons for this can be varied: perhaps customer-facing staff haven’t been sufficiently trained, or they find them difficult or unwieldy. Or, more worryingly if you’re a larger company with more employees, the service delivery specs are perceived by staff to be at odds with the prevailing corporate culture. And let’s not forget bad management at the operational level as a possible cause.

The fourth gap is the one probably most well-known to the lay person, and not just within our industry: the marketing communications gap. Most of us will have experienced at some point in time the realisation that what was promised in the sales blurb, glossy ad or brochure was at odds with the service subsequently delivered to us. Perhaps the advertising team haven’t liaised closely enough with service operations staff to establish what’s achievable, realistic and accurate. Maybe it’s completely the fault of service delivery staff. Perhaps it’s due to what I refer to as the ‘road to hell’: full of good intentions and exaggerated service promises that are subsequently not met.

Finally, a perceived service quality gap can exist. This occurs when the previously experienced or opinion of the current service doesn’t equate to that initially expected. Again, this is something which we can all relate to. Are we all reading from the same page, every single time there’s a service interaction? Hardly. Life’s a bit more complicated. We’re emotional beasts with different needs, fields of experience, attitudes and behaviour.

This isn’t to say however that a gap between service experience and the initial expectation is only bad news. While the other gaps mentioned carry negative connotations, this final potential gap has the potential to surprise and delight. How do you feel when you receive service that was better than what you had expected?

But while it would be natural for management to be initially pleased upon learning that customers’ expectations have been surpassed, this may be premature, and in fact may be costing the company. Just because a particular aspect of service delivery has been positively different from what was initially expected, this may not in itself be deemed important or pivotal to subsequent future purchase consideration. And as for what drives customer satisfaction, well, that’s another conversation all about Key Driver Analysis using customer surveys.

So when all said and done, how can you try to minimise or better still eradicate any gaps that you might have?

Firstly, as you’ll have hopefully surmised yourself by this point, there’s really no excuse for a lack of customer insight. If you don’t have a clue about your customers’ expectations then how can you hope to ascertain whether gaps exist in the first place, let alone take steps to rectify things?

In a similar vein, if you don’t have a customer focus and commitment to service quality, then you shouldn’t be surprised if consumers subsequently shy away. We’ve moved on a lot since the Henry Ford era where production and process were the priority, rather than customers.

No matter how big or small a company you’re in – it may even be just yourself at the helm doing everything – all of these gaps may exist. And it’s up to you to recognise and eradicate them. Some of them are easily identified: uncommunicative support, slovenly response times, inflexible return policies, unhelpful service staff and so on. But overlook the hidden elements that may be contributing at your peril.

I hate when retailers start putting up their Christmas decorations barely a week or so (it feels like that anyway) after summer has passed. At first glance it may therefore be a tad hypocritical seeing me talking about your own upcoming peak season and we’re barely into September. But I’m acutely aware of how little time you’ll have once that season suddenly appears. So now is the time for you to take a look under your own proverbial car bonnet. You’ll not only have time to potentially discover issues to be addressed but also have a good chance of implementing any required changes before things get crazy from late autumn onwards.

So, time for me to stop talking and for you to start investigating! And I wish you good luck as always in your endeavours.

Brian can be contacted at or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.