I have been a Windows user since Windows 3.1 was first commercially released in the early 1990s having faithful upgraded to almost all Microsoft operating systems including Windows 95, Window XP and Windows 7 (though not Vista!). With each upgrade, I was a willing spender for not only the operating system, but also the purchase of upgraded software that supposedly worked better with a new Windows version.

Unfortunately, my Windows personal computer is now using Windows 8.1. Very likely many people reading this post are now saying "Why!!"

As has been well documented around the Internet since Windows 8 (and then 8.1) was released, the latest version of Windows has been less than well received. While many users have complained about the removal of the much-ingrained Start button, there are certainly other issues. One of the biggest problems rests with Microsoft's decision to develop Windows 8 with the primary intention of targeting users of mobile devices (e.g., tablets). Unfortunately, it now appears this decision was at the expense of existing personal computer users.

My experience with Windows 8 has been like many others – frustrating. My biggest complaint is that my computer constantly freezes or just shuts down for no obvious reason. This has resulted in lots of time spent restarting the computer and, worst of all, having to reenter information that was not automatically saved. The problems have been going on for a long time and software updates have done little to solve the problems.

So finally, after yelling at my Windows computer for the 1000th time I decided a change had to be made. So I switched to an Apple Mac. Now, bear in mind, making a change like this is not easy. Obviously there is a big expense in buying a new computer, but money also needs to be spent acquiring new software when one switches from Windows to Apple.  And, of course, there is now the expense of my time in learning how to get around the Apple environment, such as learning new keyboard shortcuts and learning new software, as well as time spent converting files to being Mac acceptable.

So where did Microsoft fail me (and many others)? While I was willing to put up with some of the annoyances, eventually the supposed upgrades that came over the last six months or so never addressed the big problems. What is even worse, the online resources that discuss the problems were just too time-consuming to access, understand and implement. It made me wonder why a car company can often just plug a sensor into an automobile engine and figure out what the problem may be but a company selling the leading computer operating system cannot offer something similar.

So what does all this have to do with marketing? The lesson here is that brand loyal customers must not be overlooked. In fact, almost any customer classified as brand loyal should almost always be considered the most important customer for an organization. Now "almost any customer" does not mean every. Certainly for products that are clearly in the Product Life Cycle Decline stage and primarily being purchased by Laggards, treating these customers as your best customer does not make sense. But in most other situations, customers who are highly loyal should be at the top of the customer relationship list. Why? Because as we note in our Product Decision tutorial, one of the major benefits of brand loyal customers is their reluctance to try other products. Because of this, they tend to be a marketer's most profitable customer because these buyers know what they are getting for their money and have little incentive to consider competitor's products.

However, for a marketer who is losing their brand loyal customers, getting them to return may prove to be very difficult as these customers almost always are motivated to leave because they did not like the way they were being treated and not because they were attracted by another company's product. For many brand loyal customers, switching is not so much about how it affects their wallet as it is about how it affects their mind (i.e., switching to a company that cares). By not addressing the needs of brand loyal customers, marketers allow the door to open to other options. And if that opening continues to get larger and larger, customers will eventually have no choice but to try other products.

A common theme that runs throughout the material found on KnowThis.com is the need for marketers to engage continually in research. We especially mentioned the importance of research last June when we reported on how marketers are using a special method of research, called A/B testing, to test online marketing efforts, such as advertising, pricing and webpage design. In that post, we noted that A/B testing is a form of experimentation where a marketing decision is studied to see what works best. For instance, a test may involve determining where on a website an advertisement will generate the highest revenue. While technically A/B testing only involves testing two different options to see which is better (e.g., ad located in upper left vs. ad located in top middle), testing involving the manipulation of more options (called multivariate testing) is also widely used.

In fact, A/B-style testing has become one of the most dominant forms of online marketing research. This is because it is relatively inexpensive, can be created very easily, and provides useful information in a short amount of time. A/B-style testing has grown in part because of online research facilitators such as Optimizely, which enables websites to test different layouts to see which one is more effective. Google is also a major provider of A/B-style testing. Advertisers using Google's AdWords service can carry out tests with the Content Experiments feature while websites that generate money by placing Google ads on their site can run experiments to test different ad designs.

However, A/B-style testing is certainly not limited to the online world. It can be used in many other offline situations including testing product layout in stores and testing different types of ads on television. An interesting example of how A/B-style testing is done with television ads can be seen in this CNN Money story. The story discusses how a lingerie retailer, Adore Me, tested television ads to see how model's hair color (blonde vs. brunette) and body dimension (standard-fashion-model vs. plus-size model) affected lingerie sales. The tests revealed that an ad featuring models with blonde hair and standard-fashion-model dimensions was much less effective in generating sales compared to an ad with models with brunette hair and standard fashion-model dimensions. They also found that an ad featuring models with blonde hair and standard fashion-model dimensions was less effective than an ad featuring a model with brunette hair and plus-size dimensions.

Certainly this information will help guide Adore Me's television advertisements. However, it is also important to understand that the information obtained should not suggest that this is the way the market will always view this issue. That is why marketers cannot rest on a single set of research results and, as the founder of Adore Me acknowledges, must continually carry out research because the market is always evolving.

It has been over 5 years since we last discussed the idea of scent marketing, which can be defined as "the intentional use of olfactory elements, such as an odor or fragrance, for the purpose of enhancing customers' experience with a product." At that time, we suggested, that after a few false steps, maybe the time had finally come when more marketers would begin to deploy olfactory elements in their marketing efforts. Yet, five years later adoption of such methods remains relatively slow.

Obviously, the practice of scent marketing has almost always played a critical role in creating customer interest in industries in which smells represent the essence of the product being sold (e.g., baked goods, perfume). However, the adoption of this method across many other product areas, where the smell of the product may not be critical to the buyer, is still something that is slow to develop.

Yet, once again, there are reports this may be changing. This NPR story discusses new developments in scent marketing and provides several examples of companies selling scent-producing devices for installation in retail stores and other locations. For instance, a company called ScentAir, sells devices that can emit a single scent or be programmed to change the scent throughout the day.

The story also indicates that effective use of scent is not only about choosing the right ones but also the strength by which customers experience it with one industry expert suggesting a subtle aroma is more effective than strong scents. Finally, the story also offers a summary of what academics and other researchers have learned, and why they believe the time is now right for many others to explore scent marketing.

It is fairly safe to assume that almost all marketers believe the most important development in the field over the last 20 years is the role the Internet plays in transacting business. While the Internet's significance is hard to dispute, it is a mistake to believe that marketing is all about the Internet. In reality, there are many marketing practices, some of which have been utilized for over 100 years, that have not been displaced by electronic methods. For instance, some of the most fundamental practices that work outside the Internet are those dealing with the nurturing of distribution relationships needed to get products into customers' hands. As we discuss in our Distribution Decision tutorial, while distribution relationships can vary in terms of how binding the connection is between the partners, the creation and maintenance of these relationships is not driven by the Internet but by contractual agreements that are almost always worked out through one-on-one interpersonal contact.

However, one downside of distribution relationships is that the parties selling to the final customer may not always like what a distribution partner is requiring. And if things get really bad in the relationship between the parties, channel conflict can occur. For example, conflict can arise with disagreement on delivery methods, promotional support for selling a product, payment terms, and even product pricing.

A good example of conflict with pricing is found in this NBC News story in which a disagreement has arisen between a supplier of bottled water, Kitson Stores, and Los Angeles International Airport retailer Hudson. Apparently, despite a contractual distribution agreement, Hudson is refusing to sell the bottled water due to disagreement on the final selling pricing. Now in most cases like this, it would be logical to believe the issue is that Hudson does not want to sell the product at a price that is higher than what the supplier recommends. However, in this case, the opposite is occuring as Hudson wants to sell the bottled water at a price that is double the price Kitson charges for the same product in stores it owns in the LA area. Kitson believes this represents price gouging and is unfair to anyone purchasing the product. The conflict has resulted in Kitson filing a breach of contract lawsuit against Hudson for refusing to sell the bottled water at the suggested price. As expected, Hudson has fired back with its own lawsuit that looks to end the relationship between the two parties.

Controlling a brand's image is one of the major goals of any marketer selling named products as it offers many advantages including making a product stand out from other products, creating a more loyal customer base and, most important, building brand equity. We have noted the importance of establishing a recognizable brand name many times. For instance, last year we looked at how providers of medical marijuana face branding decisions as a way to separate their products from a rapidly growing group of competitors. And a few weeks ago we reported on how the need for building strong brands has led to a growing market for services hired to create unique brand names.

However, for all the work marketers do to control a brand's image, success often comes down to one thing – how customers perceive a brand. That is, what is the first thing that comes to customers' minds when they hear a brand's name or are exposed to it visually (e.g., see image, see actual product). One of the best ways to measure this is to ask customers simply: "What word describes Brand X?" Obviously the type of responses will be varied, such as describing a brand as innovative, ugly, strong, unreliable, etc. While there are certainly hundreds of terms people will use to describe a product, one that most marketers do not want to hear is "cheap."

As discussed in this Entrepreneur Magazine story, marketers need to steer clear from having customers think of their brand as being cheap. Instead, marketers with low price products should create a marketing strategy in which their product is thought to be "affordable." As discussed, the difference is that products perceived as cheap may also be viewed as lacking value, that is, you get what you pay for and with cheap products that is not much. Alternatively, in customers' minds, they are getting their money's worth and maybe a little more with products perceived as affordable. In other words, positioning a product so it is perceived as being affordable places a brand in a much stronger position than if it is being viewed as cheap.