Physical Evidence is the final element of the three additions to the basic marketing mix as proposed by Booms and Bitner (1981). We’ve already discussed ‘People’ and ‘Processes’ . So what do we mean by ‘Physical Evidence’? The original authors described it 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’. Retail premises, bank branches, restaurants, or hotel premises would be good examples of this.
It’s important of course that the physical environment is consistent with the other aspects of the marketing mix. For example, it’s difficult to justify a high quality restaurant status that has excellent food, a strong positive brand image and a price to match if the premises themselves are of poor quality.
To the customer or potential customer, the physical environment has to feel right and be in line with their expectations. There was a time when all bank branch staff were hidden away behind glass screens, dealing with customers through a small opening. This was inconsistent with the open and approachable stance that the banks were trying to develop. So slowly the banks started to move some staff outside into the public area so they could better interact with customers. The physical environment then became consistent with other elements of the marketing mix.
We all have expectations of an airline when we book a ticket based on our exposure to other aspects of the marketing mix e.g. price, promotional activities and the route and timings being offered. But our expectations of what we should experience, in terms of the physical environment, may well differ depending upon which airline we booked with. We may put up with an aircraft that is perhaps in need of some internal refurbishment if we have booked with a budget airline. But we perhaps wouldn’t be so accommodating if we had paid a higher price to book with the national carrier. This is another example of where the physical environment is inconsistent with other aspects of the marketing mix, leading to customer dissatisfaction.
There are other physical clues that we could include in the category of physical evidence. Do the staff that we come into contact with look smart and tidy? Are they dressed in the way that we expect? The use of uniforms or a clearly defined dress code can deal with this issue.
We use other senses apart from sight to make judgements about the physical environment we find ourselves in. The smell of freshly baked bread is what we expect in supermarkets and other businesses promoting an image of freshly baked products. If we didn’t experience that smell, then we may begin to question the credentials of the business that have been built up through our exposure to other aspects of the marketing mix. We expect to smell food in a food establishment not the smell of cleaning products.
Company vehicles are another example of physical evidence that customers take note of. When did you last see a Marks and Spencer vehicle on the motorway that was badly in need of cleaning? Probably never.
But of course we can also experience the physical environment in the digital world. It would be inconsistent to experience a slow and unresponsive website for a company who are promoting a fast and efficient response to customer enquiries. Poor use of language in digital communications from an educational institution could also be classed as inconsistent physical evidence. Inadequate packaging of a product from what we perceive to be a high quality online retailer might also be seen as an inconsistency in the physical evidence.
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. So marketers will need to pay particular attention to this in the future.