What You Need to Know About Marketing a Product vs. a Service

If you’ve been in marketing for any period of time, you already know that not every sale is the same and not everything can be marketed the same way.

One that really makes me scratch my head is when marketers try to use the same tactics for marketing a product that they do for marketing a service. As services have come online, marketers have to understand that building an enduring relationship with customers more critical than ever.

Yes, at the top of the marketing funnel, product and services customers might look very similar. I mean –we have to attract new clients to acquire them and the approach to get in front of both kinds of customers is quite traditional. But, beyond that, if you’re using your product marketing bag o’ tricks to try to influence, maintain or grow services customers, you’re missing the boat.

Think about it – if you’re marketing a widget, you can make strides by talking about physical features, benefits and performance because it’s a physical thing that the buyer can see and touch. Marketing a service is really about intangibles; your client can’t “kick the tires” as easily which makes it harder for a marketer to tell a clear story.

I’ve identified some important differences between marketing a service and marketing a product that I’d like to share with you. In fact, I recently wrote an article for Sales & Marketing Management Magazine that goes into this topic in depth. Read Marketing a Product vs. Marketing a Service – What You Need to Know. Here is the Cliff’s Notes:

  • Knowledge – Product prospects and customers generally already know a lot about a supplier based on the other products they have in the marketplace. Services businesses, on the other hand, don’t have this luxury so have to work extra hard up front to educate your buyer personas;
  • Confidence – This is an important one. Products have specs and features and performance stats that make a customer feel confident in the decision to buy. Services, on the other hand, have to be backed up by testimonials and case studies to a prospect can see how their peers respond go the service;
  • Relationships – No sale is going to happen if there’s not a good relationship built between the seller and the buyer. But, product vendors often have a built-in relationship with a buyer simply because their product is on the shelf somewhere. Marketing services requires a different kind of reliability, one created by a consistent and more personal connection. Long-term sales mean your service marketing plan needs to have long-term visibility that focuses on quality each and every step;
  • Differentiation – analysts and third parties can evaluate a product and give recommendations based on demonstrable feature sets. It’s murkier with services and most of your competitors will make the same marketing claims you do. You’ll have to drill down into the nitty-gritty to show why your service can compete;
  • Overcoming Obstacles – Both product and service marketers can also get stuck when they market a new concept, as opposed to an established one. One of the biggest issues here is targeting the wrong audience or speaking to the right audience with the wrong message.

Regardless of the type of offering you’re marketing, building trust and showing successful differentiation are key. To be truly successful, however, stopping to know the nuanced differences between marketing a product will bring about the successful programs you’re looking to achieve. Anything to add? I’d love to hear it.

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