Every business needs a marketing plan—a strategy for reaching its target audience with a message that’s designed to appeal to their needs and desires, or offer solutions to their problems. But there’s a world of difference between putting together a marketing plan when you’re in the business of selling lawn mowers or when you own and operate a nail salon.
Lawn mowers are products, something a customer can inspect and compare in price and functionality with other lawn mowers. Getting your nails done is a service, which in addition to price includes how well the service is performed and the quality of the customer’s overall experience. With these distinctions in mind, a savvy small business owner needs to understand the differences between product marketing and service marketing.
When a customer purchases a product, it’s generally a tangible object (TV, microwave, golf clubs and so on). The most common marketing approach for products involves what’s known as the “4 P’s.” These include:
Product—The specifications of the product you’re selling, as well as its relationship to the customer’s needs and wants
Pricing—How a price is set for the product
Placement—The process by which the product gets distributed to customers. Sometimes called “Place” in reference to the sales channel employed (online or retail), along with further breakdowns by to region, industry, type of customer, etc.
Promotion—How a business markets its product, through sales promotions, advertising, press releases, publicity, etc.
The Customer’s Perception
Service marketing can include some of these “P’s,” though the emphasis is more on the quality of the service, the customer’s experience of that service and the environment in which the service is provided.
In many cases, a customer’s perception of a service comes from the reputation of a single service provider—an accountant, a professional photographer, a family law attorney. The best marketing approach, therefore, should stress customer testimonials and other resources that help bolster the individual’s brand. (This of course differs from how customers perceive a product, which invariably comes down to how well that product is made and how well it does what it’s supposed to do.)
Since a service is intangible, it’s vitally important to build credibility throughout the sales process. This can be achieved through active branding and thought-leadership initiatives, such as:
- Educating prospective customers on how you deliver the service
- Offering information on your service through different channels, including white papers, blog posts, newsletters, etc.
- Highlighting successful customer case studies
- Hosting webinars and sharing videos of the service
- Doing speaking engagements as an expert in your field of service
- Sharing news of service/industry awards and favorable press notices
Trying a “one-size-fits-all” marketing approach whether you’re selling a product or a service will likely fall short of either objective. Take a close look at your product or service and design a marketing approach that speaks to the consumers of each. This distinction can make all the difference in the eventual success of your marketing plan.