Marketing a Service Vs. Marketing a Product – Which is Tougher?

Small Business Tips | October 17th 2013

What’s harder to do, market a service or market a product? We recently asked our Facebook fans to share their opinions on the matter, and we were thrilled to see how many thoughtful and insightful responses came back in the comments.

Post by wix.

While many of our Facebook fans assert that creative, passionate marketing works well no matter what’s being promoted, the consensus seems to be that services are more challenging to promote. Could this be a case of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence? With so many consultants, designers and photographers using Wix to publish their websites, it’s possible that these service providers are just assuming that their product-selling peers have things easier.

Community Discussion - Marketing for Services vs. Products

How do you get an audience excited about something they can’t see or touch? How can you build buzz over yet another object to own? Each type of marketing has its own set of challenges, to be sure, and there are also ways that the two disciplines are identical.

Virtual vs. Physical

Products and services have some key differences that influence what goes into marketing them. Goods have physical specifications and attributes, so shoppers with access to this information can easily compare products to decide what’s best for them. Depending on the distribution channel for these goods, prospects can often touch them to literally get a feel for how they like each option. Want to know which brand of 100% cotton bed sheets is the most luxurious? Check the thread counts. Skeptical about the industry standards of this measurement? Go to the store and feel the fabrics. It’s pretty cut and dry.

Services differ from each other on a more conceptual level. Are you more of a AT&T or a Verizon type of person? The wireless service of each provider may have some differences, but for many customers, the main reason to pick one over the other is the feeling they get from the brand overall.

Community Discussion - Marketing for Services vs. Products

When prospects pick between service providers, it isn’t possible to “try them on” first. Prospects are essentially deciding which brand seems to be the best fit for what they’re trying to accomplish – an abstract concept and a highly subjective judgment call. This is a major challenge for service marketers, who are tasked with spreading the idea that their service brand is a trustworthy and natural match for individual customers they haven’t met yet!

Good marketing for a service therefore plays up what the service provider offers that no one else does – and why this difference ought to be what the audience cares about. Maintaining a good reputation for the service provider is therefore a crucial aspect of service marketing.

Risk Management

Perceived risk is also different for goods and services. With products, it’s easier for the customer to predict exactly he or she will get. Products can often be returned too, so customers are willing to take risks with the unknown.

But you can’t return a service, and the buy-in is likely to involve more money, so people often take service decisions far more seriously. This is where the power of word-of-mouth and “social proof” come in handy – testimonials are huge for service marketing.

Community Discussion - Marketing for Services vs. Products

When marketers notice ways to improve on products, this feedback won’t necessarily be acted upon so quickly, since even small tweaks can sometimes require big changes in the production process. But with a service – and all the more so with a one-person or small agency – agile innovations are relatively easy to experiment with.

What Gets your Niche Excited

On another level, though, marketing for physical products is essentially the same thing as marketing for services. Smart product marketers craft messages that emphasize the emotional benefits of their goods, rather than their specifications and attributes. When trying to inspire your audience to check out your offerings, you want to focus on your audience’s needs and how cozying up to your brand is the solution. Mercedes is in the business of selling cars, but what they’re really selling is luxury.

Community Discussion - Marketing for Services vs. Products

And this is true no matter what it is you’re selling! The more targeted your niche audience is, the more specific their needs are going to be. So in today’s small business economy, which is all about finding your niche, marketing success is to a major degree dependent on how well you express your understanding of what ails your audience and no one else.

Marketing for Goods by Emphasizing Service

Business commentators often say that we’re operating in a “service economy,” which means that today’s customers are looking for service value even in their physical products. Post-industrial societies that are growing economically are employing more people and doing more business thanks to growing demand for services.

So it’s less about what we’re buying and more about everything else surrounding it – the people who sell it to you, explain it to you, repair it for you and craft a holistically positive branded experience. In this sense, marketing – for products and for services – calls for relationship building and emphasizing your brand’s added value.

Community Discussion - Marketing for Services vs. Products