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If you’ve spent any time at all reading reviews online, you’ve probably already noticed that the types of comments that consumers make vary substantially based on whether they are reviewing a product (a lawnmower) vs. a service (landscaper). This makes it evident that the marketing messages for service-based or product-based businesses will be different. And what about businesses with each type of component? Here are some things to consider.

Potential Customer Base

Determining who your potential customer is, is very similar in either a service-based or product-based business. You should develop a “customer avatar” or a basic description of your potential customer. The customer avatar should contain factors such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geographic area (especially important for local services)
  • Income (particularly important for high ticket items)
  • Interests relevant to your product or service
  • What problem(s) are they trying to solve

This information is important when determining how to spend your advertising budget. If your business sells a product or service to homeowners, it’s unlikely to do well if your marketing dollars have been invested in the 18- to 24-year-old age demographic, because few of those consumers are likely to have purchased houses.

In general, service-based businesses generally have a geographic component that product-based businesses do not. However, in this increasingly connected global economy, this is not always the case. Consultants can utilize tools such as Skype to consult with clients all over the world. But, a landscaper probably only wants to service lawns within a specific geographic area. Similarly, a restaurant’s reach is probably only local unless they are targeting tourists to the area.

Products can also have a geographic component as well. For example, marketing snowblowers in Florida probably isn’t your target market. The bottom line is, there is no hard/fast rule to differentiate service-based from product-based businesses. The key is in the development of your customer avatar.

Online Research

Once you have developed your customer avatar, you should seek out reviews online of competitors’ products or services. The majority of consumers search online for local services and pay close attention to reviews. Even for product purchases, consumers search sites such as Amazon for reviews from verified buyers. You should do the same thing.

If you haven’t yet created your customer avatar, you should be able to get a clearer picture by reading reviews online for the competition.

Perceived Value

A customer’s evaluation of a product’s or service’s ability to solve their problem is called “perceived value.” This is especially important in marketing as your information must create greater perceived value than your competitors. This can be done in several ways, examples of which would be providing “freebies” of some kind, discounts, product or service bundles, or money-back guarantees. Offer something that your competitors do not in order to increase perceived value.

Service-Oriented Businesses

Service-oriented businesses are all about the person (or people) delivering the service. The focus of the marketing messages here should be on things like providing customer testimonials from previous clients, education, certification, and other relevant background traits of the service providers.

Consumers expect a more intimate connection with a service provider than they do with a product. That is why your marketing has to focus on a more personal approach to solving your customer’s problems.

Include your picture, or a picture of your team when marketing services. This helps your customers connect to you personally, which builds trust.

Product-Oriented Businesses

If you are selling a product, your product needs to work. If your product does not deliver the features and functionality that you promise to consumers, you’ll be out of business in a heartbeat. Marketing messages for products should focus on the following:

  • Features of the product
  • The functionality of the product
  • Problem(s) that the product solves
  • Guarantees/warranties included with the product
  • Methods to address any customer issues with the product (e.g., return policies, etc.)

Hybrid Businesses

When speaking of a hybrid business, the obvious market segment here is software as a service (SaaS), although it could refer to other business models as well. SaaS is a unique and growing sector that should not be ignored. In this case, there is a product (the software) that is being marketed as a service instead.

In this scenario, all of the salient points above apply. The product has to work flawlessly and deliver on all of its promised features and functionality. The company also needs to include customer service/brand personality messaging in order to retain its customers after the initial sale.

The bottom line is that no matter what you are marketing, whether it is a product, service or both, the development of the correct customer avatar is crucial to your success.

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