Literature Review: “Breaking Free From Product Marketing”
This article establishes an evidence based need to distinguish between products and services and more importantly between how products and services are marketed to the public.
By 1977, when G. Lynn Shostack authored this article, product oriented marketing was established as the main canon of marketing literature. Shostack says, “the marketing ‘mix’, the seminal literature, and the language of marketing all derive from the manufacture of physical goods” (pg. 73).
At this time, the idea that services were comparable to products in terms of marketing was an assumption that was regularly propounded by practitioners. However, it is difficult actually render that true because product marketing is so closely derived from the manufacturing process, as Shostack points out. The manufacturing of goods is, at its root, the creation of tangible things and the marketing of such goods has developed a strong history related to this process.
Services, on the other hand, are naturally, intangible and not manufactured. They take shape as they happen and are strongly experience and interaction based. As such its hard to imagine why services can be marketed in the same way that products are; however, in 1977 and prior the ability to market both was rooted in the ability to successfully market services.
Products are tangible. Services, though, are not tangible. Services are rendered or experienced but are not stored on shelves as products are. Theories of marketing at the time the author wrote this article did not offer practitioners a set of useful guidelines or thoughts for how to market such intangibility. In fact, the author points out that the American Marketing Associations own definition of services defined them as “intangible products” (pg. 74). Shostack laughingly writes that, “no amount of money can buy physical ownership of such intangibles as ‘experience’ (movies), ‘time’ (consultants), or ‘process’ (dry cleaning)” (pg. 74).
The description of services even regularly includes products or tangible aspects even though services themselves are intangible. The author of this paper uses the marketing of automobiles as a careful metaphor. Cars are often advertised as objects to revere and admire because of their aesthetics or interior decor, when, at the same time, the concept of transportation can be separated from those physical parts of the car and advertised as a key benefit to owning a car. In this way, the author points out that while products, as marketable entities, are very tangible, they are often positioned as abstract concepts when marketed.
This easy example identifies that many marketable entities are made of both tangibles and intangibles. The author believes a new structural definition is essential to defining marketing. The author’s definition is, in essence, a way to identify both aspects (tangible and intangible) of marketable entities. The author goes on to describe a metaphor for us to use to visualize this definition: a molecule where the sum of its elements make the whole are like these different tangible and intangible parts. Continuing with the example of automobiles, think about the way in which cars are often described by their interior, color, body styling, etc. and then shown in advertisements as style symbols, means of transportation, or a way to elevate status.
Shostack goes on to discuss airlines in the same way she discusses cars. However, she is careful to point out that the distinct between airlines and cars is that the purchase of a car results in the tangible ownership of some good, whereas the purchase of an airline ticket does not result in the same level of tangible ownership (pg. 75). In discussing this difference, the author explains that there is a continuum that can elaborate this difference. On one side marketable entities are “I-dominant” or dominantly intangible while on the other side marketable entities are “T-dominant” or dominantly tangible. Further developing her new definition for marketing, she goes on point out that “the greater the weight of intangible elements [in a marketable entities molecule], the greater will be the divergence from product marketing in priorities and approach” (pg. 75).
The molecular model, while adequate for visualization purposes, breaks down marketable entities clearly into two segments, tangible versus intangible. Making such a hard distinction between the two implies that each element should be known individually and have its own unique set of knowledge behind it in order to properly be positioned. Products, on one hand, are clearly tangible, heavy on that end of the scale, while services are incredibly heavy on the opposite side, or intangible side, of the spectrum. Intangibles cannot be broken down into their ingredients or parts; they cannot be clearly marketed based their previous packaging or as a set of exact elements. (At this point in the article, the author begins to hint at the importance that experience and interaction plays into services but in 1977 experience design was not thought of as legitement design practice yet.)
Experiences are ever evolving, abstract things that are hard to pinpoint exactly and as such are difficult to market one way or another. Interestingly enough, here the author describes generic marketing for products: highlight the tangible aspects and base the marketing around the intangibles – and then provides a way for us to understand the marketing behind services: highlight the intangible aspects and base the marketing off the tangible aspects that can be understood easily by the consumer.
While it is easy to define a product, it is not easy to define a services since services are naturally abstract, ethereal things. In product marketing, because the definition of products is so easy to discern, the practitioners definition is often the one that is used to market. However, the same cannot be said for services. Services are best when defined by those who the service affects, that is, the end user or consumer. Since ultimately service providers want their services to be used, defining services from the perspective of those who use the services will provide the most effective way of delivering services to this users.
To understand and define services, practitioner must open themselves up to working with the end user and listening to the qualitative, often personal, definitions they have for services. Combining and granulizing these into one consensus reality ensures that many definitions were included to create one overall meaning of the service. (Defining and positioning exactly with the OSU Council of Graduate Students for my own thesis, while rely heavily on consensus realities that are made up of the perceptions of the key user audiences.)
Natural human sense-making tendencies show us that in order to understand something, one must establish a hard, tangible reality. Services, being abstract ideas and all ready intangible, cannot easily fit into this. In order to understand services based on the qualitative consensus realities, practitioners must pull out the aspects defined by users that ARE tangible, ARE hard and concrete, and ARE easily made sense of. Relying on what people do understand about services, Shostack says, is often the best approach to positioning services.
Shostack begins to conclude the article after this. She goes on to say that if practitioners are to market services using he tangible aspects of them that providing evidence of those aspects is important to the overall marketing. One aspect of services that is unlike products is the extricable link services have with their location. Whereas product marketing practitioners do not usually have access to the point of sale, service market practitioners almost always do. The author uses physicians offices as an example of this point.
Similarly to location, service practitioners also can utilize people as important evidence in positioning a service. Again, unlike products, services are closely tied with the professionals who provide them. Shostack goes as far as to say that consumers often do not distinguish services from the professional that provides the service. The author uses McDonald’s employees as an example here.
This article is a really fantastic, relatively advanced, review of product versus service marketing. While Shostack presents so extremely valid points, she ultimately explains that to be successful at service marketing practitioners have to make services more like products. By this the author means practitioners have to make services more tangible. She is careful to point out that products are often made abstract in order to market them, and since services are all ready abstract, marketing them based on their abstractness will prove ineffective; however products are also marketed based on their tangible benefit to users and the author explains that to be success in marketing services practitioners have to establish those tangible aspects that can be marketed and understood.
Download a copy of this article
Breakings Free From Product Marketing
Shostack, G. Lynn. Breaking Free From Product Marketing. American Marketing Association. The Journal of Marketing. Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr. 1977), pp 73-80. Access through jstor at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1250637 on December 12, 2010.