It's been called "selling the invisible"—delivering intangible services as a core "product" offering.

Law firms, management consultants, IT services and telecom providers, architectural groups, healthcare and educational organizations, financial and insurance institutions, and a multitude of business-to-consumer operations profit from performing and delivering people-based services.

But invisibility, or intangibility, is just one factor that distinguishes services marketing from product marketing. Along with inseparability, variability, and perishability, these four characteristics affect the way clients behave during the buying process and the way organizations must interact with them.

Additionally, these characteristics influence the development of marketing strategies and the more tactical marketing mix—from the "packaging" and pricing of services bundles, to defining distribution plans and promotions options.

To ensure business success, services marketing professionals must clearly understand these characteristics, how they affect client behavior, and how their organization can respond to diminish engagement risk, improve customer perceptions, and enhance market opportunities.

Intangibility

Services are not physical and cannot be "possessed." Because they can't be seen, touched, or made tangible in some way, assessing their quality and value is difficult.

A services client will never know how good the service is until after he receives it. In some cases, it actually may be months or years before a trigger event occurs to activate the service, at which time the client hopes to experience the promised service quality (e.g., an IT crisis triggers service, or an accident initiates an insurance claim).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cynthia Coldren is managing partner of ReThink Marketing (www.rethinkmarketing.com). Reach her at cc@rethinkmarketing.com.