All businesses – regardless of whether they offer mostly packaged goods or services – should develop their strategic marketing plans using the same fundamental methods. However, creating a sound action, or tactical, plan can be quite different, and daunting, for service professionals.
In addition to overcoming the cultural peculiarities of their industry (e.g. is it okay for a physician to advertise?) and lack of promotional support from larger companies, they encounter other challenges when preparing to communicate with the public. Therefore, I’ve created my own list of the six most fundamental differences between packaged goods and services marketing, and some tips for removing any roadblocks you may encounter. They are:
Tip1: Services are intangible. Make them appear more "real"
You can’t see, feel, hear or touch them, and they can’t be gift-wrapped. Therefore, service professionals must recognize that their "product" is really a "performance." And since consumers generally find tangible objects more comforting, service providers should look for ways to make their offerings more "concrete." If this is your situation you can accomplish this using the following techniques.
- Use people, animals, and animations to represent your company (e.g. GEICO’s gecko and AFLAC’s duck) and employ vivid language that produces a strong, clear vision of your service.
- Incorporate easily recognizable symbols and pictures (e.g. arrows, stop signs).
- Create meaningful metaphors (e.g. Allstate’s "You’re in Good Hands").
Tip 2: Service providers must often convince clients that state-of-the-art technology is a suitable substitute for human effort
Often service professionals must act as technology educators. That is, your clients must be willing to accept less of "the human touch" in exchange for the many benefits that state-of-the-art technology offers to the result of the service delivery. (For example, consider the physician who spends less than ten minutes examining a patient before sending them off to another facility for more testing.) If so, or if your clients are willing to perform some of the work themselves, you’ll experience far more flexibility in pricing and convenience. However, the opposite is true if your clients
Tip 3: Services delivery is more difficult for prospects and clients to evaluate
Although most consumers understand the basics about many service types, they may not know how to distinguish one company from another or the level of service they should expect. Additionally, people are often reluctant to ask service professionals for their credentials and track record – even if it’s an important consideration.
That’s why you should overcome potential roadblocks such as these by providing your prospect and customers with solid evidence, clues and facts… tangible information that will positively influence their decision. For example, you can:
- Create a brochure or fact sheet which iterates your, and your employees’, qualifications, certifications, degree and the like.
- Broadcast favorable government, public or industry ratings or news via a monthly newsletter or e-zine.
- Use such things as graphics, presentations, photographs, and videos to showcase equipment, procedures and/or employee activities.
- Publish positive word-of-mouth testimonial from other clients.
Tip 4: Services are usually more time-specific than others
Because a live performance, doctor’s appointment or a hotel reservation can’t be "stored" for resale or later use, service marketers must be sure that they communicate their available capacity at any given time. reflect Why? Because it makes no sense to stimulate demand when there’s no "supply". For example, why advertise Tuesday’s performance of "Rent" when it’s already sold out?
The reverse is also true. Low demand outside of peak periods poses a serious problem for service industries with high fixed costs, such as hotels. One strategy is to avoid lowering the list price too much and instead run promotions that offer extra value (e.g. room upgrades or free breakfasts). This can have a dramatically effect on demand, without getting trapped into the pricing game.
Tip 5: Contact personnel are far more critical for service providers
This is a big one, so if you’re a service professional, please remember that your client contact employees can literally make, or break, your business.
Consider this… personnel such as your company’s telephone service representatives, office receptionists, cashiers, and ticket counter clerks are often the first, last, and/or only people your clients interact with. Thus, they are the "tangible" embodiment of your company and must consistently deliver the promised customer experience. That is they must demonstrate your level of professionalism, friendliness, poise and dedication. If not, don’t waste your time and money on ads until the situation is corrected.
If I had to give you only one piece of advice it would be this: Take a long, hard and objective look at your contact personnel – their attitudes, dress, demeanor, body language, tone of voice, attention to detail and the like - and if they don’t measure up, make the necessary changes or accept that you’re one step closer to extinction.
Tip 6: There is less of a role for "intermediary" promotional help for service companies
Intermediaries, such as retailers, often play a big role in promoting products to their customers and educating about their features and benefits. This happens far less often however for service providers.
For instance, the Anhieser Busch often runs promotional specials on Budweiser Light. The retailer, Joe’s Beer and Wine Store, gets signage, displays, and literature directly from the corporation; the customer gets a deal and the retailer’s (hopefully) sales increase.
Nevertheless, some service professionals do benefit from intermediary help (e.g. travel agencies and airlines) and therefore, must compete with other firms and brands just as packaged goods companies do.
How can service providers overcome this obstacle? Simply put, they use the same approach, but execute it differently. For instance, service professionals must substitute promotional displays for other types of communication such as internal publications, personal selling, motivational promotions and effective public relations become vastly more critical for helping a service company maintain a successful working relationship with customers, employees and intermediaries.
In the end, service professionals should continue to use the same time-tested marketing strategies as all other companies, but communicate with prospects and customers a bit differently.