Is there a vast difference between marketing services versus products? Is one more difficult than the other?

After researching the subject, I have to say there’s little difference.

Products and services support one another. If you dine out and have a stellar meal (the product) but poor service, it affects your overall experience as well as your view of the restaurant. Both service and product-based organizations compete on the quality of both products and services.

  • Products versus Services
  • The Challenges of Marketing Products & Services
  • Service-as-a-Product?
  • The Take-Away

Also see: ‘Differentiate on Experience’ to Sell More Products and Services

Products vs. Services

A product is tangible. It’s defined as any item you can touch. It has packaging and usually a shelf life.

But defining services is more difficult. They may not be the same for every customer every time they are bought. Think about flights. Ticket prices constantly change along with the level of service. The service on one flight could be entirely different from another with the same airline.

If you ask two people about flying a particular airline you’ll hear a horror story from one and great things from the other.

There are 3 Ps in services that differentiate them from their product counterpart. No, none of them are part of the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), although still relevant. Marketing, Valarie Zeithamal, a pioneer in services marketing, states the 3 P’s related to services marketing mix as physical evidence, people, and process.

Physical Evidence is “the environment in which the service is delivered, where the firm and customer interact, and any tangible components that facilitate performance or communication of the service“. The second P is people. They play a large role in customer experience and how service is delivered. Lastly, process is how a service is carried out.

Challenges of Marketing Products & Services

To be fair I would argue service industries face more challenges than its product counterpart because of the “people factor.” When people are involved there is room for error, especially with consistency. Once again think flights. There are factors that can’t be controlled like delays, frustrating enough, but add to that a rude flight attendant and you now have an irritated customer who will think twice before flying that airline again.

There are however organizations who get it right. The Ritz-Carlton is known for its superior service. Yes, its product is technically luxurious lodging. But there are plenty of other hotels offering the same thing.

The Ritz-Carlton competes on its service. A guest feels that the staff genuinely cares about their experience and comfort, which makes a difference when compared to competitors.

Service-based organizations can do the same thing. With the right staff and training the “people factor” can work in an organization’s favor.

Service as a Product?

You can really think of a service as a product. In the spirit of campaign season, let’s look at politicians. They have something to sell you and it’s not themselves, but their beliefs. A politicians’ plans for office and what they stand for are strategically packaged for constituents (customers). Product based organizations want customers who believe what they believe. They want advocates, much like politicians want dedicated volunteers who care about increasing votes (purchases).

If customers are buying a service they still walk away with something, even if it’s not tangible. For example, anyone who religiously gets their car cleaned probably believes what their car wash believes. I’m talking about the people who go an extra mile to have people hand wash their car once a week. They both believe taking care of and riding in a clean car is important and part of maintaining an image. The customer feels good about riding in a clean car and takes pride in it.

In its simplest terms, a service is an intangible product that must offer superior service to hold a competitive advantage. If a service is only an intangible product then they are marketed similarly to products. A customer could take away good feelings or an overall sense of well-being.


The Take-Away

Whether there’s a difference between product or service marketing depends on the product or service itself. Products like luxury brands appeal to unique groups, posing challenges, although they’re physical. A service could appeal to a wide array of people making it relatively easy to market. Lyft and, in spite of its public relations problems, Uber, are successful service-based companies offering better customer experiences over traditional taxi rides. There’s no haggling over money or phone calls. It’s all done through apps. These ride booking companies offered a better way to get from Point A to Point B.

There are basic marketing concepts at the core of both products and services. You have what you’re selling. It could be tangible or intangible. It is priced based on normal criteria (what it takes to make a profit). There is a physical location for where products and services are sold, and finally, those products and services must be promoted.

If a product or service offered can’t effectively convince people to buy, then both offerings stand an equal chance of failing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a product or a service. If you can effectively prove why your offer is better than your competitors, differentiate the offer, use the right medium for marketing, and communicate the benefits of what you’re selling there is an opportunity for success in both product and service marketing.