Last week we looked at a programme of activities for the implementation of a plan. This week we take a different tack and look at the whole area of customer needs, and start by looking at products, their features and benefits.
In the exchange process which happens whenever an organisation and a customer carry out a transaction, the customer receives not just a tangible good or service but a way to solve a particular problem or fulfil a particular need. People do not need 5mm drill bits; what they really want is 5mm holes. The drill bits are merely one way of getting 5mm holes.
In fact, we could say that people do not really want 5mm holes: they probably want the means to attach something to a wall, and the holes are necessary to achieve this. People do not want washing machines for decoration, but because they want clean clothes and a washing machine is one way of obtaining them.
Taking clothes to a launderette is another way, as is taking them to a cleaning company. Whatever products they choose, people buy them in order to achieve something, not for their own intrinsic beauty or appeal.
Of course, people buy pictures, ornaments and other decorative items for their intrinsic appeal, but even these are often fulfilling other needs or desires, such as decorating a house to provide a particular environment or atmosphere. Other items may be bought as an investment, or because the purchaser feels they say something about him- or herself to friends and relations.
The academic Kotler has deﬁned a product as follows: "A product is anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need. Products that are marketed include physical goods, services, experiences, events, persons, places, properties, organisations, information and ideas."
This concurs with our idea that the reason for a product’s existence is to satisfy a want or a need, and also stresses that the term ‘product’ covers anything that is offered by an organisation in exchange for something that a customer has. This idea of exchange is apparent in the definition by Dibb et al.: "Everything's both favourable and unfavourable that is received in an exchange. It is a complexity of tangible and intangible attributes, including functional, social and psychological utilities or benefits."
Here we have the interesting view that customers might get something they do not want in the exchange. At a simple level, this might be because, for example, they buy a particular washing machine but use only three out of the 30 programmes available. There are 27 which are unnecessary or unwanted.
At a more complex level, the customer might buy a car which is sporty and fast and looks beautiful, but comes with a very small storage space. However, they are prepared to compromise because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Dibb et al. emphasise that a product can be a combination of both tangible and intangible elements. If we accept that anything that is sold is actually solving a problem or satisfying a need, then any commodity, even a tangible one, will have some intangible benefits attached to it.
It is important to recognise that the nature of these intangible beneﬁts will depend on the perception of the customer. For example, one customer might describe an estate car as slow, heavy to handle, ugly and having high petrol consumption, whereas another would describe it as spacious, with lots of room for children and luggage, safe, comfortable and costing little to service.
This emphasises the importance of understanding who your customers are and what they want from your product, that is, what problem they are trying to solve. This definition also points out the complexity of a product and suggests that it is made up of a number of attributes.
Next week we will look in more detail at how we can identify the different attributes within a product and how to use this knowledge to develop a product which will be attractive to customers.
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