Last week we looked at the whole area of customer needs, and started by looking at products, their features and benefits.
This week we continue this look in more detail, particularly 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.
If we look at the difference between features and benefits, what we generally find is that features are what an organisation provides and benefits are what a customer sees. The organisation has to incorporate particular elements, systems, processes or technologies that will allow the customer to receive a particular beneﬁt.
How the organisation goes about solving a particular problem may be of limited interest to the customer as long as the outcome is what they are looking for. It does not matter to the hairdresser’s customer whether the hairdresser uses a database, a card index or their own memory, as long as they are conﬁdent that the hairdresser knows them and what their needs are. The feature is only of importance if it delivers the required beneﬁt.
This idea of looking at features and beneﬁt can be applied to products and services that are internal to an organisation. Not all employees are in the front line of product provision. You may provide a product which enables those in contact with external customers to carry out their jobs more efficiently, or you may be even further removed from external customers.
However, the concept of features and benefits is just as important to internal customers as to external ones. Much of what is ‘sold’ internally is likely to be intangible: a service rather than a physical product.
However, we should still think through what benefits are being offered to internal customers. In a company manufacturing textiles, the technical department may keep a library of information on all competing products. This feature provides different benefits to different departments.
For the research and development department, access to the library of information allows it to develop new textiles which are superior to those of the competition. It allows the marketing department to compare the strengths and weaknesses of its own product with those of competitors.
This will help in developing its advertising campaigns. The technical department must be aware of how the other areas are using the information so that it can be sure that its information is held in a way that is usable by all.
A closer look of products
Any product, whether a tangible good or an intangible service, should be assessed in terms of its features and benefits, in order to ensure that it is providing what a customer wants or needs. Looking at features and benefits is a useful way of keeping customers’ needs in mind.
The core product
The core product describes the fundamental reason for wanting to buy the item. In a market where there is a choice of products this is unlikely to be a unique beneﬁt offered by any one product. Instead, it will be a generic description of the core beneﬁt of a number of competitive offerings. For example, the basic beneﬁt of a savings account is that it is a safe place to keep ‘extra’ money or money that is not needed immediately.
This refers back to our discussion of features and benefits. What we are. interested in when identifying the core product is the basic beneﬁt to the customer. Is a ﬁlm distributor in the business of selling films or entertainment? People do not need films, but they may feel a need for entertainment. A ﬁlm may meet this need, whether at the cinema or on video or DVD, depending on the particular circumstances of the customer.
The actual product
The actual product describes the key features a customer expects from a product. These are often the minimum required for a product to have any chance of survival in a competitive environment. The actual features expected of a savings account might be access conditions (instant or with a notice period), rate of interest and number of branches.
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