Few products or services offered today are simple to market. From refrigerators to religions, they compete for customers in a world which is growing not only in size but in sophistication and complexity. Even if one product is clearly superior to another, this may not be evident for a variety of reasons. Marketers must know what attracts customers and keeps them, and must respond accordingly.
Whether designing new products, redesigning old ones, or improving established ones, there are certain basic objectives. One of the goals should be to benefit the consumer, as well as the producer. The product should be designed to function as efficiently as possible in relation to its price and use. Additional uses and styles should be incorporated to supplement the basic value. Take watches, for example. Think of the variety of styles and features offered consumers.
This element of variation increases the functions of the product as well as attracting particular segments of the market. Some design elements, such as more jewels or special bands, may add nothing to the basic utility of the watch. They will, however, add to sales appeal at the point of purchase and further expand the potential market.
One of the vital factors in merchandising is the ability to cope with fashion. This element is basic to all kinds of products and services, from clothing to entertainment. Sometimes the marketer's job is almost entirely to gauge fashion trends. Fashion is a manifestation of group psychology and is, at best, difficult to predict. A fashion has its beginning when a few people are influenced by it, culminates when large numbers follow it, and declines when it is abandoned by its following. A style may or may not be a fashion at any given time: it becomes a fashion only when widely accepted.
Fashion designers, naturally, try to influence public taste. Many businesses have developed methods for scrutinizing the trends of sales in their special fields. They use these results to produce products that they hope will sell.
Quality is a judgment made by both manufacturers and customers. Educated consumers consider more than comparative prices. While marketers are not directly involved in production activities, they do receive the feedback on product acceptance. For this reason, quality control is important to the entire merchandising process. Maintaining quality in a product adds to the cost of production and to final price. Questions of quality are thus carefully considered in the process of deciding what to buy and what to sell.
Marketing managers must, at some point, consider the breadth of their product line—how many different items to offer. By designing consumer goods in various models, sizes, and classes, a producer is able to reach for parts of the market that would be unavailable if the pattern or product were single or limited. In products like table salt, image is unimportant to the consumer, so salt comes in limited types and packages. Cars, on the other hand, are highly visible prestige items; most automobile manufacturers offer a wide choice of models and options.
In addition to marketing "finished" goods to consumers, businesses also market industrial goods and services to other businesses. This is called industrial marketing. More dollars are actually involved in sales to industrial buyers than to consumers. In the United States, more than $1 trillion of such income is generated annually.
Regardless of the type of good, it is important to focus a marketing strategy on target customers. Target marketers believe that in most product areas the market is composed of widely dissimilar submarkets. By selecting smaller, more homogeneous segments, better oriented, more profitable marketing practices are developed.
When deciding questions of diversification and simplification, marketers must also look at the potential size of a market, at the financial position and practices of their firm, and at the resources available. All these elements influence the breadth of the product line. Determining where to position particular products is an important marketing decision.
An item such as deodorant may be introduced specifically as a men's or women's product, but later may be repositioned as a family product. In addition to positioning with respect to consumer segments, marketing managers position their products with respect to the competition. A magazine publisher may wish to position a publication so as to challenge the leader in a given market. Changes in format, emphasis, or editorial policy can appeal to the same consumer interests that buy the leader If, in this example, the result is also to appeal to a market which is more affluent and more quality- conscious, the price will be raised. This process is known as trading up.
Another aspect of product policy, particularly relevant to consumer goods marketers, deals with brands. Branding is commonly used by marketers to influence consumers' perceptions and is closely related to the issue of positioning. It identifies merchandise and differentiates it from competing products. The marketer hopes for sales stability due to consumer loyalty to the brand. Ideally, this occurs when consumers are so satisfied with the merchandise that they note and remember the brand. When a manufacturer sells more than one product, there is a brand choice issue. A firm which merchandises many types of soap may choose individual brands for each of its products. The hand soap, dish detergent, clothes detergent, and scouring powder will all be labeled with different brand names.
The opposite policy is that of family branding. A paper products company may market all its products—tissues, towels, napkins, toilet paper— under one recognizable brand name.
In recent years distributors, particularly large ones, like department stores and supermarkets, have been branding products. Some carry manufacturer's brands only, while others carry a combination of manufacturer's brands and their own. These dealers don't actually produce the goods; they arrange to sell manufacturers' products under their private brand. This practice has grown tremendously, so that elegant department stores such as Bloomingdales do it as well as supermarkets like the A&P.
Closely related to brand identification, and sometimes considered more important, are trademarks. Because of their importance as short cuts to the customer's memory, and their legal protection to assure exclusivity, well- established trademarks have a large cash value. In mergers, some well-known trademarks have been valued at millions of dollars. Through constant use on packages and in advertising, many trademarks have almost eclipsed the name of the manufacturer. Vaseline, the trademark for the petroleum jelly produced by Chese-brough-Ponds, Inc., is such an example. Many people refer to any petroleum jelly as "Vaseline."