In essence, the term "product" refers to anything offered by a firm to provide customer satisfaction, be it tangible or intangible. It can be a single product, a combination of products, a product-service combination, or several related products and services. It normally has at least a generic name (e.g. banana) and usually a brand name (e.g. Chiquita). Although a product is normally defined from the perspective of the manufacturer, it is also important to note two other points-of-view, those of the consumer and of other relevant publics.
For a manufacturer like Kraft Foods, their macaroni and cheese dinner reflects a food product containing certain ingredients packaged, distributed, priced, and promoted in a unique manner, and requiring a certain return on their investment. For the consumer, the product is a somewhat nutritious food item that it is quick and easy to prepare and is readily consumed by the family, especially the kids. For a particular public, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, this product reflects a set of ingredients that must meet particular minimum standards in terms of food quality, storage, and distribution.
Making this distinction is important in that all three perspectives must be understood and satisfied if any product will survive and succeed. Furthermore, this sensitivity to the needs of all three is the marketing concept in action. For example, a company might design a weight-reduction pill that not only is extremely profitable but also has a wide acceptance by the consumer. Unfortunately, it cannot meet the medical standards established by the US Federal government. Likewise, Bird's Eye Food might improve the overall quality of their frozen vegetables and yet not improve the consumers' tendency to buy that particular brand simply because these improvements were not perceived as either important or noticeable by the consumer. Therefore, an appraisal of a company's product is always contingent upon the needs and wants of the marketer, the consumer, and the relevant publics. We define product as follows: anything, either tangible or intangible, offered by the firm; as a solution to the needs and wants of the consumer; is profitable or potentially profitable; and meets the requirements of the various publics governing or influencing society.
There are four levels of a product: core, tangible, augmented, and promised (see Exhibit 16). We begin with the notion of the core product, which identifies what the consumers feel they are getting when they purchase the product. The core benefits derived when an overweight 45-year-old male purchases a USD 250 ten-speed bicycle is not transportation; it is the hope for better health and improved conditioning. In a similar vein, that same individual may install a USD 16,000 swimming pool in his backyard, not in order to obtain exercise, but to reflect the status he so desperately requires. Both are legitimate product cores. Because the core product is so individualized, and oftentimes vague, a full-time task of the marketer is to accurately identify the core product for a particular target market.
Once the core product has been indicated, the tangible product becomes important. This tangibility is reflected primarily in its quality level, features, brand name, styling, and packaging. Literally every product contains these components to a greater or lesser degree. Unless the product is one-of-a-kind (e.g. oil painting), the consumer will use at least some of these tangible characteristics to evaluate alternatives and make choices. In addition, the importance of each will vary across products, situations, and individuals. For example, for Mr Smith at age 25, the selection of a particular brand of new automobile (core product=transportation) was based on tangible elements such as styling and brand name (choice=Corvette); at age 45, the core product remains the same, while the tangible components such as quality level and features become important (choice=Mercedes).
At the next level lies the augmented product. Every product is backed up by a host of supporting services. Often, the buyer expects these services and would reject the core-tangible product if they were not available. Examples would be restrooms, escalators, and elevators in the case of a department store, and warranties and return policies in the case of a lawn mower. Dow Chemical has earned a reputation as a company that will bend over backwards in order to service an account. It means that a Dow sales representative will visit a troubled farmer after-hours in order to solve a serious problem. This extra service is an integral part of the augmented product and a key to their success. In a world with many strong competitors and few unique products, the role of the augmented product is clearly increasing.
Exhibit 16: Levels of the product.
The outer ring of the product is referred to as the promised product. Every product has an implied promise. An implied promise is a characteristic that is attached to the product over time. The car industry rates brands by their trade-in value. There is no definite promise that a Mercedes-Benz holds its value better than a BMW. There will always be exceptions. How many parents have installed a swimming pool based on the implied promise that their two teenagers will stay home more or that they will entertain friends more often?
Having discussed the components of a product, it is now relevant to examine ways of classifying products in order to facilitate the design of appropriate product strategies.