The first marketing-mix element is the product, which refers to the offering or group of offerings that will be made available to customers. In the case of a physical product, such as a car, a company will gather information about the features and benefits desired by a target market. Before assembling a product, the marketer’s role is to communicate customer desires to the engineers who design the product or service. This is in contrast to past practice, when engineers designed a product based on their own preferences, interests, or expertise and then expected marketers to find as many customers as possible to buy this product. Contemporary thinking calls for products to be designed based on customer input and not solely on engineers’ ideas.
In traditional economies, the goods produced and consumed often remain the same from one generation to the next—including food, clothing, and housing. As economies develop, the range of products available tends to expand, and the products themselves change. In contemporary industrialized societies, products, like people, go through life cycles: birth, growth, maturity, and decline. This constant replacement of existing products with new or altered products has significant consequences for professional marketers. The development of new products involves all aspects of a business—production, finance, research and development, and even personnel administration and public relations.
Packaging and branding are also substantial components in the marketing of a product. Packaging in some instances may be as simple as customers in France carrying long loaves of unwrapped bread or small produce dealers in Italy wrapping vegetables in newspapers or placing them in customers’ string bags. In most industrialized countries, however, the packaging of merchandise has become a major part of the selling effort, as marketers now specify exactly the types of packaging that will be most appealing to prospective customers. The importance of packaging in the distribution of the product has increased with the spread of self-service purchases—in wholesaling as well as in retailing. Packaging is sometimes designed to facilitate the use of the product, as with aerosol containers for room deodorants. In Europe such condiments as mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup are often packaged in tubes. Some packages are reusable, making them attractive to customers in poorer countries where metal containers, for instance, are often highly prized. Customers in wealthier countries may prefer packaging that can be recycled.
Marketing a service product
The same general marketing approach about the product applies to the development of service offerings as well. For example, a health maintenance organization (HMO) must design a contract for its members that describes which medical procedures will be covered, how much physician choice will be available, how out-of-town medical costs will be handled, and so forth. In creating a successful service mix, the HMO must choose features that are preferred and expected by target customers, or the service will not be valued in the marketplace.