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WHEN CUSTOMERS BUY A PRODUCT, WHAT ARE THEY ACTUALLY BUYING?

When consumers make a purchase, they are buying a physical product—a bar of soap, a canister of coffee, a new automobile, and so on—but they are really buying a lot of intangibles associated with the product. One of those intangibles is the psychological satisfaction gained by purchasing a brand that has a desirable image. In product strategy terms, a product is a combination of tangible and intangible benefits. Marketing organizations develop and market a total product concept. This concept includes the physical item, the image, the brand name, the level of sales support, and other activities.

The total range of products offered for sale is referred to as the product mix. The product mix comprises product items and product lines that are available in various shapes, sizes, and formats. Products are classified as either consumer goods or industrial (business) goods. Consumer goods are intended for the personal use of the customer, while industrial goods are generally used in the production of other goods and services.

WHAT ARE THE KEY PRODUCT DECISIONS A MARKETING MANAGER MAKES?

The marketing manager makes crucial product decisions that will ultimately influence how consumers perceive the product. Key decision areas embrace issues such as quality, style, branding, packaging, and brand design.

Marketing organizations use branding as a means of identifying products and developing an image. Branding strategies involve decisions on the brand name and logo, the package design, and the brand design if it is a durable product. Core decisions in these areas affect marketing decisions on price, marketing communications, and distribution.

In determining the brand name there are three options: an individual brand strategy, multi-brand strategy, or a family brand strategy. Other brand name strategies include co-branding, in which two brand names share equal billing on one product; private-label branding; and generic-label branding (both are strategies employed by retailers). A brand name phenomenon is the cult brand. Such a brand is supported by a passionately loyal group of customers who act as brand evangelists to further promote the product.

Packaging plays an integral part in the product mix. Decisions that must be made about packaging concern the type of package to use and the design of the package. Packages selected must fulfill four basic functions: they must protect the product, market the product, provide the consumer with convenience in handling and using the product, and be environmentally safe. For durable goods and services, brand design is important. The product must communicate the brand experience to the customer.

HOW DOES A MARKETING MANAGER ENCOURAGE CONSUMERS TO KEEP BUYING THE SAME BRAND?

Consumers come to trust what the brand stands for and, if they derive satisfaction from the brand, certain levels of brand loyalty develop. Loyalty is expressed in terms of recognition, preference, and insistence—the latter being the goal! Marketers must constantly deliver satisfaction and ensure that their brands meet changing preferences of consumers. Managers also encourage loyalty by implementing customer relationship management programs.