Customers Buy Benefits, Not Products
It’s true that products and services will satisfy a customer’s need when they’re acquired, used, or consumed, but we argue that customers buy benefits, not products. Indeed, when a customer purchases a product or service to meet their needs, they’re really buying the benefits that are provided rather than the actual product.
When a customer has a headache, they are in-market to purchase pain relief, not Tylenol. This fact is critical when it comes to understanding your customer’s wants and needs.
Benefits are different between customers, depending on the specific needs each customer is looking to satisfy and the situation where the product or service will be used. Being that different customers want different types of benefits, they make different purchasing choices by associating importance to different product features when choosing brands within a certain category.
Think about someone you know who wanted to buy a car and they made their decision based on a subconscious need for social acceptance or self-esteem. In this case, the benefit is the feeling they receive from the product. They might feel this way when buying a Mercedes because it comes with a prestigious brand image. They might associate importance with engineering sophistication, European styling, or state-of-the-art features. Or maybe you know a friend who has to haul around 4 kids and needs a vehicle that is practical for a parental lifestyle. They’d likely go with a Minivan or full-size SUV because of the need for passenger capacity, safety ratings, and reliability.
Services also create benefits by reducing costs, offering simplification or convenience, and creating the ability to accomplish tasks faster and more effectively. This can be seen in business-to-business (B2B) service providers like a marketing agency or a payroll-processing company, as well as with consumer services such as mobile apps for banking, shopping, or even refilling your prescriptions.
The line between products and services blur together with technology companies pushing the boundaries of their marketing mix. Although they do sell products, Amazon.com thrives because they’re an industry-leading service provider that offers customers convenience through 2-day shipping, video and audio streaming, and more via Amazon Prime. This is a perfect example of why customers buy benefits, not products.
Benefits and Price Determine Value
A customer’s estimation of the benefits and the capacity to satisfy specific wants or needs ultimately determines the value that is attached to a given product or service. When a customer compares different products/services and brands, they will select what they think will provide the most need-satisfying benefits. Therefore, value is the conscious and subconscious determination of the capabilities, features, and price of a product or service, and this means different things to different people.
It’s important to note, though, that a customer’s value estimation of a product or service is not always accurate. This could be as simple as getting a bad haircut. Or for instance, a warehouse manager in Texas decides to install an air-conditioning system on the premise that it’ll provide more comfort for employees during the summer, leading to happier employees (emotional benefit) and increased productivity (financial benefit). After the installation is complete, the manager may learn that the cost of operation is higher than expected, has a slow response time to changes in outdoor temperatures, and the blower isn’t strong enough to cool distant locations in the building.
This is why the perceived value and satisfaction the customer gains also depends on whether the product or service actually lives up to the expectations and delivers on the promised benefits. This is why the activities that occur after the purchase (i.e. delivery, installation, operating instruction, repair, follow-up, etc.) are critical for ensuring that customers stay satisfied. This also makes it essential for businesses to manage customer complaints effectively. On average, businesses don’t hear from 96% of customers who are dissatisfied with their product or service. Of those who do complain, 50% will do business again if their complaints were handled compared to 95% if the issue is resolved quickly. (1)
The Value of Long-Term Customer Relationships
In the past, organizations considered the individual transaction with a customer as the actualization of their marketing strategy. Over time, however, markets have become increasingly competitive, forcing businesses to shift their strategy toward building long-term relationships between the customer and business. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen this become increasingly prevalent with the use of social media marketing as an effective tactic in any marketer’s toolbox.
Focusing on long-term customer relationships can be quantified using a customer’s lifetime value (LTV), which is the expected value of revenue that a customer will produce over time. For an auto manufacturer, the LTV of a first-time car buyer that stays satisfied and loyal to a specific brand, purchasing multiple vehicles over their lifetime could reach well over $1M.
It’s important to remember that although activities focusing on improving LTV may increase marketing expenses, the initiatives overtime pay off with improved market share and profitability. This is for one simple reason – the cost of obtaining a new customer is far bigger than the cost to keep an existing one. (2) Persuading a customer to leave a competitor can be costly, because it often requires a financial incentive (lower price or special promotional offer) or an extensive and compelling communications strategy (using advertising or sales force effort). In comparison, the increased loyalty that comes from focusing on long-term customer relationships has a lower upfront cost impact and generally yields higher profits.
(1) Patricia Sellers, “How to Handle Customers’ Gripes,” Fortune, October 24, 1988 p. 88
(2) Patricia Sellers, “Keeping the Customer You Already Have,” Fortune, Special Issue, Autumn-Winter, 1993 p. 57