In marketing, the term “product” is often used as a catch-all word to identify solutions a marketer provides to its target market. We will follow this approach and permit the term “product” to cover offerings that fall into one of the following categories:
Something is considered a good if it is a tangible item. That is, it is something that is felt, tasted, heard, smelled or seen. For example, bicycles, cellphones, and donuts are all examples of tangible goods. In some cases there is a fine line between items that affect the senses and whether these are considered tangible or intangible. We often see this with digital goods accessed via the Internet, such as listening to music online or visiting an information website. In these cases there does not appear to be anything that is tangible or real since it is essentially computer code that is proving the solution. However, for our purposes, we distinguish these as goods since these products are built (albeit using computer code), are stored (e.g., on a computer hard drive), and generally offer the same benefits each time (e.g., quality of the download song is always the same).
Something is considered a service if it is an offering a customer obtains through the work or labor of someone else. Services can result in the creation of tangible goods (e.g., a publisher of business magazines hires a freelance writer to write an article) but the main solution being purchased is the service. Unlike goods, services are not stored, they are only available at the time of use (e.g., hair salon) and the consistency of the benefit offered can vary from one purchaser to another (e.g., not exactly the same hair styling each time).
Something falls into the category of an idea if the marketer attempts to convince the customer to alter their behavior or their perception in some way. Marketing ideas is often a solution put forth by non-profit groups or governments in order to get targeted groups to avoid or change certain behavior. This is seen with public service announcements directed toward such activity as youth smoking, automobile safety, and illegal drug use.
While in some cases a marketer offers solutions that provide both tangible and intangible attributes, for most organizations their primary offering — the thing that is the main focus of the marketing effort — is concentrated in one area. So while a manufacturer may offer intangible services or a service firm provides certain tangible equipment, these are often used as add-ons that augment the organization’s main product.