There are two different types of products: tangibles and intangibles. Tangibles are things that have a physical presence: you can touch, taste, feel, or smell them. It has volume, mass, and all that physics stuff.
Tangibles can be easier to market because they have those physical characteristics, and typically, only a few uses can be pretty easy to understand.
Intangibles can be a lot more difficult to market because a potential client doesn't have the ability to judge for themselves whether they can serve their purpose or not. They have to rely on what others are telling them; instincts that aren't a very comfortable feeling for most.
Highlighted very well in this HBR article, it's important with intangibles to use current happy clients to help make the introduction, or even quote them within your different channels of branding to make sure that potential clients understand what it is you do. And, more importantly, that you do it well.
Here are some examples of intangible products:
Most consulting firms may offer strategic services where they might give a company a pack of information or report. However, that's not the real product. That's just the end result of the value-added services consultants have. Their product lies in the knowledge and experience or tools that are needed to answer some pretty complicated questions.
What do lawyers really do? At this point does anyone know? What we do know is that they help to make sure that a company has its defense up for any incoming litigation. But what does that process look like? That's why legal services are intangible. Although we can understand what the actual outcome is, what these professionals do on their end to make sure that a company is safe, is quite a mystery.
Ah, yes! Marketing is most definitely an intangible service. The role of marketing is to create value in a product or service. The actual production of marketing is definitely intangible. Although its main goal is to increase the value of these products or services, it doesn't necessarily add any value that can be seen. Messaging, building the brand, or even logistics needed to get the product or service in a customer's hand are all intangible.
Although freight forwarding carries freight, that's exactly it. These companies arrange the details of a shipment but are never in actual ownership of the product.
Accounting, investment bankers, brokers, underwriters. Although these guys may help increase your wealth, the generation of that wealth is completely intangible. Their methodologies and technical know-how (most of the time a secret) is what they are well-known for. It's also how they're able to keep making you more money.
Although at the end of secondary education, you receive a diploma, obviously the education is worth a lot more than the piece of paper you receive. Some may disagree. Education is a perfect example of an intangible because the amount of knowledge learned is not a physical product.
Certain fields in health care may provide things like medications, supplements, or a cast for the occasional broken bone. But countless years have been spent researching and studying the best types of fixes for every different type of ailment.
Insurance can only be measured when you've received the cash, right? But up until that point, insurance companies do a lot on the back-end. For instance, when you go to the doctor, they're going to pay for the bill - or most of it - but before they pay they're aggressively going to negotiate with the health care service to ultimately keep your - and their - costs low.
Clients who are using an intangible product may help a potential client feel more confident, and move them along in your funnel, they still may still need a little more. Queue design.
Again, why is it so difficult to market intangible products? And why is it so much different from tangibles? It's because consumers will need to see how the company or the products and services they offer add value to their current situation or solve a problem they have.
Design helps bring drive an understanding with visual effects. That way, potential clients have a better chance of understanding what a company does, and how it can help them.
Designers and marketers have to work together to tell a story of the company, put the brand into pictures and words that people can understand, and then work to creatively put it in a potential client's hands.
Is there a step-by-step method? No. Every product is different and has to be marketed differently. Is there a good point to start? Yes. Understand your customer's wants and needs, and develop visuals and stories that can convey how your company will deliver the solution.
Here are some examples of really great designs for intangible products/companies:
3|Share uses work stories as a great way to engage their potential clients and give them an idea of the work that they do, in an informal and understandable setting. Reading through any of these stories, you get a better sense of how this company can increase its own service.
Each of the tabs within services (Design, Deploy, Managed Services) opens its page with a screen-filling, high definition shoot. Each, in their own manner, tries to convey exactly what sort of creativity 3|Share adds to the mix with each of the services. For instance, the design tab opens up with a guy holding up a flare or some sort of smoke cannon and has smoke billowing out of the end. The smoke is different colors in the photo and you can lightly see a forest in the background. The title to the page reads "Our Ability to Do is Matched Only by Our Ability to Think." A great line if you would like to consider them for something creative.
Blogs are one of the best ways to help shape the brand of a company and introduce new ideas, give thoughts on new industry changes, and give readers a chance to really grasp what problems a company can solve. Check out their blog if you're looking for some help with Adobe Experience Manager.
Salt Lake City Bookkeeping does a great job using design to categorize and specify the needs of the users of their website. Whether one of their potential clients was interested in a long-term bookkeeping service, financial forecasting, or small business consulting, they're able to funnel into the right spot. This will lead to a lot less confusion about what the company offers, and how it may benefit the client.
The company also uses branding to establish a connection with its target audience. From the About Us page, to the photos used throughout the website, you know these guys are looking for people that like outdoor experiences: fly fishing, hiking, and skiing.
Resolute legal does a great job describing the story of their potential clients, to build trust.
The company highlights, just under their homepage tagline, five stations that have broadcast their company. Resolute Legal helps people settle their disability claims. There are a lot of stories of companies taking advantage of the people trying to make these claims. So, instead, Resolute Legal is using these resources to show that they're a reputable firm. Companies like Amazon and the American Association of Justice are great resources for building trust.
You can click here to see their website and understand if the way they're describing their services can give you an idea of how to describe your own.