Marketing a Service
We are told that we live in a service economy. More economic activity revolves around services than around buying and selling goods.
But a service is a strange thing. You can’t feel it, see it, or taste it. And you can’t transfer ownership of it.
So how do you sell it?
Well, in fact, you don’t. When we talk about a service economy, we are not talking about buying and selling. We are actually talking about renting and leasing. And what we rent or lease is expertise.
The whole premise of a service economy is that I do something for you that you don’t have the time, the experience, or the expertise to do for yourself. It depends on the customer in an unusually personal and direct way. It depends on the customer’s perceived need; but even more, it depends on the customer’s perceived inadequacy, inadequacy in time if nothing else.
Think about it: Why do we hire a plumber? An electrician? A roofer? We hire them – lease their time and expertise – because we assume that they know something we do not or can do something we cannot; and we need that knowledge and experience. In exchange, we get lights that work without our worrying about a fire; we get toilets and sinks that work without our worrying about a flood; we get buildings that protect us from rain and snow; etc.
These are tangible goods that are easy to explain. The situation becomes more complex when the service is more abstract.
And it is at that higher level of abstraction that a great many of us live. Consultants, financial planners, accountants, lawyers, and physicians all lease their time and expertise. But so do business managers, corporate executives, and virtually everyone above the assembly-line. In fact, the highest incomes in the country generally come from providing a service. (Think about CEOs, hedge fund or asset managers, the people who travel around from conference to conference pontificating on something or other as “experts,” etc.)
In a service economy, most of us spend our lives trying to convince others of the value of a transfer of an intangible good through an invisible mechanism.
That means building trust in a way that marketing products does not. We are asking people to believe that we have the experience and expertise that we claim, and that we can provide them with the outcomes they desire. And we need to remember that, for them, the outcomes are not abstractions.
If you want someone to pay for your expertise, he has to be convinced that you not only feel his pain – but that you can alleviate it or help him avoid it altogether, in his real world, on his ground. Our marketing, our messaging, and our customer service must be consistent and customer-centric in order to build trust. The customer has to believe that his roof won’t leak, the pipes won’t break, and the lights will turn on.