Creating Products That Create Customers

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The product is not what the factory makes; it is what the customer buys. Theodore Levitt, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, is best known through his article "marketing myopia". Here he shows that even the business lunch is part of the product, and the point of sale is a point of production.

When asked some years ago what his company did, Parick Milne, the perfectionist president of Revlon, offered a profound distinction: "In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope."

He obviously has no illusions. He knows that chastity is the rarest of all sexual aberrations. People don't buy things - goods or services. They buy the expectations of benefits: not cosmetics, but the allurements they create for their wets; not quarter-inch drills, but quarter-inch holes; not common stocks, but capital gains; not numerically controlled milling machines, but trouble-free and accurately smooth parts; not Dream Whip dessert, but sophisticated convenience.

What the product really is

This means that the definition of a product comes not from its generic essence, but from the problems people are trying to solve with it. A teenager may refer to his car as "wheels", but he uses it for the freedom it bestows and for the opportunities it confers on him with the girls. An underwriting may be what a Wall Street firm produces, but the firm whose name is on the prospectus is buying the utilities bestowed by the expected money.

A product is not something people consume. It is a tool they use. The object of consumption is to solve a problem. Even consumption that is directed at the creation of an opportunity - like going to Medical School or taking a one-way trip to the Caribbean - is purposefully oriented toward solving a problem. At a minimum, the medical student seeks to solve the problem of how to lead a relevant and comfortable life. The lady on the tour seeks to solve the problem of spinsterhood.

This view holds that a product is not what the engineer explicitly says it is, but what the consumer implicitly says.

The significance of that distinction is anything but trivial. Nobody knows this better than the people who create automobile ads. It is not the generic virtues that they extol, but more likely the car's capacity to enhance its user's status and his access to female prey. Not far removed is the strategy of the project manager for a sophisticated missile guidance system.

It is not over blueprints and less results that the project manager pores with his Pentagon guest at enormously overpriced and elegantly underlighted Washington restaurants. Instead, he pours bourbon over ice while :asking more about the pennant race than the space race. His object is more to create a personal relationship of trust and an institutional obligation toward his company than to transmit solid Information about his generic product.

What the missile project manager does in Washington is no different than what is done by the machine tool designer in Worcester. While the former tries to impress and obligate the prospect by feeding him on a relentless diet of strong whisky and heroic stories of his company's R & D prowess and delivery reliability, the latter does essentially the same by trying with colour, sculptured edges, a fancy control panel, and false perspective to make an ordinary six-spindle lathe look like a computerized technotron of awesome superiority and reliability.

Or take the case of a new 0 electronics laboratory testing device. Is yielded twice as many purchase intentions from PLC. laboratory directors when its front panel was redesigned by a professional designer than when it was designed by the development engineers. The holders of A.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were thus quite as responsive in their laboratories to the blandishments of packaging as Mr Milne's fragile ladies at the "hope" counter in the stores.

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