Selling goods and services - how do they differ?

Products and services are different things. But do the differences require differing approaches to marketing? To answer this question it is useful to consider how products and services are defined.


A very early definition of goods can be found in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) where he defines goods as having exchangeable value. In other words, ownership can be transferred. Shostack defines products as 'tangible objects that exist in both time and space'. (Shostack, G.L. (1982) in How to design a service. European Journal of Marketing, 16, 1, 49-61).

A useful definition of a service comes again from Shostack who writes that services 'consist solely of acts or process(es), and exist in time only' (Shostack, 1982, p.49). (Both of these quotations are contained in the Friends of the Earth document ‘Products to Services’ and the pdf document can be found here:

Products, or goods, are therefore characterised by:
• Tangibility
• Exchangeability
• Existing in both space and time

Services are characterised by: • Lack of tangibility
• Not being exchangable
• Existing in time only


Do services require different marketing techniques to products? Considering the nature of services it is possible to identify some areas that will require specific marketing strategies:
• customisation
• time limitation
• variability
• non-returnability
• human factor

A service is tailored to meet the customer’s needs. Unlike a product such as a car that should last for years, most services are provided for a specific time. As each particular function of the service will vary according to need, the person delivering it and the end result all services have an element of variation. Once a service has been delivered it cannot be returned, unlike a product. And services are delivered by people, who vary in performance, disposition and quality.

All of the above need to be considered when planning a marketing strategy.

The actual method of delivering marketing through social media, internet, advertising campaigns and so forth may not vary hugely between products and services. But the content must, in order to reflect the differences between products and services.

The Griffioen Consulting Group refers to the traditional standard ‘four P’s’ to consider in marketing products and services:
• product
• place
• price
• promotion

Griffioen then suggest that a further three Ps be added:
• people
• process
• physical evidence

The suggestion is that service is all about people and an emphasis on this should flow through any marketing strategy for a service. (


Taking the fact that services are far more involved and interactive with people than products into the digital world, it is obvious that customer word of mouth feedback will play a large part in the success or failure of a service marketing strategy. Steve Greechio of Studio D suggests it is therefore wise for the social media to be made full use of when marketing a service and to encourage peer-to-peer internet interaction. (Is Service Marketing Different from Product Marketing? at:

In conclusion it may be stating the obvious but marketing a service differs from marketing a product mainly in the involvement of the customer; for this reason the use of social media to generate dialogue about a service is desirable but beyond that it would seem that many of the methods employed across both product and service marketing remain relevant without the need for major difference. This is supported by a research document by Bjorn S. Ivens and Catherine Pardo to be found here:

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