Small Business Tips

Beginner's guide to service marketing strategy

MileIQ Team

Selling a product like shoes, cupcakes or a piece of software has one set of challenges. Selling a service, such as IT support or a massage treatment, has a whole other can of worms.

That’s because services are intangible. No one can see them, touch them, taste them or try them on. With services, you’re selling an experience.

How do you communicate the value of an experience? The answer lies in part, how differently the importance of a product is viewed. Understanding that viewpoint can have a huge and positive impact on your overall marketing plan.

What is service marketing?

Service marketing is a marketing category that takes into account the unique aspects of a service. A product can be tested and returned and is usually the same no matter who you sell it to. But a service, even if it is consistently high-quality, can’t be identical each time. It also can’t be “returned” in the same way.

Over time, marketers began to realize that the strategies needed to market a service successfully deserved their own category. Traditional marketing often calls the main factors involved in an overall strategy the “four Ps”: product, price, promotion and place.

Service marketing adds three more: people, process and physical evidence. People are crucial to service because people create the experience. The process, or delivery of service to a client, is also especially critical here. And “physical evidence” refers to the need to provide real evidence to support claims about quality, given that the product itself is not tangible.

For example, tasteful décor, comfortable seats and free sparkling water at a hair salon can serve as concrete signals that the service will be worth the price.

How to think about service marketing

To sum up:

  • Your product is your people.
  • In a pretty literal way, you’re selling the value of your employees’ time and skill. Whether that’s a cleaning service, a realtor service or a health care service, it can’t happen without an employee present. In other words, you’re not selling the rug or the vacuum cleaner: you’re selling the cleaning itself.
  • Therefore, the better you understand who your employees are and what value they add, the more successful your service marketing strategies will be.
  • Service is naturally variable.
  • Unlike a physical, mass-produced product, a service can only be standardized to a degree. When your product is people, it will inevitably vary.
  • That can be a good thing. A personal touch can be the best part of a successful service. But to provide a consistent product with consistently positive customer reviews, marketers need to figure out which parts of a service can be standardized and which can’t, to better communicate the strengths and deliverables of a service.
  • Service is generated and consumed at the same time.
  • You can’t store service on a shelf and pack it up for later. One client can’t return a service and sell it to another. Once it happens, it no longer exists as a product.
  • This affects the way service providers think about customer service, their business’ reputation in the world and when and how to ask for client feedback.
  • There are two kinds of services to sell.
  • Core services: These are the primary services provided, such as the food at a restaurant.
  • Supplementary services: These are the services often provided to add value to the core service, such as the restaurant’s home delivery option.

Thoroughly understanding all of the services your business provides can help you build a more effective service marketing strategy.

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Types of service marketing strategies

Taking into account all of the above, here are some strategies you can use to promote the service you’re selling effectively.

Referral marketing

  • Referrals from existing or former clients or people who read good reviews of your business are some of your greatest assets.
  • Research shows that word of mouth marketing is far more effective than any other kind. The vast majority of people are more likely to listen to someone else’s recommendation than an advertisement, whether that’s in person or online.
  • Reputation management is incredibly important in service marketing. Therefore, your reputation is what you are selling, along with your service.
  • Consider incentivizing referrals, too, with a free offer or bonus. Dropbox, for example, famously grew its business exponentially after offering free storage to users who invited their friends.

Education marketing

  • Because what you’re selling, ultimately, is your expertise, creating evidence of your authority in your field can be a big win. Even better: providing useful, immediate informational content for your potential clients.
  • Options include creating instructional videos, how-to articles or a resource library for your website. You could host webinars, in-person workshops or quick lunch-and-learns.
  • Experienced employees should also consider speaking at conferences and other public events. This all goes toward building your reputation and offering something of value that potential customers can turn to you for.

Social media marketing

  • Social media marketing is one of the best ways to build your brand’s visibility and help educate your consumer base.
  • This is the perfect place to put your educational content, for example. It’s also one of the best places to generate referral marketing.
  • Try creating a Facebook page full of testimonials and relevant educational content. Post informative tips or shareable quotes and stunning images on Twitter and Instagram. Join online communities in your field so that you can show up as a resource for people looking for you.

Demonstration marketing

  • No matter how well you sell your service, not being able to try it first might make some customers nervous. Put them at ease by offering a free demonstration, a free consultation or a free trial.
  • There are lots of ways to do this, and not all of them include blasting the word “free.” For example, one wedding website company increased free trial signups by 73 percent by removing the word “free” and redesigning the offer to emphasize convenience and value instead of money.

Organic Search Marketing (SEO)

  • Most people looking for a service of some kind will search online first. You want to show up in one of the top Google searches for your service.
  • Google My Business is a great way to do this. If you create a complete profile, it’s possible to show up in Google’s coveted top-three position on a location-based search.
  • Bing places for business is another important online directory that can help people find you immediately.
  • Backlinks from local content pages such as news sites, blogs and educational content will help your service show up, too. Other search engine optimization (SEO) strategies include optimizing your website and social media content for not only awareness-level search terms (“massage benefits”), but terms that can lead to purchases (“reviews best massage therapists New York City”).

All this is just a start. Thinking about how a service is different from a product and marketing it accordingly is the cornerstone of a winning strategy.

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