Service Marketing – How to Promote Without a Product


Sales and marketing, it’s all about selling stuff, right? An oversimplification, but in the interest of time – we’ll let it slide. So how do you sell something, when you don’t have a physical ‘something’ to sell? That’s where service marketing comes in.

The marketing of an intangible product is a tricky beast, but it’s also a rather important one. We’re living in a world where economies are increasingly transforming to a service-based offering. Just take a look at the digital world as a prime example.

In 1999 a (then) little-known company called Salesforce launched this strange, revolutionary offering called software-as-a-service (SAAS)’. Rather than purchasing an individual copy of their business management software, customers would instead subscribe to access it for a defined period of time. Thus the idea of software delivered as a service entered the mainstream.

What fresh madness was this thought some! What an exciting and innovative opportunity said others. I think you know how this ends? Today, software-as-a-service is a US$60 billion global industry, projected to grow to over US$117 billion by 2021.

Why service marketing is important in Malaysia

It’s not just the accelerating shift to digital services that should give us fine marketers in Malaysia pause for thought. The country, and indeed the region, is itself firmly positioned on an inevitable track towards a more service-based economy.

There’s a seemingly unavoidable economic principle that the more developed an economy becomes, the greater share of the economy that services will be. In fact the relationship between growth in services and overall economic growth has grown stronger in recent decades, which is why the integration and expansion of the region’s services sector forms a core part of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025.

The services sector in Malaysia is targeted to grow by 6.8% per annum, accounting for 56.5% of the country’s GDP by 2020. Sure, that’s a bunch of exciting stats. But what it means is that service-based businesses are going to be an increasingly important part of the marketing we’re required to undertake. That’s not something marketing companies can afford to ignore.

What you need to know about service marketing

Service marketing applies across both a business-to-customer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) context. It covers everything from hiring the services of a cleaner for your apartment to complex business software like that we mentioned earlier.

A key consideration of marketing a service is the need to impress and establish quality, but also consistency. A product provides a tangible item which a consumer can hold, assess and appreciate, and if they’re unhappy they even have the opportunity to return it and demand one of a higher standard. The same is not necessarily true of a service, which is frequently produced and consumed simultaneously. Services cannot be stored in preparation for high demand, but instead must be offered and delivered at the point of consumption.

At Content Nation we benefited from the unique experience of working with market-leading e-procurement software provider Procurehere, undertaking their own transition from a traditional product-based service to a new cloud-based SAAS model. What we recognised from our industry experience was that promoting consistency of quality and benefits was essential in marketing the value of their service to customers.

By focussing on the simplified and user-friendly nature of the Procurehere platform, as well as clearly defining and demonstrating the savings that it has delivered for clients, Content Nation was able to provide substantial digital marketing benefits to the company. Not only did Procurehere enjoy an average email open rate more than triple the industry average, we substantially reduced the website bounce rate, increased time-on-site, and catapulted Procurehere’s webpage to page one of Google search results for four high-performing keywords.

What was the key to this success? Marketing the value and benefits to the customer, alongside the consistency and quality of the experience that they could enjoy. That’s the same whether you’re providing a powerful e-procurement solution, or Malaysia’s trendiest new boutique hotel experience.

Service marketing is still marketing

It’s important to point out that while service marketing requires a certain shift of focus when it comes to your key messages, the fundamental principles are the same as those employed for product marketing. You want to convey to your audience the value of your offer, what challenges it helps them overcome, and the reasons why they should choose your brand and solution over others that may be available on the market.

Service marketing is still about building brand visibility through engaging in valuable conversations with your audience. In many ways that aspect of brand value and visibility is even more important, because customers’ trust in your ability to deliver a consistently quality service is often impacted by your fundamental brand image.

When it boils down to it, marketing is about building relationships. The reality is that when it comes to service marketing, the value of those relationships is more important than ever. In the context of an economy that’s accelerating towards a growing service sector dynamic, understanding how to make those relationships work for your business will become an increasingly vital stepping stone to success.

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