How To Use Product Classifications For Better Marketing | Definition + Examples
Unless you wanted to fail spectacularly, you wouldn’t market a yacht in the same way you’d market a yoghurt. The two items have distinct product classifications which determine how people buy them, which means they need to be marketed and sold in completely different ways.
In this article, we explore the four product classifications in marketing—convenience, shopping, specialty, and unsought—so that you can use the most effective marketing mixes to promote them.
What is the classification of consumer products in marketing?
The classification of consumer products came about because we buy different types of products in different ways. If you’ve used your last squirt of deodorant and you’d rather not smell like a foot, you’ll probably mindlessly grab another while shopping. But if your computer monitor has recently taken up smoking and needs to be replaced, you may take a little more time to research a good quality model, especially if you’re a graphic designer.
These differences in behaviour lead to the classification of consumer products known as convenience, shopping, specialty, and unsought (more on these below). There’s lots of different classification systems around the world, but this is the one most commonly used by marketers because it gives them a clearer understanding of the buyer’s journey, and the thoughts, decisions, and actions they take when buying the product. This lets them craft the right strategies and campaigns for promoting their products.
This classification isn’t just for marketers either. A product’s classification can affect the entire breadth of the supply chain—how the product is manufactured, stored, distributed, priced, and sold. But we’ll focus on marketing in this article.
The 4 product classifications in marketing
The four main product classifications are as follows:
1. Convenience goods
Toilet paper is an essential convenience good that people buy regularly, which is why we witnessed the Great Toilet Paper War of 2020 when COVID hit
Toothpaste, bread, milk—these are everyday convenience goods that we tend to buy on impulse. You won’t see many people meticulously comparing the ingredients for two brands of dish soap, or spending hours wrangling over the differences between the row of pasta sauces before them. They usually just grab the items without thought, often going with a brand they recognise and trust or with a product they’ve used before. This is because the products are low risk—cheap, replaceable, and widely available in local supermarkets or convenience stores. For this reason, these kinds of products are also called “low involvement.”
The hardest part about selling convenience goods is actually getting them into supermarkets and stores. If they aren’t there, they’re practically invisible. This requires good sales skills and a knack for networking, developing connections and relationships with the right people. Ideally, the product should be stocked in as many places and possible, and as many prominent places as possible, not wallowing down the lower shelves. Stronger brands have the edge in this battle, because they’ve spent the time building vast contact networks, have the capital for slotting fees, and have earned credibility with consumers. This last point is also why they can charge higher prices for their products.
When it comes to marketing, the following techniques and principles tend to work well for convenience goods:
- Simple adverts—convenience products are quickly consumed and replaced, which means we don’t need to know a lot about them. Adverts should be nice and simple, highlighting the product’s key benefits and the brand itself.
- Sales promotions—once you’re locked into a brand’s product, it can be hard to entice someone to buy yours. But sales promotions can be an effective solution. Discounts, coupons—whatever works.
- Great packaging—we buy convenience products in stores, which makes their packaging extremely important. It should look high quality (even if it isn’t), include the product’s main benefits, and clearly illustrate the brand.
It can also be useful to break convenience goods down into subcategories, as this can change how they are marketed:
- Staples—bread, milk, etc. These are all about conveying the product’s high quality.
- Impulse goods—chocolate, gum, etc. Clever marketers will try to get these close to checkouts where they are more likely to be purchased.
- Emergency—umbrellas, candles, sandbags, etc. These shouldn’t need a great deal of marketing; they just need to be locally available.
- Delivered—newspapers, home-cooked meals, etc.
2. Shopping / informed goods
Dishwashers are a type of shopping good that people usually consider carefully before buying
Shopping goods are more complex and expensive products that are analysed and compared by buyers, such as kitchen appliances, televisions, and cars. Their high cost and infrequent purchasing means that the consumer has more to lose—they could spontaneously buy a brand new Volvo after seeing an advert only to discover that it’s a lemon. That’s why many of us take the time to evaluate the product’s quality, its features, aesthetics, brand reputation, and the price itself. We often compare these to products from other brands too, because we don’t want to waste our hard-earned money.
To complete this comparison, you need to give the consumer every bit of information they are looking for. Descriptions, full specs, product imagery, FAQs, reviews, testimonials, offers…it all needs to be accessible and digestible, so that they can complete their analysis and comparison with ease. If you make them work for the information, they’ll remember it when it’s decision time. The better the information, whether through a website, brochure, or salesperson, the better your chances of converting the sale.
Like convenience goods, shopping goods are well-distributed but usually only found in specialist stores. You won’t find a washing machine for sale at your two local supermarkets, but you will find it at an appliance store that’s a little further away. Shopping goods must be distributed in the right places, where consumers can get help from knowledgeable salespeople and take advantage of value-adds like free delivery, payment plans, and extended warranties.
For marketers, the following mix of techniques are usually effective for shopping goods:
- Targeted advertising—shopping goods are bought less frequently, so your ideal consumers may need to be convinced that they need the product. This can be achieved through targeted digital advertising such as Google Ads or Facebook’s platforms, which offers precise targeting tools that lets you hone onto the people most likely to buy your products.
- Salespeople—the complexity of shopping goods makes salespeople an important part of the buying process, especially if they have a strong understanding of their product. If you’re staring at a glittering wall of televisions in Harvey Norman with no idea what to do, a salesperson can help you to make a good decision.
- Sales promotions—the consumer tends to have plenty of brand choice for shopping goods, so discounts, coupons, catalogue promotions and other incentives can be the difference between choosing one brand over another.
- Financing—shopping goods are expensive, and not everyone can afford to buy them outright. Finance deals are now an expectation for most products, so it’s crucial to offer them.
Shopping goods can also be broken down into two subcategories that affects how the product is marketed:
- Homogenous goods—very similar in quality, so can be differentiated in ways like the brand’s image, price, and product design.
- Heterogeneous goods—they have different characteristics or features, like two pieces of furniture, which makes it easier to differentiate and market them.
3. Specialty goods
BMW and other expensive car brands are a type of specialty good
Specialty goods are expensive, high-quality luxury products. Examples include sports cars, SLR cameras, and wedding dresses. They are harder to find than convenience and shopping goods, usually distributed to exclusive locations that the consumer needs to travel farther to reach. Their rarity induces the Scarcity Effect—a psychological phenomenon that makes us value something more if it is rare.
The location of specialty goods can be equally as important as the products themselves, and are usually found in glitzy high-end stores with salespeople. The experience of buying a specialty product appeals to the consumer’s (conscious or unconscious) desire for status—a strong motivation that has made luxury brands rich. If you’re buying a brand new Audi R8, you’re probably going to feel like a badass, which is something that Audi’s marketers know all too well.
Strong branding is fundamental for sellers of expensive specialty goods. The products are high quality by their very nature, and this must be reflected in the brand’s image. Think Prada, Omega, or Chanel. Patrons of these brands have plenty of disposable income and want to be associated with the high status that comes with them, which is why they’re willing to spend $1,000 on a bag. The brands must ooze class, quality, and affluence.
The high cost of specialty products means that the market is smaller, with very specific audiences. A company who sells these kinds of products must have ironclad buyer personas that help them to market effectively, otherwise they risk shouting into the wind. The marketing mix for these products includes:
- Targeted advertising—adverts can be created in upmarket publications like quality magazines, or business platforms like LinkedIn. Google Ads and other social media platforms can be useful too because of their accurate audience targeting.
- Lifestyle branding—many specialty products promote an upmarket lifestyle which can be used by luxury brands to appeal to their customers’ desires (especially around status). A video advert might show a wealthy couple walking into a fancy restaurant, with a flash of the man’s Rolex as the camera passes them.
- Premium pricing—luxury products are naturally more expensive because they are higher quality and more rare. There’s far fewer competitors in the market and target customers have lots of disposable income, so high pricing is much less of a deterrent (in fact it’s part of the product’s draw). This is why discounts and coupons are never a good idea with these products—it cheapens them.
- Public relations—specialty products will gain from plenty of positive media attention and influencer marketing.
4. Unsought / mandatory goods
The dreaded street fundraiser is a necessary evil for selling unsought goods like charity subscriptions
Unsought goods are products that people aren’t seeking because they don’t fulfil a desire or need. Common examples are charity donations, funeral services, and life insurance. Because they are unwanted, they are the most difficult product to sell, requiring forceful marketing and sales approaches like cold calling, or hiring fundraising staff to stand on streets. There’s little to no word-of-mouth marketing, and people aren’t familiar with the details of the product being sold. They require good salesmanship to close the deal.
A typical marketing mix for unsought goods is as follows:
- Persuasive advertising—you have to be pretty damn compelling to sell a product that people don’t want, tapping into the tiniest slithers of desire in your consumers.
- Salespeople—without an actual person to bring your attention to the product, you probably won’t consider it. That’s why charity fundraisers can be so effective.
- Cold calling—cold calls work in a similar way to salespeople, with callers bringing the product into people’s sphere so they know it exists, before leaping into their sales pitch.
- Bundling—bundling an unsought product with a sought product can be an effective way to sell it. Banks often use this technique to sell insurance, which they offer with financial advice or a home loan application.
Product classifications allow marketers to promote their particular products in the right way. The classifications are based on how consumers typically behave when buying each product type, allowing markets to use the strategies and campaigns that will get them in front of the most people, satisfy their unique buying behaviours, and increase the chances of making a sale.