The other day, I roamed the aisles of CVS and picked up the same toothpaste I've been buying for years.
I didn't think twice about it. I made the purchase on auto-pilot. I didn't consider testing out a different brand or purchasing one from another retailer.
Toothpaste, as it turns out, is known as a “convenience good,” which consumers usually buy without putting too much thought into the brand or effort.
Understanding product classification is key to uncovering the reasons behind your consumers' general buying behaviors and how you can better market your products as a result.
There are four types of product classification. Let's dive into each type, so you can determine where your product falls.
Product Classification in Marketing
Knowing the classification of a product is vital when devising a marketing strategy. Why? Well, it lets you know the mindset most consumers have and the behavior they exhibit when interacting with your product.
This knowledge arms you to devise an effective marketing strategy that will meet your consumers where they are. It also helps you decide on a realistic marketing budget.
For instance, say your products fall under the “unsought goods” classification (more on that in this section). This means that you’ll likely need to take a more aggressive marketing approach to reach consumers that may not have considered your product or brand.
Think of charity organizations, life insurance companies, and funeral homes. These are usually not top of mind for consumers. As such, these brands must work a little harder to be visible to consumers and highlight the benefits of their goods or services.
Shopping goods, on the other hand, are highly visible and very competitive. Consumers typically spend time comparing quality, cost, and value before making a purchase. That’s why building brand loyalty is vital for this product classification.
As you can see, there are factors to consider for every classification of product. The more familiar you are with consumer habits and beliefs for that category, the more equipped you will be to market your product.
There are four types of products and each is classified based on consumer habits, price, and product characteristics: convenience goods, shopping goods, specialty products, and unsought goods.
Let's dive into each one in more detail.
1. Convenience Goods
Like the Crest toothpaste example, convenience goods are products that consumers purchase repeatedly and without much thought.
Once consumers choose their brand of choice, they typically stick to it unless they see a reason to switch, such as an interesting advertisement that compels them to try it or convenient placement at the checkout aisle.
These products include gum, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, milk, and other necessities that people buy regularly.
To market a convenience good, you want to consider that most people will impulse buy these products. Placing your products near the checkout line at a store could be a good idea for these products — which is why you'll often find candy and gum at the front of a store.
Since most convenience products are priced low, cost and discounting isn't a major deciding factor when considering a purchase. I won't switch my toilet paper brand just to save a few cents.
For convenience goods, brand recognition is key. With this in mind, you'll want to implement widespread campaigns to spread awareness of your company if possible.
For instance, Charmin, the toilet paper brand, is a widely recognized brand in the United States — likely in part due to the company's consistent and long-term advertising strategy, dating back to the 1960's with the invention of the character “Mr. Whipple” who appeared on TV, print, and radio ads.
2. Shopping Goods
Shopping goods are commodities consumers typically spend more time researching and comparing before purchase.
They can range from affordable items, like clothes and home decor, to higher-end goods like cars and houses.
These are more one-off purchases with a higher economic impact.
For instance, while you will buy toilet paper over and over again for the rest of your life, you'll likely only purchase a house a few times at most. And, since it's an expensive and important purchase, you'll spend a good amount of time deliberating on it, attending different open houses, and comparing the pros and cons of your final selection.
The same can be said for smaller products. If you have an event coming up and you want to purchase a nice pair of shoes, this doesn’t fall under impulse purchases.
Instead, you'll want to try it on, consider whether the price is worth it, and even get input from your loved ones.
To market a shopping good, invest in content that persuades your buyer of your product’s value. It's important your marketing materials demonstrate how your product differs from the competition, and the unique value it provides consumers.
Price also plays a role in this product type, so the promotion of discounts and sales can attract consumers toward your brand.
3. Specialty Goods
A specialty good is the only product of its kind on the market, which means consumers typically don't feel the need to compare and deliberate as much as they would with shopping products.
A good example of this? iPhones.
When marketing a specialty good, you don't necessarily need to spend too much time convincing consumers that your product is different from competitors. They already know already.
Instead, focus on how your products are constantly innovating and improving. This will ensure your customers will remain loyal to your brand.
For instance, if Apple stopped making impressive improvements on their iPhones and promoting new features, I might consider switching brands. But since they've continued to impress me over the years, I've continued to purchase from them.
4. Unsought Goods
Finally, unsought products — goods that people aren't typically excited to buy. Good examples of unsought goods include fire extinguishers, batteries, and life insurance.
People will typically buy an unsought good out of a sense of fear or danger. For instance, you wouldn't go on the market looking for the “new and best” fire extinguisher. You'd only purchase one due to the fear of a potential fire. Alternatively, some unsought goods, like batteries, are bought simply because the old ones expired or ran out.
When marketing an unsought good, focus on reminding consumers of the existence of your product, and convincing consumers that purchasing your product will leave them with a better sense of security.
For instance, Duracell's Beach x Bear commercial encourages viewers to remember the importance of batteries in life-threatening situations, like impending bear attacks or when using a metal detector.
Product Classification Examples
Browndages is a convenience goods brand that markets itself by highlighting its key feature: bandages for every skin tone.
Messaging like “The perfect bandage for brown skin,” can be seen on the brand’s website, packaging and social media platforms, making it stand out against competitors like Band-Aid that typically focus its product’s medical benefits.
Like many insurance companies, State Farm falls under the “unsought goods” product classification.
As such, brand and product awareness is a priority when it comes to marketing.
In its marketing efforts, State Farm, formerly AllState, positions itself as a reliable and trustworthy partner to rely on when bad things happen in your life.
In this example, the brand spotlights a fear many car owners have — a popular tactic used by unsought goods brands — while mentioning why trusting this brand will make things go smoothly.
For many consumers, the first thing they think of when they picture batteries is a pink rabbit holding a drumset.
Similar to Charmin, Energizer created a brand mascot that consumers could easily recognize and remember: the Energizer Bunny.
As a convenience good, Energizer needed to increase its brand recognition so that it could stand out among competitors in the store.
Now, the brand is widely popular and this is likely due to this marketing tactic.
For products under the “shopping goods” classification, it’s imperative that you identify ways to stand out among your competitors.
Why? Because, when shopping for these products, consumers compare everything: features, cost, value. As such, you must offer something that other brands don’t – whether that relates to your product features, brand values, or mission.
For Oui The People, sustainability is at the center of its brand.
Consumers who care about the environment will gravitate toward the brand because of its use of recyclable material for its products and packaging.
5. Pyer Moss
As mentioned before, when people purchase specialty products, they’re not looking to be convinced of their quality or value. That’s already clear.
What consumers are looking for instead is a brand identity they can relate to, a vision they identify with.
Luxury clothing company Pyer Moss attracts consumers with its refreshing and innovative take on fashion. The brand isn’t afraid to step outside of the norm while still remaining rooted in its heritage.
Now that you know where your product fits, use consumers' buyer behavior to inspire your next marketing campaign. Now it’s time to figure out how you can meet — and exceed — customers' expectations of your product.
Editor's Note: This blog post was originally published in August 2020, but has been updated for comprehensiveness.