Learning Center

Marketing an Inferior Product

Sometimes marketing and advertising gets a bad rap — as though our entire industry has set out to deceive the buying public, willing to do anything to get consumers to part with their dollars. That, of course, is nonsense. The true goal of marketing is to present a message that defines what the product or service is, what differentiates it from others like it, and who might best be served by it. Promoting the newest, greatest product is both fun and easy—who doesn’t want to hear about the latest amazing whatever? But what if your challenge is to get attention for something on the lower end of the excitement scale? Today we’ll look at a few ways to promote a lesser product while still being able to look yourself in the mirror.

Are we trying to trick people into wasting money on junk?

No! Inferior products are not junk — they might make more sense for some consumers for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • Your product isn’t exactly inferior, for starters. Every product or service has an inherent means of appeal to a particular market segment. Each product has different strengths and weaknesses. The challenge is to figure out what they are and market accordingly.
  • Not everyone needs to invest in the highest level product. If, for example, a consumer only needs a sewing machine to mend an unraveled seam occasionally, it doesn’t make sense to buy a top-of-the-line machine made for a serious hobbyist.
  • Not everyone can afford to invest in the highest level product. While it may be easy to pull out a credit card and buy a more expensive item, consumers on a budget may be unwilling or unable to.

What is most important when promoting a lesser product or service?

  • Value. If it isn’t a premium item, there’s usually a trade-off. What is it? Price? Availability? Power? Speed? Perhaps it is slightly more cumbersome to use? Perhaps service and support are limited, or parts are non-replaceable. Or maybe it will simply have a limited lifespan. No matter what the trade-off is, you’re marketing your product on based on value.
  • Expectations. Inferior doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Your challenge is to set a level of expectations for this product — and specifically avoid marketing it as a premium item. Again, value is where you should focus.

How can an inferior product be competitive with higher quality products?

The answer is simple: inferior products can compete by identifying the key reasons that someone would benefit from this product versus the higher end.

  • Pricing and value. This is almost always going to be a main driving factor.
  • Benefits. There may be other benefits besides pricing that higher-end versions can’t offer—such as fast turnaround times or volume deliveries.
  • Positioning. Lower-end products can be positioned to be a stepping stone to higher-end versions made by the same company.

How do you manage the messaging?

Naturally, the answer to this question depends a lot on what the product or service is. But a few things to consider include:

  • Look for ways to highlight strengths of the product. For example, a product manufactured in rural Pennsylvania will cost less than a more urban area. Depending on the product, location of manufacturing might add to its intrinsic appeal (think: country-made leather belts or soaps).
  • Focus on problems that the product or service solves. For example, my kitchen widget is broken and I need a new one now. I need a tool for one specific job that I’ll likely never need to perform again.
  • Not all of the perceived benefits of a premium product are necessary to all consumers. Does your consumer specifically need a car that goes from 0 to 60 in 1.8 seconds? Do you have a history of customer satisfaction with other products of similar quality?
  • Not everything is for everyone. Do you know for whom your offering is best suited? Determine your best market segments and craft messaging that works for them. For example, cheaply-made light beers are often marketed with a message that they are a quintessential part of a good party. Ads might show young people watching sporting events together, playing frisbee with their dog, or relaxing on the beach — any scenario that a younger demographic can look at at say, “I’d like to be doing that right now.”

How can the lower-level company compete?

  • Watch what others are doing in the marketplace and react accordingly. This doesn’t mean you should copy what they are doing — but you might be able to learn from their decisions. Are there market segments they are choosing to overlook? Are they emphasizing a benefit that your product also can call a strength?
  • Active engagement goes a long way. Does your product lend itself to an active social media campaign? (Think the award-winning social campaign for Moon Pies, an inexpensive packaged snack cake that competes on nostalgia and fun — not taste.) Adding a little fun and personality to a product can increase the overall perceived value, because the fun factor is an add-on.