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7.4 Identifying Key Meanings, Attributes, and Features

One thing is for sure. There are literally thousands of attributes, features, designs, and meanings that can be used to define products and services. This section details the major attributes that should be considered during product and service development.

  • Functions of the product or service and target customers. What does the product do? What important subfunctions does it perform? What type of customers or customer segment are you trying to attract?
  • Quality. How well does the product or service conform to specifications? Does the product or service do what it says it is supposed to do in the user manual? Is it effective in performing its function?
  • Reliability. Does the product or service perform as it is supposed to over the expected life of the product or service. Is it prone to failure? Is it easily maintained? Can parts be obtained at a reasonable cost and are they easy to change? Does the product perform satisfactorily in a variety of environmental conditions?
  • Ease-of-use. Is the product or service easy to use and can consumers learn how to use it without much trouble? Is the product convenient to use? A convenient product or service is readily available, performs the task for which it was designed, and reduces the time it takes to complete a task.
  • Performance. Is the product smaller than the competition? Is it more powerful? Does the product or service complete a task faster? Is the product adaptable to many situations?
  • Design. Is the external form attractive? Is the product packaged properly? Does the product suggest a certain meaning? Do the materials used in developing a product also contribute to the overall look and feel? Thus, the meaning of a product is derived from the type and color of the material used to construct a product, the texture and feel of the product, the size, the product name, and from the overall form or style of the product or service.Verganti (2009). Examples of abstract design meanings might include: futuristic, scary, hallow, delicate, intellectual, feminine, masculine, macho, healthy, psychedelic, smart, fashionable, earthy, retro, metal, avant-garde, youthful, personal, worldly, mature, luxurious, elite, western, oriental, simple, sassy, cool, organic, green, and even abstract.

Design attractiveness and innovation also applies to services. Packaging for a service includes the overall look and feel of the service. It is the gestalt or form and configuration of the service as perceived by the consumer. The key success indicator for a service is the customer’s perception of the overall experience with the service process.Bitner, Ostrom, and Morgan (2008).

  • Technology. Is there an emerging technology or a process that can improve the quality, reliability ease-of-use, performance, value, design, and meaning of the product?
  • Value creation. Is there any intrinsic value in the product that significantly distinguishes it from other products or services offered by your company or the competition? Does the product or service solve a problem that consumers want to solve and will the solution attract them to the product or service?
  • Meaning. The meaning of a product or service can be thought of as super-attribute or super-feature that nurtures the inner needs of the individual. Meaning can include the following: provides physical, health, religious, or emotional sustenance; provides feelings of being needed or being listened to; supports artistic and creative needs; facilitates control over the environment; supports feelings of closeness to the earth and being organic; provides entertainment; supports feelings of status, superiority, and elitism; provides a sense of stewardship or a sense of altruism; supports feelings of adventure; supports gender needs; supports feelings of security and comfort; facilitates and assists in the completion of some work or home task; provides feelings of familial support; helps an individual or a community to learn and adapt; helps us to change location; provides an opportunity for communication and networking; has above-average intrinsic value to some or many people; provide for respect and recognition; and finally, provides a source of satisfaction, happiness, or hope. The meaning of a product or service is very much tied-in to what the product does. For example, communicating is one of the most important and ongoing functions in our lives and we attach significant meaning to products and services that support communication.

Overlap in Meanings, Attributes, and Features

After reading through the list, you can probably notice that there is a significant amount of overlap among the different attribute categories. This is in part related to the imprecision of words in all languages and to the proliferation of synonyms. A Venn diagram illustrating the relationships among words and their meanings would visually depict significant degrees of overlap. This ties in very well with the concept of a brand and MDD. Recall that a brand is simply something that lives in the head of consumers.Adamson (2006). A brand is simply a composite of the mental associations that are generated when you see or think about a certain product. Another way to think about branding is as a gestalt view of the product. It is more than the sum of its parts (the attributes, features, functions, form, design, and meaning). It is the meaning we attach to the product and all the neural associations that are invoked when the product or service is recalled.