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7.6 Categorizing the Importance of Product Attributes

Some attributes of products were important 5 years ago, but they are not today. Some product features were not even available last year, but they are mandatory today. Similarly, product designs and their accompanying meanings are constantly in flux. The importance of product attributes changes. The following classification scheme can be used to ascertain whether attributes and features are increasing or declining in importance. The classification scheme was derived from a variety of sources.Iyer and Muncy (2005); Keller, Sternthal, and Tybout (2002); Keller and Tybout (2002); Kim and Mauborgne (2005); McGrath and MacMillan (2000); Tybout and Sternthal (2005).

Points of Parity and Must-Haves (POPS)

These are attributes that most of the products in a category usually have. They are the basic features found in a product or service. They help to define the prototypical product. A productSomething that is tangible, does something, and has a function. is something that is tangible and it does something and has a function.Adamson (2006). For example, it provides sustenance; it provides security and comfort; it helps us to complete some task; it helps us to learn and adapt; and it helps us to change location, communicate, and network. The product should do what it is meant to do, with certain features that are compelling and functional. These features with their accompanying functionality are “must-haves” for a product or service to be minimally acceptable, and preferably strongly desired. If a product does not possess these essential features and functionality, it might be eliminated from consideration. For example, an auto global positioning system (GPS) should have the ability to enter an address and display how long it will take to get to a location; a word processor should have spell-checking capabilities; and a movie theater should sell treats.The attributes that most products in a category usually have.

Points of Difference and Differentiators (PODs)

These are the attributes of a product or service that assist in distinguishing products from the competition and from similar models in a product line. Product and service features that are differentiators are usually derived from Midas products and are high-end products. They are for nonprice-sensitive consumers. You can think of the demand curve as a steep incline where product features roll down from Midas products to Atlas products. When costs are further driven down, the features become the standard of Hermes products. Hermes products are for price-sensitive consumers. Important differentiators for auto GPSs include Bluetooth capability, voice recognition, and topography maps. A movie theater could have very comfortable seats. A word processor could have voice control. As noted earlier, the features tend to roll down the demand curve and the differentiators become must-haves over time.Attributes of a product or service that assist in distinguishing products from the competition and from similar models in a product line.

Blue Ocean Features and Exciters (BOFs)

These features are typically in the very early stages of R&D and part of a secret plan to develop a new market. BOFs have the potential to deliver a knockout punch by developing a Blue Ocean market, a brand new uncontested marketplace. In general, BOF features are in their infancy—beginning to unfold and emerge. Examples for auto GPS might include location of friends and family in close proximity.Features typically in the very early stages of R&D and part of a secret plan to develop a new market.

Another way to identify exciters or BOFs is to think about ways you could go about putting your company out of business or for that matter any company out of business. These are nightmare features and technologies. Many of the ideas that have contributed to putting companies, industries, and even countries out of business were derived from radical technological innovation. Examples include the printing press; armaments and tactical innovations; and networking, computing, and communications innovations. These so-called disruptive technologies are product or process innovations that eventually eclipse or overturn the existing dominant technology. Disruptive technologies can lead to sunrise features and to sunrise products. Sunrise features and products are the dawn of new technological and conceptual capabilities.

Extinct and vestigial features (EXTs)

These are attributes that are no longer necessary or on the verge of becoming extinct. They are sunset features. They are features that are on the verge of becoming obsolete and fading into darkness and oblivion. Sometimes EXTs cannot be removed because there may be a small subset of people that demand the feature. In this case, a decision has to be made to abandon the features or keep the feature. Sometimes the decision to abandon is the best way to go because of cost issues and because the company is going down a new technology path. This was the case with recent versions of Microsoft’s operating systems that abandoned some of the legacy DOS code. Apple made a similar decision in regards to abandoning DVD drives in the MacBook Air product and the decision not to include a camera in the iTouch. All of Apple’s decisions are influenced by product positioning, product costs, and the emergence and decline of technologies.Attributes that are no longer necessary or on the verge of becoming extinct.

The next category is actually a subcategory of extinct features. When products or services lead to actual dislike of a product or service, then they should be retired or at a minimum require major redesign.

Dissatifiers (DISs)

There are instances when products and features in existing products can discourage consumers from using your product or your competitor’s products. Sometimes features can actually cause consumers to actually avoid using a product. The feature may be a negative attribute of the product. This can occur because the product or service has not been designed correctly and is basically unusable. Numerous products and services have failed because consumers have been dissatified with the design. Consumers can also be dissatified with a product because the consumer does not want the feature in the product or service. DISs are often sunset features. For example, many people did not attend circuses because they were opposed to the use of wild animals in the shows or because they thought that the animals were not interesting. That is one of many reasons why Cirque du Soleil became popular with a larger adult market. Cirque du Soleil simply abandoned the use of animals in their programs.Instances when products and features in existing products can discourage consumers from using a product or competitor’s products.