Running Your Business: What is your Product?

Transporting round hay bales
Figure 1. Are you enhancing your farm income with a side business, such as custom haying or product sales? Knowing all your product's attributes can help you tailor your management and marketing plan to help grow your business.

Running Your Business: What is your Product? October 30, 2018

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Very few farm operations are strictly production-based models anymore. Drive around the countryside and you will notice what I am talking about. Row crop farmer Smith sells seed corn as an additional business and his brother Randy does custom hay harvesting. Beef rancher Wilson builds fence and rents out some portable cattle chutes and alleys. Producer Davis is doing tile and conservation work.

Some of these side businesses become major income sources for those families. I want to help those interested in starting a business, or growing an existing business, prosper. This series will cover basic principles of marketing and management. Today’s topic is: understanding your product.

What is your Product?

I may have lost some of you by the seeming absurdity of the question. Farmer Smith sells seed corn so seed corn is the product. Surprisingly, a product is much deeper than that. Why does someone buy a John Deere over a Case IH, or vise-versa? Both companies are selling the same product, a tractor that provides the same benefit to the operation. By now, you have already started thinking of reasons why you choose one over the other such as color, brand, quality, services, customer care, or warranties. All of these considerations are part of the product. Products actually have three levels, the first of which is the Core Product.

Level One – Core Product

The Core Product is the intangible benefit of the product. What makes this item valuable to the customer? Look at hiring a chemical company to spray your bean field. The benefit of the chemical company spraying the field is you not walking beans with a bean hook in the dead heat of summer. Maybe it is the utility of an item, ease of use, convenience, or speed. The core product will always be the reason why people buy a product. The next two levels determine if the purchase will be with you or a competitor.

Level Two – Actual Product

Now we look at the actual product. This level is the physical product. To demonstrate, let’s say the product is a farm tractor. What do you physically need in the product? Another way to think of this question is under a generic banner of the product. What do you think of? The product needs to have a certain horsepower and numerous hydraulic hookups. The cab needs to be spacious and have room for all your monitors. The materials need to be of a certain standard with quick and easy maintenance. Front wheel assist is required, and it must have a tight turning radius. These considerations will help you define the actual product, the minimum product offerings needed to meet the core benefit from level one.

Level Three – Augmented Product

The final level is Augmented Product. These are features that go beyond the customer's basic expectations. Maybe, it is free two-day shipping or a fantastic warranty. This level is going to be the non-physical part of the product. Brand images and identities are formed at this level and help set you apart from competitors. Other areas, such as services, installation, financing, and customer care, fall into this level. The features in this level will determine if a customer sees added value in buying from you and whether they will pay a premium for that added value. You build customer loyalty and satisfaction at this level as you mold the product in different ways to meet and exceed the individual customer’s needs.

Bringing It All Together

Too often business owners don’t fully understand what they are actually selling. By fully understanding what your product is, you have a wealth of power. You might identify situations where you undervalue or overvalue your product. Maybe you are starting to lose customers to a competitor who is selling the exact same actual product for the exact same price. Figuring out your product will help you to find your niche, build a brand, and establish customer loyalty and satisfaction.