Knowing the characteristics of technical writing is very important if you are a person that is interested in writing professionally. There are many different types of writing and each type has a purpose. Technical writing is different from other types of writing in that it is more informative. The purpose of this type of writing is to explain a variety of topics to other people. Technical writing is commonly seen in how to manuals and other pieces that provide direction. Learning the characteristics of technical writing is essential if you want to build a successful writing career.
Purpose of Technical Writing
Every type of writing has a goal. There are some forms of writing that are geared to telling a story and there are other forms of writing that are geared to expressing opinions.
The main purpose of technical writing is to provide sometimes complex information. This is the type of writing that will:
- Assist a person with understanding more about a particular item, such as a computer or a new drug or a new piece of technology.
- Explain how an object works or how to complete a project.
Technical writing is targeted to readers who are looking for information on a particular topic. The goal in targeting this group is to make sure that the information provided is clear, concise and easy for anyone to understand.
This type of writing is somewhat difficult for some people as it requires that you are able to translate information that is sometimes hard to comprehend into terms that anyone will be able to read and follow along with, without an issue. While there are different types of writing that are informative, technical writing is the type that most clearly focuses on presenting information in a specific way so that people can use the information for a variety of purposes.
Characteristics of Technical Writing
Technical writing, just as any other form of writing, has certain characteristics which distinguish it from other types of writing. It is very different from writing opinion pieces, essays, prose, non-fiction or fiction.
- It is clear and straight forward. If you are interested in technical writing for professional purposes, it is very important to know that this type of writing requires that the writer stick to the subject matter and relay information in a clear and concise manner.
- The language is very direct and straight to the point. The writing will avoid words that people do not understand and will avoid an eloquent writing style.
- It is very detailed and informative. The perfect example of technical writing is a textbook. The written content of most textbooks is geared to providing information by describing the subject matter as fully as possible.
- It is very structured. This type of writing has a very obvious composition that makes it easy for the reader to follow along. Solid structure is needed with technical writing as it allows the audience to easily access the information as needed.
Uses of Technical Writing
With understanding the characteristics of technical writing, you can better comprehend how this type of writing is used. Technical writing is found everywhere. There are a variety of different types of writing which use a technical style.
For example, instructions of all sorts are a perfect example of technical writing.
- When you open up an instruction manual, as the reader, the goal is to be informed about the product so that you can use it as efficiently as possible.
- Lab reports are another example of technical writing. The main purpose of a lab report is to explain the occurrences in a lab so that others will be able to gain information.
- Driving directions can be considered a type of technical writing as the goal is to clearly and efficiently provide instructions on how to go from point A to point B.
Overall, technical writing is a very useful form of writing that is encountered by everyone almost every day.
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Characteristics of Technical Writing
By YourDictionaryKnowing the characteristics of technical writing is very important if you are a person that is interested in writing professionally. There are many different types of writing and each type has a purpose. Technical writing is different from other types of writing in that it is more informative. The purpose of this type of writing is to explain a variety of topics to other people. Technical writing is commonly seen in how to manuals and other pieces that provide direction. Learning the characteristics of technical writing is essential if you want to build a successful writing career.
Product characteristics are characterized differently in different literature. Product characteristics vary with the change in the domain of concern under study. Product quality is swiftly becoming a major competitive issue these days and emerging as a prime consideration in terms of evaluating product characteristics. The greater reliability of Japanese products has trigger considerable introspection among American counterparts (Abernathy W. J., Clark K. B., and Kantrow A. M., 1983). In recent studies, managers classified "producing to high quality standards" as a prime concern (G. Miller, 1983).
Despite that, the academic literature on the quality of products has not been reviewed widely. Scholars scattered into four disciplines — economics, marketing, philosophy, and operations management —considered this phenomenon, but each cluster has viewed it from an antithetic point. Like Philosophy has focused on definitional issues; whereas economics looked upon profit maximization and economic equilibrium; besides that marketing has taken care of the factors of consumer behavior and consumer satisfaction; and operations management looked after engineering and manufacturing practices. The results have been a performer of competing perspectives, where each discipline based on a different analytical framework and employing its own terminology.
Approaches to Define Quality
Five key approaches to the description of product quality can be identified in academic literature: (1) the user-based approach of economics; (2) the product-based approach of economics; (3) the transcendent approach of philosophy; (4) value-based approaches marketing and (5) the manufacturing-based approach of operations management (Garvin, D. A. 1984).
Product Attributes Dimensions:
The basic elements of product attributes and quality are as follows:
Garvin, D. A. (1984) puts performance atop of the list of product attributes in terms of quality. He refers performance to the core operating characteristics of a product or service. For automobiles, this would be characterize like acceleration, handling, cruising speed, and ease; whereas, for a television set, it would include sound and picture lucidity, color, and ability to catch distant stations. This facet of product quality integrates the elements of both the product-based and user-based approaches. Quantifiable product attributes are caught up, and brands can be classified objectively on, atleast, one dimension of performance. The correlation between performance and quality, yet, is more unclear. Whether performance difference is supposed as superiority difference depends upon individual preferences. Users, in a typical manner, have an extensive range of interests and needs; each is apt to equate quality with high performance in one's area of immediate interest. The association between performance and quality is also influenced by semantics; among the words that express product performance are terms that are frequently linked with quality and terms that fail to carry the connection. For instance, a 100-watt light bulb gives advanced candlepower than a 60-watt bulb; however, a few consumers will regard this difference as a dimension to measure quality. The products mostly belong to different performance ranks. The smoothness and comfort of an automobile's ride, however, is characteristically viewed as a direct manifestation of its quality. Comfort is, therefore, a performance dimension that simply translates into quality, whereas candlepower is not. These differences come out to reveal the rule of English language to the extent that they do personal preferences.
Besides that, there is a clear comparison to Lancaster's theory of buyers demand (K. Lancaster, 1966). This theory is based upon two propositions: All goods hold intended characteristics relevant to the choices which consumers make among different herd of goods. This association between … a good … and the characteristics, which it possesses, is fundamentally a technical relationship, depending upon the objective characteristics of the product. . . . (Lancaster, 1971).
Individuals differ in their reaction towards different characteristics of products, rather than in their assessments of these characteristics of products… It is those characteristics in which consumers are fascinated… the various characteristics can be seen… as each endeavoring to satisfy some kind of "want."
Consequently, in these terms, the performance would match to its objective characteristics, while the link between performance and quality would reflect individual reactions.
Product features is the second dimension of product quality. The former approach can be applied to product features. Features, principally, are the "bells and whistles" of a good, these secondary characteristics that harmonize the product's basic functioning instances include free drinks on an airplane flight, automatic tuners on a color television set and permanent press as well as cotton cycles on a washing machine. In many instances, the line differentiating primary product characteristics (performance) and secondary characteristics (features) is complex to draw. Features, as product doing something successfully and delivering value to customer, involve objective and measurable attributes; its conversion into quality differences is likewise affected by individual preferences. The distinction between these two characteristics is, primarily, important to the users.
Reliability is another dimension that articulates quality of a product. Among the most widespread measures of reliability are the average time to first failure, the average time between failures, and the failure rate per unit (Juran, 1974). As these measures call for a product to be used for some period, these are more pertinent to durable goods than to products consumed right away. Japanese manufacturers, in general, pay immense notice to this dimension, and have used it to attain a competitive edge in the consumer electronics, automotive, semiconductor, and copying machine industries etc.
Conformance is another related dimension of product quality. It is defined as the point to which a product and/or service's designs and operating characteristics offset pre-established standards. Both internal and external fundamentals are involved. For instance, within the factory, conformance is usually measured up by the incidence of defects: the amount of all units that fail to meet specifications, and require rework or repair. In the field, data on conformance are often difficult to gain, and proxies are often used. Two common measures are the incidence of service summons a product and the frequency of repairs under guarantee. These measures, while evocative, disregard other deviations from standard, which do not lead to service or repair. A supplementary comprehensive measure of conformance is requisite if these items are to be counted (Garvin, D. A. 1984).
Both reliability and conformance are closely connected to the manufacturing-based approach to quality. Improvements in both measures are in general viewed as translating directly into quality gains since defects and field failures are regarded as unwanted by virtually all consumers. They are, therefore, comparatively objective measures of quality, and are less likely to mirror individual preferences than are rankings based upon performance or features.
Durability, a scale dimension that gauge of product life, has both economic and technical scope. Technically, durability can be viewed as the amount of use one gets from a product before it physically weakens. A light bulb produces the perfect example at this point in time: after so many hours of utilization, the filament burns up and the bulb must be substitute but repair is next to impossible. Economists call such products "one-hoss shays," and have used them extensively in modeling production and consumption of capital goods (C. J. Bliss, 1975).
Garvin, D. A. (1984) states durability becomes more difficult to elucidate when repair is doable. Then the concepts deal with an additional dimension. Durability turns into the sum of use one gets from a product or service before it collapse and replacement is treated as preferable to continued repair. Plus, consumers are faced with a set of choices each time a product fails: they must weight the cost of future repairs along with the investments and operating expenses of a newer and more steadfast model. In these instances, a product's life is influenced by repair costs, personal evaluations of inconvenience and time, losses caused by downtime, relative prices, and additional economic variables. This approach has two important implications. First, it implies that durability and reliability are closely allied. A product that fails commonly is likely to be redundant earlier than one which is more reliable; repair costs will be, in the same way, higher, and the purchase of a new model will come out much more desirable. Second, this advocates that durability figures should be inferred with concern. A shift in product life may not be attributable to technical improvements or to the utilization of longer-lived materials; the principal economic environment may simply have misrepresented, such as, the expected life of automobiles has risen progressively over the last decade, and now have a average of fourteen years (Retiring Autos 1983). Older automobiles are held for longer ages and have become a greater percentage of all cars in use (Burch S. W., 1983). Among these factors that are thought to be responsible for changes growing gasoline prices and a weak economy have abridged the average number of miles driven per year, and federal regulations governing gas mileage. These have resulted in a drop of the size of new models and an augment in the attractiveness to many customers of retaining older cars. In this instance, environmental changes have been to blame for much of the increase in durability.
To have a clear understanding of the impact of product characteristics, a discussion on product classifications is essential. When looking at product classifications, marketing managers divide goods and services based upon the types of consumers that use them - consumer and business to business products. Consumer products are those products which are purchased by the final consumer for the consumption. These products are further divided into convenience, specialty, unsought, and shopping products. Convenience products are those products that are purchased routinely with little shopping efforts. They are characteristically at low prices and widely available. Specialty goods enjoy strong brand preference and loyalty. Consumers of these goods are willing to make a special purchase effort, do little brand comparisons and have low price sensitivity. Both producers and sellers of these products use carefully targeted promotion. Shopping goods are those which are bought less frequently, such as furniture and major appliances, and which are weighed against on the bases of suitability, quality, price and style. Unsought products are consumer products that the consumer either does not have knowledge about or knows about but does not usually think of buying; such as, Red Cross blood donations (Kotler et al, 1998).
Not all purchase decisions are uniformly important or psychologically concerning for the consumer. People engage in a less wide-ranging decision-making process, involve a less detailed search for comparison of alternatives, when buying low involvement products than when purchasing high involvement products and services.
The reason for inter-category differences could be attributed to different product characteristics (Hoch, 1996). Most previous research has focused on consumer characteristics that affect product purchase intent, such as demographic characteristics (Baltas, 2000; Richardson et al., 1996), value consciousness (Burton et al., 1998; Richardson et al., 1996), price sensitivity (Garretson et al., 2002), shopping values (Chandon et al., 2000), and risk aversion (Ailawadi et al., 2001). A few studies have also paid attention to differences in sales between product categories (Hoch and Banerji, 1993) and examined the potential influence of product characteristics on the sales of private brand products (Batra and Sinha, 2000).
Product involvement and Product Classification
Several studies of consumer behavior have examined product involvement, which pertains to feelings of inherent needs, values, enthusiasm and interest toward product categories (Zaichkowsky, 1985). These stances are evidenced in consumer tendencies to affix more importance to specific products and knowledge of attributes and brands. Empirical research has established that product involvement is positively associated with brand perception and preference (Quester, 1998; Auty and Elliot, 1998; Dholakia, 2001). Involvement with a product is hence an important factor in amplification why a consumer chooses a specific brand (Zaichkowsky, 1985; Baltas and Doyle, 1998). When a product is professed as high involvement, consumers will hold in a more active information search and consider a larger variety of alternatives in their buying decision-making process. In contrast, when a product is perceived as low involvement, consumers perceive relatively less differentiation between alternatives (Lastovicka, 1979). For the low-involvement products, consumers demonstrate little preference for a particular brand and, instead, consider low price to be a significant product attribute (Rothschild, 1979).
Price is, accordingly, important in low-involvement product purchases. Because utilitarian value is the largest part appealing factor of private brand products, it is generally assumed that private brands are more appealing in low-involvement product categories. On the other hand, the general belief has been empirically examined by only a few studies. Baltas (1997) calculated the "importance of getting the right brand" as a pointer of involvement, and found that a negative connection between involvement and store brand proneness. Miquel et al. (2002) contradicted conservative belief concerning product involvement and private brand proneness and stated that an increase in product involvement took on to the purchase of a store brand rather than a national brand.
Product type and Product Classification
Products can be classified into two distinctive types - search versus experience - on the basis of related attributes or benefits (Erdem and Swait, 1998). Attributes or benefits such as taste, aroma, color, and texture exemplify experience qualities of a product, while attributes that are evaluated by objective measures or physical properties (e.g. nutritional content) illustrate search qualities of a product (ACNielsen, 2005). Experience products cannot be evaluated until the product is experienced directly, whereas search products can be evaluated prior to purchase if information regarding dominant attributes can be obtained through an information search (Nelson, 1974).
How would search and experience properties influence the acceptance of private brands compared to national brands? Ford et al. (1990) reported that consumers were less skeptical of claims on search attributes than they were of claims involving experience attributes, because search attributes could be more easily verified. Erdem and Swait (1998) argued that lesser-known brands are more likely accepted in search product categories due to the products' tangible attributes and lower perceived risk. For search goods, written information on product packaging (e.g., fat content of milk) is likely to be sufficient in minimizing risk (Cave, 1985). Glemet and Mira (1993) showed that consumers tend to buy private brands when they can easily compare products based on written or quantifiable descriptions in product packaging, advertising, promotional campaigns, and other informational messages. In fact, Batra and Sinha (2000) reported that search properties decrease consumer perception of the consequences of making a mistake in brand choice. Experiential qualities, however, are more likely to create uncertainty or risk (Moorthi, 2000;Zeithaml and Jo, 1996). To reduce risk, consumers may prefer well-known national brands to private brands when purchasing experience goods.
Consumer Involvement and product Classification
The degree of consumer involvement in a product category has widely been recognised as a major variable relevant to strategy (Laurent and Kapferer, 1985; Ray, 1982; Vaughn, 1980). Thus, to know the level of consumer involvement is very important to a manager. However, how can a manager know whether a group of consumers has high or low involvement in a product category? Many researchers have proposed measurement scales to divide consumers into various levels of involvement with product categories and explored their behaviour (Engel and Blackwell, 1982;Sheth and Venkatesen, 1968; Lastovicka and Gardner, 1978;Traylor, 1981). Some literature has suggested that a person could be involved with products (Howard and Sheth, 1969). Involvement with products has been hypothesised to lead to a greater perception of attribute differences, greater product importance, and greater commitment to brand choice (Howard and Sheth, 1969). Sheth and Venkatesen (1968) measured involvement with products by product rank-or-ordering. Hupfer and Gardner (1971) rated products using an eight-point concentric scale relating the product importance in the subject's life. Other researchers measured the importance of a particular brand or product to the level of involvement (Cohen and Goldberg, 1970; Lastovicka and Gardner, 1978; Traylor, 1981). Zaichkowsky (1985) developed the systematic relative conception and methods and then proposed the PII scale (Personal Involvement Inventory) which has been successfully used by many researchers to measure the level of consumer involvement since it effectively meets the standards for internal reliability, reliability over time, content validity, criterion-related validity, and construct validity. Many researchers measured the level of consumer involvement for product categories and divided the products by the various involvement groups (Bowen and Chaffee, 1974; Tyebjee, 1979; Vaughn, 1980, 1986; Bloch, 1981; Laurent andKapferer, 1985; Zaichkowsky, 1985, 1987; Wells, 1986; Zinkhan and Fornell, 1989).
Peterson et al., (1997), propose another classification system. In this system the products and services are categorized along three dimensions: cost and frequency of purchase, value proposition and degree of differentiation. Goods in the first dimension range from low cost, frequently purchased goods to high cost infrequently purchased goods. The usefulness of this dimension lies in that it highlights the differences in transaction and distribution costs. For example, if a frequently purchased, low cost good, such as milk, requires physical delivery, there is less likely to be benefit in using the technology like internet. The value proposition dimension classifies goods according to their tangibility. Products are classified as tangible and physical or intangible and service related. The third dimension, differentiation, deals with how well the seller has been able to create a sustainable competitive advantage through differentiation.
Products as symbols
The relationship between physiological product characteristics and consumer quality perception is at the heart of market-oriented product development: In order to design products which will be accepted by consumers, it is necessary to translate consumer demands into product specifications that are actionable from the producer's point of view. This relationship is especially complicated because the way consumers perceive expected quality before a purchase is often different from the way quality is perceived after consumption, and may be related to various physiological product characteristics.
Products have a significance that goes beyond their functional utility. This significance stems from the ability of products to communicate meaning (Hirschman, 1981; McCracken, 1986). Products are symbols by which people convey something about themselves to themselves and to others (Holman, 1981; Solomon, 1983). This symbolic meaning is known to influence consumer preference.
All commercial objects have a symbolic character, and making a purchase involves an assessment - implicit or explicit - of this symbolism ... (Levy, 1959, p. 119).
The symbolic meaning of products has become increasingly important. Nowadays, differentiating products based on their technical functions or quality is difficult (Dumaine, 1991; Veryzer, 1995). Since the wave of the quality controls in the 1980s, products can be expected to fulfill their functions reasonably well. Symbolic meaning provides another way to be attributed. Due to symbolic meaning, otherwise, indistinguishable products become differentiated in the eyes of the consumer. Similarly Salzer-Mo¨rling and Strannega˚rd (2004) recently stated:
With the abundance of products in the western world, the managerial challenge, it seems, has become that of differentiating similar products (p. 224).
Due to its increasing relevance, many articles have investigated the symbolic meaning of products. The range of topics studied is very broad, varying from the cultural meaning of products (e.g. Kleine et al., 1993; McCracken, 1986), semiotics of consumption (e.g. Holman, 1981; Mick, 1986), products as tools for self-expression (e.g. Belk, 1988; Prentice, 1987), and impression formation based on possessions (e.g. Belk, 1978; Dittmar and Pepper, 1994; Gosling et al., 2002).
A little Part of this literature is somehow specifically concerned with the use of personality related concepts, such as brand personality (Aaker, 1997; Biel, 1993), and product-user image (Sirgy, 1982; Sirgy et al., 1997; Sirgy et al., 2000). Parts of the symbolic meaning of products are captured by these concepts. However, some of the symbolic meaning has not been accounted for. Brand personality refers to "the set of human personality characteristics associated with a brand" (Aaker, 1997) and the product-user image reflects the stereotypical image of users of a product class or brand (Sirgy etal., 1997). Yet, the physical product itself also carries symbolic meaning.
That part of the symbolic meaning that refers to the physical product itself and is described with human personality characteristics is called product personality (Jordan, 1997, 2000). In order to avoid confusion between "brand" and "product", we use the term "product variant" instead of "product" to refer to a single physical product. A product variant is defined as "a distinct unit within a brand or product line that is distinguishable by size, price or appearance", whereas a brand is defined as "the name, associated with one or more items in the product line that is used to identify the source or character of the items" (Kotler, 1997, p. 432). In accordance, product personality is defined as the profile of human personality characteristics that people use to describe a specific product variant and to discriminate it from others (Govers, 2004). The qualities of a product variant that are described with personality characteristics cannot be reduced to a single tangible attribute. Product personality is a high-level description of the product variant as a whole and is strongly influenced by product appearance (Govers et al., 2004). It is what designers refer to as "character" (Janlert and Stolterman, 1997). The most notable difference between brand personality and product personality is that product personality is product variant specific. It is less abstract than brand personality and directly related the product itself.
The relevance of product personality stems from the fact that brands often feature product variants in a great variety of appearances and thus create differentiation within a brand. As a consequence, consumers do not only choose for a brand, they also choose for a specific product variant. Moreover, companies not only have to make marketing decisions at the level brands, they also have to decide at the level of product variants. During product development, companies manipulate characteristics s of the product variant in order to increase consumer preference.
While this has been acknowledged repeatedly in the literature (e.g. Grunert et al., 1996; Poulsen et al., 1996; Steenkamp and van Trijp, 1996), despite the obvious practical consequences of better knowledge on how physiological product characteristics and quality perception before purchase and after consumption interact, research shedding light on this issue has been very sparse.
Taste is considered as one of the prime aspects of product characteristics in food industry. The study by Steenkamp and van Trijp (1996) combined physiological product characteristics, quality cues and quality criteria. Six physiological characteristics were measured, some of them by several indicators: colour, fatness, pH value, water-binding capacity, and shear force and sarcoma length. Eight quality cue measures were combined into three latent constructs: freshness, visible fat and appearance, which together determined quality expectations. Likewise, seven quality criteria measures were combined into three latent constructs: tenderness, non-meat components and flavor, which together determined quality experience. The main results were as follows:
- colour has a significant impact on quality expectations only
- fatness has a negative impact on quality expectations and a positive impact on quality experience
- water-binding capacity, sarcomere length and pH value have an effect on both quality expectations and quality experience
- shear force affects quality experience only
- there is no significant relationship between quality expectation and quality performance.
Information about the product attributes plays a vital role in consumers' product evaluation process. For most product evaluations, only partial information is available, thus consumers often form evaluations for various products on the basis of the available information and form attribute covariance inferences about the missing information (Pechmann and Ratneshwar, 1992; Ross and Creyer, 1992).
A shortcoming of the product attribute covariance studies by Elliott and Roach (1991; 1993) is that the subjects were not provided with any information about the products that they were asked to rate. With the absence of any product specific information, the subjects in the Elliott and Roach (1991; 1993) studies were not afforded possible inference indicators for the product performance. To better understand how consumers evaluate products prior to choice, the effects of relevant, yet incomplete, product information received prior to the product ratings should be considered. The relevancy of product information is defined here as the consumer's information that is useful for the product ratings tasks.
When exposed to new information, people may resist changing their long-term memory attribute covariance beliefs (Shweder, 1980; 1982). However, they are likely to use available relevant information to make more discerning attribute covariance inferences, which in turn increase the accuracy of their overall attribute evaluations (Kozlowski and Mongillo, 1992).
Although it is generally accepted that prior expectation does influence usage and performance, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the nature of its impact. Anderson (1973) suggests that there are at least three theories concerning the relationship between expectations and product satisfaction. Empirical studies on the relationship between expectation and product usage and performance have generated inconsistent results with expectation being shown to have positive, negative and no effect on performance (for a brief review see Kristensen, et al., 1999). In part, this is due to complexity of expectation as a concept (researchers have differing conceptualisations) and the difficulty of capturing it empirically (Gronroos, 1993; Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Kristensen, et al., 1999. Kristensen, et al., (1999, p.602) observes that expectation is such a complex concept that it is hard to achieve reliable and valid measures.
One of the important characteristics s that can be concluded from the various academic domains which are interested in usage, performance, satisfaction and brand switching behavior is that there is a reciprocal relationship between the object and the person. Within the paradigm of marketing, the literature on loyalty contains a number of models. Dick and Basu (1994) observe that empirically those models use various combinations of satisfaction, quality, performance, involvement and switching costs as variables. Gremler (1995) suggests that the marketing oriented models join together the literature on performance, consumer satisfaction, quality and brand loyalty. Railey et al (2001) observe that the models represent dispositional approaches to loyalty which follows the line that evidence of the depositional variables within the model come from their ability to predict behavioral intentions. According to Reichheld (1996), what keeps customers loyal is the value they receive and one of the reasons so many businesses fail is that too much of their learning revolves around profit and too little around value creation. Piercy (1997), states that the harsh truth is that value is not created in the factory or the back office; customer value exists only on the customer's terms and reflects the customer's priorities and preferences. Shukla (2001) confirms the same by noting that how a company perceives its performance may differ from how its customers perceive it. In fact, discrepancies between company's perceptions and customers would not be at all unusual; a company routinely encounters such discrepancies when interviewing its service staff as well as its customers. So, even if the company is working itself to the proverbial bone, if customers view it as unresponsive, then it is unresponsive - in their eyes. The reverse is also true: If the company is really unresponsive, but customers perceive it to be delivering superior service, then the company will do (in their eyes). This view is not advocating bumble headed service, of course, but merely emphasizing that customer satisfaction is driven by customers' perceptions. Their perceptions are their reality, and any overlap between their view of the world and of a company's own may be simply one of those delightful coincidences.
In general, product classification is the pre-requisite of product characteristics. Tangibility and intangibility are two major characteristics that are frequently used to describe a product or service (Rayport and Sviokla, 1995; Peterson et al., 1997; Koppius, 1999; Poon and Joseph, 2000; Phau and Poon, 2000). As a result, product classification, product quality, price, packaging and taste etc, are considered as predominant characteristics of product needs to be studied.
When developing a product, insight into what characteristics of the product are most important to consumers is useful. This helps ensuring that the resulting product design fits to and communicates the characteristics that are important to consumers. For example, when aesthetic value is most important to consumers, efforts should be taken to make sure that consumers find the product looking attractive. However, when ease of use is important for consumers, attention should be paid to make sure that operation is clear and easy and that the appearance of the product does not look complex. Of course focus on one characteristic does not mean that other characteristics s can be neglected. However, the optimal design for one characteristic may conflict with the design that best suits other characteristics. Buttons in a contrasting color may contribute to the ease of use of a clock radio, while at the same time diminishing the aesthetic attractiveness of the product. Therefore, in developing a product, it will be beneficial to focus on the product characteristics that are most important for consumers in buying the product. In order to do so, knowledge about the importance consumers attach to different product characteristics s is needed. The importance of certain product characteristics s in buying durable products differs with demographic characteristics, such as gender, age, and social class (see, e.g. Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998; Williams, 2002). For example, younger people pay more attention to expressive product characteristics s than older people (Henry, 2002). Insight into differences in product characteristics importance with demographic characteristics such as age, gender, education and income, will be of practical utility to product managers. In addition, this knowledge is useful for attuning marketing communication to specific target audiences (see Henry, 2002).
In prior studies, associations between the significance of functional and self-expressive product characteristics and demographic variables such as gender, age and social class have been point out (see, e.g. Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998). However, within these general categories of functional and expressive product characteristics s, more specific characteristics s can be distinguished. Knowledge of the relation of demographic variables to these specific product characteristics is more useful for product development purposes. More specific functional product characteristics are functionalities, quality and ease of use (see, e.g. Holbrook et al., 1986). More specific expressive product characteristics s are aesthetic and symbolic characteristics s (see, e.g. Mittal, 1988; Ratchford, 1987). Relations with demographic variables may differ for the specific product characteristics s within the more general expressive and functional categories. For example, older people may attach more importance to ease of use, but not to quality, even though these are both functional characteristics s. Therefore, our study focuses on the relation of demographic variables with the importance of this more specific product characteristics s: aesthetic characteristics s, symbolic characteristics s, functionalities, quality and ease of use. Knowledge of these relations will help companies to better adjust product designs to consumer preference.
Williams (2002) looked into the relation of demographics with more specific purchase evaluation criteria (see Table I). Several of these criteria concerned extrinsic product characteristics s, such as price, warranty and well-known brand name (these are between brackets in Table I). In our study, we focus on product characteristics s that plays a role in physical product design. Criteria investigated by Williams (2002) that concern intrinsic product characteristics s are performance, durability and reliability (which are both dimensions of quality, see Brucks et al. 2000), and style/appearance. Ease of use was not included in William's study, and style/appearance can be important for both aesthetic and symbolic reasons.
Demographic variables and product characteristics importance
The expectations for the relation between the product characteristics identified above - aesthetic, symbolic, functionalities, quality and ease of use - and the demographic variables gender, age, education and income is formulated over there. An overview of the most important studies concerning the relation between purchase motivation or purchase criteria and demographic variables can be seen in Table I.
Gender and product characteristics importance
Concerning the influence of gender on the importance of certain product characteristics s, the following findings are found in the literature. Henry (2002) found that males use more functional purchase criteria than females. Williams (2002), who had respondents indicate the importance of several evaluative criteria for nine types of products, found that performance, durability and reliability (i.e. quality), and style/ appearance were more important to females. Research into object attachment shows that males, more often, indicate functional items that are valued for their instrumental value as their favorite possessions. On the other hand, females mention items for which beauty and notions of prestige (i.e. expressive characteristics s) are important (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988). Dittmar et al. (1995) found that in impulse buying, men tend to buy instrumental items, while women tend to buy symbolic and self-expressive goods concerned with appearance and emotional characteristics s of self. Furthermore, Smith (1995) found females to be more sensitive to the color of an electronic scanner than males, which points to more attention to aesthetic characteristics.
These literature findings lead to the following expectations. Concerning the expressive characteristics, females pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics in making a purchase decision. Based on the findings listed above, the expectations for functionalities are not clear. Most of the findings point to a higher importance of functionalities for males, although Williams (2002) found performance (expected functionality) to be more important for females. There is no previous research available on the relation between gender and importance of ease of use, so our study will be the first to look into this relation. In accordance with the findings of Williams (2002), females attach more importance to quality.
Age and product characteristics importance
The following findings concerning the relation between age and importance of certain product characteristics s are reported in the literature. Henry (2002) found that younger people use more expressive purchase criteria. In addition, in research into object attachment, Wallendorf and Arnould (1988) found younger people to focus more on hedonic pleasures in choosing their favorite objects. Hsieh et al. (2004) found that older people are more sensitive to utilitarian brand image characteristics s. However, Wallendorf and Arnould (1988) found older people less likely to choose functional as opposed to display items as favorite possessions. This seems to indicate an importance of symbolic value in buying products. However, these possessions have symbolic value for older people as they represent something from their history (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988), which is something different than buying a product because it portrays a certain image to others. One could expect older people to pay more attention to ease of use, as they may have more problems dealing with complex operation. For in getting older, cognitive abilities such as working memory capacity, symbol and language comprehension diminish (Rousseau et al., 1998).
Based on these findings, younger people pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics than older people. However, older people pay more attention to utilitarian characteristics in buying durable products.
Education and product characteristics importance
The relation between education and importance of product characteristics is not directly investigated in previous studies. However, education is often included in determining social class (see Holt, 1998; Williams, 2002). Determination of social class is often impractical for managers, since it requires extensive and detailed information. Therefore we look at education, which is a good predictor for social class (Williams, 2002). Our study assesses whether findings for social class also apply to education alone.
People of lower social class are found to use more functional, practical purchase criteria (Henry, 2002), and to value goods more for functional and practical reasons (Holt, 1998). For example, according to lower social class informants, home furnishings must be comfortable, functional, durable and easy to care for (Holt, 1998). Higher social class people use more expressive purchase criteria, pertaining to taste and self-expression (Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998). Williams (2002) found an increasing importance of both functional and expressive purchase criteria with social class, but for socially significant products only. Many of the products used by Henry (2002) and Holt (1998), such as clothing and furnishings, are socially significant, so their findings on the expressive characteristics s agree with Williams (2002). However, their findings concerning importance of functional characteristics s differ with those of Williams.
Based on the findings above, an influence of education on product characteristics importance is highlighted. For socially significant products only, more highly educated people will pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics. There is no clear expectation for functional characteristics; Henry (2002) and Holt (1998) found a negative relation between social class and importance of functional product characteristics, while Williams (2002) found a positive relationship.
Income and product characteristics importance
Although somewhat surprising, studies suggest that income level does not associate highly with social class (Williams, 2002; Coleman, 1983). Therefore we look at income level independently. There is little research about the relation of income to the importance of various evaluative criteria (Williams, 2002). Williams found a negative correlation between income and the importance of utilitarian purchase criteria, especially for less socially relevant products. Therefore, it is expected that higher income leads to less importance of functional characteristics and will assess whether this goes for functionalities as well as quality and ease of use. Williams (2002) did not find a relation between income and importance of expressive characteristics. It will be assessed whether this goes for both aesthetic and symbolic characteristics and whether it generalizes to another country, using a more differentiated set of products.
Furthermore, numerous studies have identified consumer value consciousness as a strong predictor of private brand purchase (Burton et al., 1998; Garretson et al., 2002; Glemet and Mira, 1993; Jin and Suh, 2005; Richardson et al., 1996). The improved quality and image of private label products appeals to a segment of value-conscious consumers (Davis et al., 1986; Martell, 1986; McGoldrick, 1984; Patti and Fisk, 1982). Value consciousness is defined as a concern for price paid relative to quality received (Lichtenstein et al., 1993). Based on the consistent support for the strong effect of value consciousness reported in the literature, our study also explores whether the effects of product characteristics on private brand purchase vary by consumer level of value consciousness.
Despite the obvious importance of detecting the general product and store attributes that influence consumer decisions, related research suggests that the importance of specific criteria may be partially determined by the demographic characteristics of the consumers. This may lead to heterogeneous preferences that vary over people with different demographic profiles. For example, Tigert et al. (1992) have concluded that warehouse club members are distinctly "upscale from the general population", while Stone (1995) found that the demographics of warehouse club members and supermarket shoppers differ significantly. Also, Arnold (1997) provided empirical evidence that the demographic profile of consumers who shop at the large format stores is different from the profile of the non-shoppers.
Individual difference traits have been classified into demographic/socioeconomic factors and consumer personality traits (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981). Demographic/socioeconomic factors have long been used to profile consumer groups because firms can present more precise adjustment of service and marketing related with specific target-market segments. For example, given that early adopters of new technology products are generally young and male consumers (Lu et at, 2003), marketers can portray a situation where young people or males actively use new technology products in advertisements. In addition to demographic factors, consumer personality traits notably influence the adoption of SST (Dabholkar, 1996; Meuter et al. 2005). Previous studies have examined a variety of consumer traits, such as technology anxiety, self-efficacy, novelty seeking, and need for interaction, as the antecedents of consumer adoption of SST (Dabholkar and Bagozzi, 2002; Elliott and Hall, 2005; Meuter et at, 2005). Understanding how individual differences in consumer characteristics influence the adoption of retail self-checkouts may help retailers determine whether to install retail self-checkouts, to which type of consumer is prone to use such options, and how to appeal to different consumer groups.
Recently, Kim and Jin (2001) compared the profiles of the domestic versus the multinational discount store shoppers. Except for group differences in terms of occupation, data analysis has not shown any significant differences between the two groups of shoppers with respect to age, family size, income and education.
In the US market, the average price of private brands is 26 per cent lower than manufacturer brands (ACNielsen, 2005). Private brands, particularly in the USA, have been promoted as low-price alternatives, which have been reflected in consumer perceptions of private brand products and in the characteristics associated with private brand consumers. Private brands used to be perceived as inferior to national brands, and perceived as being poor quality, having poor packaging, and lacking brand recognition (Cunningham et al. 1982; Dick et al., 1995). Consumers of private brands have been profiled as financially constrained, highly price conscious, and not very quality conscious (Ailawadi et al., 2001; Baltas, 1997). Quality consciousness has thus, in the past, deterred consumers from purchasing private brands, because private brands are perceived as inferior in quality (Cunningham et al., 1982; Myers, 1967). These studies imply that private brand consumers buy products for low price, despite low quality. Low price alone, however, may not account for consumer choice of private brands. If low price itself is the predictor of private brand sales, there should be a direct correlation between price variances and the market share of private brands. However, the product categories that have the largest share - such as refrigerated and frozen food, paper products, and plastic bags/wraps - have the smallest price differential (ACNielsen, 2005).
Consumer private brand quality perceptions have been improving and are now close to those of national brands; the stigma attached to private brands as poor quality is thus disappearing (Fitzell, 1992; Quelch and Harding, 1996). Burt (2000) argued that private brands have evolved from a lower quality product alternative for a lower price in the 1970s and 1980s to a true quality brand alternative. In fact, North American retailers have been introducing private brands that sell at a slightly lower price and offer quality that matches or exceeds national brand quality. Furthermore, successful European retailers have expanded private brands beyond a price-point, and have focused on consumer demand for premium quality brands and health-focused alternatives (ACNielsen, 2005).
Consequently, it is evident from the foregoing discussion that the simultaneous examination of product characteristics as well as the demographic characteristics of the consumers will considerably increase understanding of consumer behavior and thus provide empirically determined insights for design of segmentation and marketing strategies.
According to Shimp (2003), sales promotion pertains to those incentive used by a corporation to encourage the trade - wholesalers, retailers, and other channel members - or consumers to purchase a product and to induce the sales force to insistently sell it. Retailers too use promotional incentives to induce desired behaviors from consumers. Sales promotion is more of a short-term oriented and capable of influencing behavior. Totten and Block (1994) affirmed that the term sales promotion pertains to many types of selling incentives and techniques prone to produce instant or short-term sales effects. Classic sales promotion entails coupons, samples, in-pack premiums, price-offs, displays, and so forth.
A large literature of research upon consumer responses towards sales promotions (e.g. Blattberg and Neslin, 1990; Bawa and Shoemaker, 1987 and 1989; Huff and Alden, 1998; Leone and Srinivasan, 1996) has amassed over the past few periods due to the mounting importance of this marketing lever.
Over the last few decades sales promotion has become of great interest to researchers. This has been said; however, research studies have focused on some tools of sales promotion, such as price reductions and couponing, and have put little emphasis on others. One particularly important promotional tool that was largely ignored in the literature is product sampling (Bawa and Shoemaker, 2004; Heiman et al. 2001). Commenting on the lack of research on product sampling Bawa and Shoemaker (2004) conclude:
Although usage of free samples appears to be high compared with usage of other consumer promotions such as coupons alone, little is currently known about the brand and consumer characteristics that are related to this behavior. Clearly more studies on product sampling are needed to identify its determinants and understand its effects on sales, purchase intentions, free samples trial and brand image.
McGuinness et al. (1995) define product sampling as a sales promotion technique used by marketers to support "consumer trial". Ailloni-Charas (1984) states that this technique involves giving away trial-sized quantity of a product with little risk and no obligation. This promotional tool may have an immediate use, like tasting a food product in store. It may also have a delayed use, as it is the case for perfume or cosmetic samples
Giving that the main objective of product sampling is to encourage product trial (Belch and Belch, 1990; Meyer, 1982), it is then possible to measure its effectiveness using sample trial rate and the purchase rate (McGuinness et at, 1995). Earlier studies, such as Marks and Kamin (1988), assess product sampling effectiveness through purchase intentions.
The importance of product sampling as a promotional tool has increased substantially in recent years (Marketing Week, 1997). A survey-based study conducted by Donnelly Marketing, Inc. (1990) shows that 75 per cent of companies offer free samples to promote new products while 52 per cent do so to promote their established products. Although product sampling is a powerful promotional tool, it is also very costly (Soods, 1996; Hunt and Jupe, 1994). Hence, it is important that managers carefully examine the costs associated with product sampling.
The distribution of free samples is a common and important promotional tool for many products (Schultz et al. 1998). For example, a 1994 survey of packaged goods manufacturers (Donnelley 1994) indicates that 78% of firms surveyed distributed free samples in that year. A 1997 poll in the United Kingdom (Marketing Week 1997) indicates that 84% of adults had experienced some form of free sampling in the prior 6 months. Marketing scholars, too, have noted (e.g., Villas-Boas 2004, Seetharaman 2004) that free samples can play an important role in creating brand loyalty and inertia.
There appear to be two lacunae in the literature on free samples. First, although free samples are widely used, empirical evidence to demonstrate their effects on sales over time is extremely limited. In particular, it appears that no controlled field experiments have been reported that measure the incremental effects of free sample promotions. Such evidence as exists does not provide a clear basis for understanding or predicting the full effects of free sample promotions on brand sales.
Second, relatively few models have been developed for the analysis of free sample promotions. Existing models that incorporate free sample effects include those by Jain et al. (1995), Heiman et al. (2001), Urban and Hauser (1980), and Gedenk and Neslin (1999). While each of these models provides useful insights, we see a need for a comprehensive model that more directly focuses on the incremental sales effects of sampling and its impact on different consumer segments.
Two streams of prior research on free samples are considered. We first review models that incorporate the effects of sampling on sales or market share. We then review empirical results on the effectiveness of free samples.
Two closely related models incorporating free sample effects were developed by Silk and Urban (1978) and by Urban and Hauser (1980, pp. 341-342). The models were developed to predict steady-state market share for new products. No empirical results were presented to show the incremental effect of a free sample promotion on sales.
Jain et al. (1995) develop an interesting simulation approach to determine the optimal level of product sampling for a new product. Their modification of the Bass model assumes that the coefficient of innovation is a function of the sampling level (Jain et al. 1995, Equation 6). While this approach is most promising, it appears that further empirical work is required in order to determine how the coefficient of innovation is related to the level of sampling.
More recently, Heiman et al. (2001) develop a model that decomposes the sampling effort into the immediate sales and longer-run (goodwill-building) effects. Through use of their model, they determine the optimal sampling effort of a firm over time. Their model is designed primarily for the case where products are tested at retail outlets. Although they did not conduct any empirical tests of the model, they note that the conceptual model could provide the basis for an empirical investigation and that one would have to develop "practical measures of goodwill" (p. 544).
Empirical Evidence on Free Sample Effects
The belief that free samples can be effective in increasing a brand's franchise appears to be well-accepted among marketers. Many examples of the use of free samples have been reported in the media, although few data on their effectiveness are provided. For example, Lever Brothers distributed free samples of its new Surf detergent to four out of five households in the United States (Kotler 1990, Chapter 23). Frito-Lay distributed more than 6 million free samples of Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos to introduce this new snack (Brandweek 1995). The distribution of free samples to physicians (i.e., detailing) by pharmaceutical firms has long been a popular form of promotion (Wosinska 2001).
Relatively few studies, however, have been published to show the effectiveness of free samples. A study by Scott (1976) predicts the impact of various promotions on demand for newspaper subscriptions. Among subjects given a free 2-week trial subscription, only 4% were willing later to subscribe for a 6-month period, compared with a 9% subscription rate in the control group. This demonstrates that the achievement of trial via a free sample does not necessarily lead to increased sales or to conversion. Subscriber behavior after the initial trials was not reported.
In a field experiment, Lammers (1991) offered a free sample of chocolate to customers who entered a retail chocolate store. In the very short term (within minutes of sampling), providing a free sample had a positive impact on sales of other chocolate varieties, though not of the sampled variety. As a result, his findings would be most relevant to retailers wanting to examine the short-term effects of a free sample on category purchases, rather than purchases of the sampled brand.
Prior research has also demonstrated the positive effects of free samples on measures such as belief strength and attitude (Marks and Kamins 1988), perceptions of the brand (Bettinger et al. 1979, Hamm et al. 1969), and the initiation of interpersonal communication about the brand (Holmes and Lett 1977). While these studies did not examine the effects on sales nor measure any long-term effects, they suggest that free samples could cause some households to make a trial purchase that would not have been made without a free sample promotion.
Surveys conducted by the Sunflower Group (1997) suggest that the incidence of consumers using the product (via usage of the free sample) is several times that which is commonly achieved with other promotions, such as coupons. For example, in one survey 32% of respondents report that they had used the free sample within one day of receiving it. This is much higher than the typical redemption rate for a coupon (Blattberg and Neslin 1990).
Regarding the free sample, another important promotional tool used by firms over and over again is product free sample and trial. Marketers recognize the significance of product trial and direct behavioral experience with a product, for this reason, they often dispatch free samples of goods to potential customers so that they can try these products, rather than hear about these products (Kardes, 1999). However, some researchers established free sample as a promotional offer that had no significance upon consumers' reported buying behavior (Gilbert and Jackaria, 2002), whereas Pramataris etal. (2001), Fill (2002), and Shimp (2003), have revealed otherwise.
Gedenk and Neslin (1999) develop a new logit model and estimate the effect of in-store promotions on purchase event feedback, i.e., brand loyalty (BLOY). They find that the estimated coefficients were positive for in-store samples of mineral water and negative for price cuts. Thus, the distribution of these free samples is associated with a higher probability that the households would choose this brand in the future, whereas a price cut has the opposite effect. It should be noted that with in-store samples buyers are able to purchase the subject brand immediately after using the sample, while with home-delivered samples; there would generally be a longer interval until the first purchase opportunity. In addition, there could be a reciprocity effect, whereby the consumer feels obliged to make a purchase because of the personal nature of the free sample delivery. Thus the results for home delivery and in-store delivery of free samples could differ.
In summary, given that free samples have been used for a long time and that considerable money is spent on free samples, it is surprising that more research on free samples has not been reported. Second, there do not appear to be any controlled field experiments other than the study by Scott (1976) on newspaper subscriptions. Third, with the exception of the Gedenk and Neslin (1999) study, there do not appear to be any empirical studies that have examined the effects of free samples beyond the first 2 weeks after their delivery.
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