The "form vs. function” debate applies in many arenas in business, including marketing. Some marketers believe product performance is the most important. Other marketers believe that the look, feel and other design elements of products or the form are what really make the difference. Take a position: Product performance (function) is the key to brand success versus product design/aesthetics (form) are the key to brand success.
This post was part of TyroCity discussion forum
Question asked by abiral_joshi
Latest comments (6)
Product feature or product design/aesthetics as the key to brand success is a highly debatable subject. Product design is important as that is the first thing that anyone notices off the shelf in retail or on the website which attracts the attention of the people. The product feature is equally important as if it lacks key elements that define the product, it’s of no use either. So, both the design and the feature need to go hand in hand to build a successful brand (Townsend, Montoya & Calantone, 2011). However, if I have to take a side, I would say that product feature overpowers the looks and feel of the product to build a brand success.
Analyzing that functionality and performance are important over the aesthetics of the product let’s take an example of Apple as laptop manufacture vs Dell. Steve Jobs once said that Apple makes good-looking Mac Book. While Dell doesn’t make any such claims and they do manufacture average looking laptops. Each of these company has their own separate operating system and features. With Apple, one gets limited functionality and user experience if compared to Dell. However, if we look at the sales figure, Dell overpowers Apple in the laptop sector. This is because of them providing more varieties with different features and functionality at a cost point below what Apple offers. Apple regardless of having a good design doesn’t sell as much. In the other case, Apple produces smartphones with a whole lot of features, excellent camera quality, display, and operating system, however, lacks behind other companies in term of design and varieties like Samsung and Sony. However, they’ve more sells as compared to the other two company. So, the look and feel of the product doesn’t ensure that people buy it but rather the features that the product includes.
Looking further, if you’re looking for a cleaner for removing the stain in your house, would you choose a product which is well packaged and looks good or would you rather go with one that simply gets the job done? The answer is obvious, people will go with the one that gets the stain removed. Another example can be a car, that simply looks fantastic but it doesn’t have one key feature which is the brakes. Would you buy the car? Obviously, not. Thus, the design might get the attention, an extra look of the customer but if the product lacks the feature, it’s good as nothing.
In conclusion, product feature defines the brand and helps build the business from the ground up to start focusing on the design in the longer run. Product without good design is workable with if the product lacks essential functions, it’s unusable. Thus, product function is key to brand success over product form.
Townsend, J., Montoya, M., & Calantone, R. (2011). Form and Function: A Matter of Perspective. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28 (3), 374-377.
Brand is the perception consumers hold in their head about a product, a service, an organization, a cause, or an idea. Brand building is the deliberate and skillful application of effort to create a desired perception in consumer’s mind (DeMers, 2013). A brand is a promise to consistently deliver certain benefits to the customers. Brand signifies quality, evokes desire, tells us about the manufacturer and helps us belong (Kotler & Keller, 2016). Building a brand is more than designing a cool looking product and logo (Davis, n.d.).
The form versus function in making a brand successful is an ongoing debate. Those who believe on form argues that the product design and aesthetics make the brand successful while the opponent argues that product performance is the key to brand success. I think the form and function goes hand in hand. However, if I need to choose one, I will go with the product function ability. Our product should perform exceptionally well so that the people will start using the brand name as a verb.
At first, we might choose a product looking at its design and physical features but if it fails to perform as expected, we will not repurchase it. Researches in consumer behavior shows that consumers choose products that reﬂect who they are and who they are not. Likewise, researches on brand identity reveal how meaning can be transferred from a brand to those who selects the brand (Townsend & Sood, 2012). Thus people prefer quality over looks of product.
Consumers purchase products to satisfy their needs and wants and their choice is highly influenced by their personality, social environment and culture they are a part of. The aesthetics can help to attract one time customers but if we want to create a loyal consumer base for any product or serviced, there is no alternative on focusing on the performance of the product (Lew & Sulaiman , 2014). For example: If we want something good and durable, we will not buy the product with "Made in China” tag because unfortunately Chinese products are not renowned for their quality. People are willing to pay premium price for the product with good performance even if they do not look much attractive. IPhone is an example for this. People use IPhone because of its high performance standards rather than its look.
Having said this, I believe that product form should follow the intended function of the product to gain competitive advantage over other products of similar nature and be a successful brand.
Davis, R. (n.d.). 7 Keys to Building a Successful Brand . Retrieved from Business Collective: businesscollective.com/7-keys-to-b... 18
DeMers, J. (2013, November 12). The Top 7 Characteristics Of Successful Brands . Retrieved from Forbes: forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2013... 7
Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2016). Marketing Management. London: Pearson.
Lew, S., & Sulaiman , Z. (2014). Consumer Purchase Intention toward Products Made in Malaysia vs. Made in China: A Conceptual Paper. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences , 37-45.
Townsend, C., & Sood, S. (2012). Self-Afﬁrmation through the Choice of Highly Aesthetic Products. JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, 39 (1), 415-425. doi:10.1086/663775
For any kind of product both the form and function matters more. Here, form means the design, or say the outer view of the product. It is how a product looks and how it is shaped. Whereas, function is the feature in build in the product for carrying out an operation. The physical form or design of a product is an unquestioned determinant of its marketplace success. A good design attracts consumers to a product, communicates to them, and adds value to the product by increasing the quality of the usage experiences associated with it (Bloch, 1995). In the same way, a good function also attracts consumers to a product, for instance, the benefits of some mobile to buyers include safety, ease of use, affordability and so on.
However, preference of product form and product function entirely depends on the target market which the marketers are aiming at or the market itself. As we know that, consumers, products and the marketplace has distinct buying and selling nature thus, to comply with the prevailing trend marketers embrace either product performance marketing or product design marketing. Product design does not offer direct or rational consumer benefits in comparison to the functionality of the products but it definitely offer emotional visual experience and self-expression (Pullman, Moore & Wardell, 2002).
As we know that, the market scenario is changing rapidly as the needs, wants and desire of the prospective consumers. Therefore, to comply with and take the advantage of underlying opportunity extensively, marketers’ need to prioritizing form and functional value of the products accordingly. Today, people are not going to buy a product that is not going to give them the full satisfaction both physically; in the form or mentally and psychologically in the function.
Let me take an example of inspiring excellence of Ford Motor Company. Ford automobile, when it was first manufactured 1903; it was the design and aesthetic beauty that caught the eyes of the people. But over the time it was the performance of the car and works the ford employees were able to put that kept the company going for over hundred years. The features of strong engines were the reason why people bought them and trusted them for those hundred years. As a whole, design and performance, both played its own part and contributed to Ford success.
Bloch, P. H. (1995). Seeking the ideal form: Product design and consumer response. The Journal of Marketing , 16-29.
Pullman, M. E., Moore, W. L., & Wardell, D. G. (2002). A comparison of quality function deployment and conjoint analysis in new product design. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 19 (5), 354-364.
Many products can be differentiated in terms of form - size, shape or physical structure of the products. A product form is a key drive of competitive advantage and new product success. Here, one of the example is Dove which offers products such as soap, hand wash and has a glycerin. This means same company can develop same product in different form. Similarly, Dove in white color and its outer look is so good. The logo of Dove is unique and an attractive. The main target customers such as ladies. Similarly, Fogg which is a deodorants brands, Vini cosmetic product came up with different types of product, hair gel, body spray, and deodorant crème. It has a unique packing and first deodorants brand as the without gas body spray. It came with basis USP of long-lasting fragrance and guaranteeing 800 sprays for a single gas bottle (Kulkarni). Another example of product form is Pringle potato chips. Which has unique feature than other chips like Lays, Kurkure and Potato Cracker. It has unique packing and also termed as the only potato chips that doesn’t sell air.
A product function is used by marketers to identify product features or performance and enables a user to have a set of capabilities (Levitt, 1990). Product function is complex then product feature and functionality may or may not be easy to use. This means, it in intangibles marketing products. In intangible product, Levitt (1981) we can’t touch, smell, see and tasted. For example iPhone, we can see its color, size, but we can’t see its software capacity, internal security system, its smart and powerful hardware and Latest AI. So these are very important parameter for iPhone. These all intangible things are product feature. For example, other smartphones Samsung, huwai, Xiomi, HTC, and Sony are good looking and attractive design smartphone than iPhone has high sales rate than others. Because Apple has a unique operating system, High level of Data security mechanism, hardware manufactured by Apple Inc. so that people trust Apple. These all are the major function of Apple Company. Suppose you are going to buy a new car and you have two option, in one side you have Hyundai Tucson without brake system and another side you have TATA Nano with the break I think you choose the second option. Because Car without break is meaningless. So product function matter more than product form in Business.
Personally, I pick functionality and performance over the looks/design of the product. For example, iPhone is not all that good looking. But the variety of function that really makes apple valuable.
Kulkarni, K. (n.d.). Going to market Fogg. NMIMS University Press .
Levitt, T. (1981). Marketing Intangible Products and Product Intangibles. Harvard Business Review .
Levitt, T. (1990). Marketing Success Through Differentiation. Harvard Business Review .
All marketers try to sell their products in a beautiful form, shape and design, fulfilling the aesthetic needs of a customer. It is necessary for a product to be appealing to be sold in the market but nevertheless the product must have certain features to satisfy customer’s need because those products are bought with objective to fulfill certain needs. Hence, I think product feature is important.
According to (Harrington, 2013), a product must be able to solve problem, must be multifunctional, easy to operate, must show before and after transformational effect and have proven results; which shows the importance of features in a product. For example, If I buy a beautiful mobile but if doesn’t connect to network and wifi, then I cannot solve my problem (i.e, problem of being disconnected with people) associated with buying of that mobile. Similarly, now a days mobile gives utilities more than just calling, if I cannot do something more than calling then also the mobile couldn’t give me multifunctional benefit. So, how beautiful or appealing the shape and size be, the mobile won’t be any worth if it doesn’t fulfill the basic requirement of product. In features, the product must have the functions in par with the products available in the market, often called Point of Parity, to get the basic level of satisfaction. While According to He and Li (2010), technology has an effect with consumer evaluation of the product.
The performance of product depends on its features and is directly linked to the quality of the product. According to Linton (2016), if the customer doesn’t find the quality in the product, they shift to alternatives which also affect the image of companies. For example, Windows Vista had a beautiful outlook but the problem was on its function. Microsoft company was heavily denounced and it had a bad impact on the company for bringing such defective product in the market.
The 'Function Vs Form" choice also depends on the user’s preference of product; whether he buys it for fulfilling his aesthetic need or for fulfilling the functional needs. However, if the product doesn’t provide the basic function of its product category, or Point of Parity of the given product, the product cannot be successful.
Harrington, K. (2013, October 8). 10 Qualities Of A Successful Produc . Retrieved from Forbes: forbes.com/sites/kevinharrington/2... 15
He, H., & Li, Y. (2010). Consumer evaluation of technology-based vertical brand extension. European Journal of Marketing .
Linton, I. (2016). Why Is Quality Important for a Business? Retrieved from Chron: smallbusiness.chron.com/quality-im... 11
Instead of deciding on whether product performance or design is more important for brand success it is important to analyze the perceived customer value for the product. Theodore Levitt explains, "They buy something that transcends these designations-and what that "something” is helps determine from whom they’ll buy, what they’ll pay, and whether, in the view of the seller, they’re "loyal” or "fickle. (Levitt, Jan 1980)” As explained by Theodore, these something that transcends for the satisfaction is met by both the functionality of the product and the design. But it can be argued that functionality of a product is more of an expected trait. With market having limited funding and resources the best thing a marketer can do is segment target and position strategy to effectively and efficiently differentiate their product and increase their market share.
Thus when it comes to generic products, the design/aesthetic value is what matter more product differentiation and success of the brand. For example, would you rather buy a Chinese shoes or a branded oxford shoe for a formal function? You would probably lean towards a branded oxford shoe as the design and quality speaks more about you in the function rather than by a low quality Chinese brand.
Kotler and Keller explains, "To the company, a well-designed product is easy to manufacture and distribute. To the customer, a well-designed product is pleasant to look at and easy to open, install, use, repair, and dispose of. The designer must take all these factors into account. (Kotler & Kellar, 2012)” As Kotler and Keller explains, the design and aesthetics aspect are what differentiates the product in the market and increases value to the customer. For example, a 150cc bike of Bajaj and Yamaha as compared to Honda XR 150. Honda’s price is almost double the other two companies as its design (both off road and on road applicability) and aesthetic value is higher.
It is said that ‘good brands make life easier’ and so a product should have a great design and aesthetic value for it to succeed in brand creation.
Kotler, P., & Kellar, K. L. (2012). Social Responsibility Marketing. In K. L. Philip Koter, Marketing Management (pp. 170-171). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Levitt, T. (Jan 1980). Marketing Success Through Differentiation–of Anything. Harvard Business Review , 15.