You are selling all three. I can’t think of a single product, service or idea that doesn’t at least imply the other two. You are almost certainly neglecting two of these and and missing some great opportunities.
Product: The physical embodiment of what you are selling, how it’s manifest in the world, the deliverable, how you know it’s there.
Service: The actions taken to produce the product.
Idea: The way it’s held in the mind of the customer in thoughts and feelings.
Try to name a single product/service/idea that doesn’t have the other two. You are probably thinking that you have only one of these.
Think about the other two that you are neglecting. There, right in front of you, are the opportunities that you are missing.
Examples of one that people might think don’t have the other two:
Candy bar: is the service alleviating hunger, giving a treat, a reward, and indulgence? Is the idea “coconut almond” or “deserved reward” or “guilty pleasure”? Your decision is an opportunity.
“Pure commodity” such as gold, steel, soybeans, etc. It’s all about the service: payment terms, delivery, support, advice, guarantee of purity, etc.
An iPod wasn’t mainly a product. We forget that it was an idea: first and foremost it was a way of organizing, storing, sharing and playing your music mess of tapes, CDs, records, files, etc. It was a service that proved that if you make music ridiculously easy to buy, store and organize most people will buy, not steal.
Most great “products” are really great implementations of a great idea.
Conclusion: there is no pure product. There is no parity, me-too, product. A service and idea is always involved.
A psychotherapist: What’s the product? Health? Growth? Counseling? Confidence? Feeling of well-being? Greater functionality? Greater emotional health? All or some of the above? What’s the “idea”? Remediation or growth. support, fixing, encouraging, greater-self responsibility? Different for each patient? Does the patient know? Is the product delivered in person, by phone, internationally by Skype? Via books, individual sessions, group sessions, speeches, TV talks, a radio call-in program, etc.?
Plumber: Is the product fixing problems, new installations, residential, commercial. Is the idea speed, reliability, always showing up, etc.?
Are Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter services? Yes. Are they products? Yes. They are at the very least web sites. How you define the product, the idea, (social contact, finding answers, on-demand goods, instant X, easy X, etc. is worth billions of dollars in these cases. They made the right calls at the right time, and implemented their products brilliantly. None was the first.)
Conclusion: There is no such thing as a pure service that doesn’t have a product and an idea behind it.
What if you are selling the idea of Smaller Government, Lower Taxes, Less Spending? If you are actually trying to “sell” it, i.e., persuade people to agree with you, rather than swirling it around in your head, what’s the product, the actions, of your thinking? Joining/starting a Tea Party chapter? Starting a new party? Writing essays, talking, teaching, etc. If you’re actively selling your idea, there has to be a product of your efforts. What’s the service you will provide? Running for office, teaching, lecturing, public speaking, blogging, etc.?
New product idea: You have an idea for a product or service. You’re not selling it unless you are taking steps to manifest it (that’s the product of your thinking) and you are selectively taking actions in the service of the idea: are you the entrepreneur, the finance person, the inventor, the engineer, some or all of the above? What other services do you need to make the idea into a product?
Conclusion: There are “pure” ideas, but not in the marketing context. As soon as you start “selling” the idea, it has to take the form of a product with its attendant services, or a service with its attendant products.
Again, think about the areas you might be neglecting and how you can change your assumptions.
If you think you might make a million dollars out of these insights, at the very least, you owe me lunch, and a rave in the comments section below.