Companies compete on price and on quality, but quality isn’t a monolith—goods aren’t just “high quality” or “low quality” or “good quality for the price.” Instead, quality lives along a number of discrete dimensions.
There are product-based quality of dimensions, like performance, features, and durability.
There are user-based dimensions of quality, like aesthetics, serviceability, and perceived quality.
And there are manufacturer-based dimensions of quality, like conformance and reliability.
Although operations-focused managers may think about “quality control” as a production-focused process intended to minimize defects and rework, marketers have an opportunity to think about quality as the mapping of product attributes onto customer needs and wants.
Quality exists along these 8 dimensions:
0-60 in 2.8 seconds. Top speed of 155 mph. 195.9 inches long.
Performance is the totally objective view of the product in clear, measurable, concrete terms. Your car may look silly, be crazy expensive, and driven by human Axe body spray… but we can’t argue about the performance quality of the car.
Features are the bells-and-whistles and nice-to-haves. If performance is the leg room on the seat, the features are the peanuts and free drinks.
Reliability is a probability measure. How likely is the product to not fail within a period of time?
Conformance is a measure of how well a product conforms to established standards for the product. Failure to conform is usually a result of a defective process.
Good pitch: “Try our artisinally crafted, each-one-of-a-kind Coogi sweaters!”
Bad pitch: “Try our artisinally crafted, each-one-of-a-kind, 1/4-20 UNC-2A screws!”
How long can you use this product before it has deteriorated to the point of unusability?
In 2014, Toyota claimed that 90% of all Toyota Camrys sold within the last 10 years were still on the road. If true, it is a testament to Toyota’s durability (and serviceability, as you’ll see below) that they make products that last that long.
Serviceability is a measure of the total cost of repair, including speed, ease, expense, and how good the service people smell if you have to you take it in. The ability to replace a cracked iPhone screen in 20 minutes at any corner store makes it a relatively serviceable product for the most common kind of common damage. By contrast, needing to hand in your laptop for several days to replace the battery makes it a relatively hard-to-service product.
This is the opposite of the performance metric: a purely subjective evaluation of how a product pleases or displeases the senses. The original iMac competed in large part in contrast to the beige boxes that PCs were then being shipped in.
You’re about to hire a tax lawyer. Would you rather hire a lawyer in a crisp shirt and suit, or a sauce-stained T-shirt and spinach in their teeth?
Knowing nothing else, most people would choose the former. Diplomas on walls, titles, certifications, etc, do nothing to improve the quality of the product itself, but to signal that the product is high-quality.
Understanding the dimensions of quality that your customers care about can help you focus your marketing on the dimensions of quality that matter
“Our muffins are precisely three inches in diameter—never more, never less.” While intriguing, I don’t think that this marketing claim will sell a lot of muffins.
But what about the performance?
“20g of protein and just 1g sugar packed into each little bite.”
Or the aesthetics?
“Each airy muffin puffs like a soufflé—and the iconic blue-and-white muffin liner can’t be missed.”
Understanding your product’s differentiated qualities can help you understand the benefits and emotional triggers and brand and market accordingly.
If you make a car like BMW or Porsche, you might emphasize the performance quality of the car—and emphasize the feeling you get from that level of speed, acceleration, and handling.
If you make a car like Volvo, you might emphasize the unique safety features and crash performance as a way of selling peace of mind.
If you make a car like Toyota, you might emphasize the reliability, durability, and serviceability of a Toyota—and emphasize the “no hassle”-ness of owning a Toyota relative to a rival car.