Product, Service, or Cause?

Because there are so many different reasons for having a website and online presence, I often refer to your “product, service or cause”.

Let’s dive into that in a little more detail. There are many possible definitions of those terms, and I want to elaborate on exactly what I mean.

Even if you can’t clearly place yourself into one of those categories, I don’t want that to get in the way of your use of what I say here on Ask Leo! On Business. Besides, I’m betting whatever it is you do fits into one of those categories, or something very close.

Before we get to that, though, there’s another way to look at your efforts. I’m sure you can characterize your efforts in an even simpler way.

Pleasure versus pain

A wise friend of mine once theorized that people turn to the internet for either of two reasons: they want to be entertained, or they’re trying to solve a problem; they’re looking for pleasure, or trying to remove pain.

The only thing those two motivators don’t cover, in my opinion, is connecting with people. I suppose that could be considered either pleasure or pain, depending on the context.

Ask Leo! is a great example. People come to Ask Leo! with a computer or tech problem looking for a solution. In other words, they’re experiencing pain, and they want to make that pain go away.

The biggest reason to understand which business you’re in – pleasure versus pain – is to help you better focus the value you bring.

Understanding that I was in the pain-removal business helped me tailor my approach to presenting my answers. It caused me to focus my writing, as well as my overall approach, better. People want answers – that’s pain removal. That I might also sneak in some education at the same time (so as to help avoid more pain in the future) is important, but shouldn’t get in the way of helping people solve the immediate problem in front of them.

If you’re in the pain-removal business, you’ll be more successful if you can quickly and clearly remove pain. All else, however important, is secondary.

Similarly, if you’re in the entertainment (or pleasure) business, make sure you deliver on that promise.


If you have something to sell, you have a product. That’s pretty easy to see.

More conceptually, if people have something after they interact with you, or get something as part of their interaction with you, that’s a product.

Obvious cases are online stores that sell things, but it’s really a broad concept, and your involvement could be at any stage of the process. Your website might deliver value in the form of background information about a product sold elsewhere. You might actively sell the product through your own online store. Your product might be a physical thing, or a digital download or subscription.

It might also be free, but most commonly we think of products as involving payment of some sort.

The value you add can be the product itself, of course, but the value you add using your website usually comes down to supporting that product in some way, either before or after someone purchases it. That could mean explaining its relevancy, clarifying the value it adds to their lives, or helping them use it once they’ve purchased it.

This also means clarifying how it solves problems or entertains.

Depending on your product, that may involve a few articles, or hundreds.


When I talk about online service, I’m mostly talking about providing information. Ask Leo! is, once again, my most obvious example. The core way Ask Leo! adds value is by providing information to help resolve technology issues. I offer an educational and informational resource to people who come looking for help.

If your website is about helping people get things done or improve themselves in some way – be it technological, personal, spiritual, inspirational, educational, or something else – you’re adding value to the world by providing those people a service.


Often what you want to promote online is nothing more than an idea. It may be a world-changing idea, but when it comes to what your website needs to do, it’s your idea that matters most.

The goal of your effort is to convince others of the worthiness of your idea, educate people about your idea, and garner support for your idea. Then you inspire them to take action on your idea and make change in the world.

Causes can be anything from the eradication of a disease to the election of a particular political candidate to the adoption or repeal of a law or regulation. The common thread is the desire to garner support for an idea.

In regards to our “add value to the world” approach, causes can be difficult to think through. It’s easy to think that the idea itself adds value to the world, and while it might do so, that’s not really what we’re after here. What we want to understand is how your website about that idea adds value. In that light, it’s helpful to consider what aspects of your reader’s pain or pleasure your message is really all about.

The pain of knowing that there are unnecessarily starving children might be your rallying point, or that a law or politician is fundamentally unjust or eminently qualified. The value you add to the world becomes education, articulation of the solution, and the steps your readers can take to alleviate the pain they feel.

One person’s product is another’s…

Products, services, and causes can all blur together.

It’s not uncommon to hear of political campaign marketers calling their candidates “the product”, and that their job is to “sell” the public on their merits. It can be a useful metaphor.

Your service might be about a cause. Your cause may involve a product. And a product might support your service.

In many ways, the distinctions are arbitrary. They’re all metaphors for appropriately connecting with your audience.

I break it out here because you need to think deeply about what it is you provide and how you provide it. Having done so, you’ll have a much better understanding of exactly how you can succeed.

It all comes back to …

Adding value is what will make your website successful. If you’re skeptical about that, look at the reverse: not adding value will almost certainly guarantee it won’t succeed.

If you sell a product, how can you add value beyond the product itself – even to those who don’t buy?

If you’re promoting a cause, how can you add value that supports the cause – even to those who disagree?

If you provide a service, how can you add even more value beyond the service’s core premise?

Decide which best describes what it is you’re attempting to do, and then go do that – add value to the world.

1 thought on “Product, Service, or Cause?”

  1. Product, service, cause: useful concepts to consider. Yessir! All of them. I host a musician’s web page.
    We get visitors but we could get more (I think) if keep these ideas in mind. I know the page can go stale.
    “Pimping” for performances or CDs is imp’t but goes just so far. Yeah, some visitors just want to see the gig schedule. That’s “product.” I want them to see a little bit more.
    “Value added” is the idea I’ve tried to use and that’s what “service” and “cause” implies. A visit to our crummy page should inform the visitor re a musician of note, perhaps a useful instrument or technology, maybe a music related non-profit. Simple self-promotion seems deadly, like Facebook pages that shamelessly promote the owner.
    I doubt Google Analytics will reward my efforts with better numbers but I sleep better knowing that visitors might leave the page knowing just one thing of interest they did not know before. Who knows? Maybe they’ll come back?