Unsought Products: Definition and How To Sell

fire extinguisher on a red background

Some businesses create or sell products they know people want. But others sell products or services people don’t feel a need to rush out and buy. These are known as unsought products. Selling them is usually harder than selling commonly sought-after products, but the companies that succeed know how to create and market them in a way that inspires consumers to purchase anyway.

Here’s some background on unsought products and how you can successfully sell them.

What are unsought products?

Unsought products are goods and services that consumers don’t regularly seek out and buy. A product is classified as unsought if it is:

  • Unnecessary today. Purchased without providing an immediate or tangible benefit.
  • Unpleasant. Something consumers don’t want to buy, but know is critical or unavoidable.
  • Brand new. A product or service that is relatively unknown to consumers.

Unsought goods are distinct from other categories of consumer products. For example, consumers regularly buy so-called convenience products such as food, beverages, and soap. And, they might occasionally splurge on specialty or luxury goods, such as a high-end car or designer clothing.

Examples of unsought products

Unsought products or services are necessary, even if they aren’t regularly bought by the individual.

Fire alarms and smoke detectors are examples of unsought products that might be helpful if disaster strikes, but don’t provide any benefit immediately—if ever. As a result, consumers balk at buying them, even if the purchase might save them (or their family) from harm in the future.

Some types of insurance, such as disability and life insurance, also are unsought products without any immediate benefits. Many people even avoid considering these policies because they don’t want to think about disability or dying.

New types of products and services also are unsought because people don’t know they exist. However, if they’re well marketed and desirable, they could emerge from obscurity. Drones, for instance, quickly went from an unsought good to a mainstream toy and hobby, becoming what’s known as “shopping goods.”

Other products also have evolved from unsought to sought products. Frozen food was an unsought good when introduced in the 1920s; today it’s ubiquitous.

4 challenges of marketing unsought products, and how to overcome them

Selling unsought products usually involves confronting four main challenges:

  • Lack of motivation. People don’t go out of their way to search for unsought products and services. Because consumers don’t plan to buy an unsought product, you’ll have to build their interest by educating them about the product and why they need it.
  • Lack of awareness. Consumers might not realize a product or service exists.
  • Hesitant buyers. Even if they’re shopping for unsought products, consumers might delay purchasing because the product is tied to an unpleasant event.
  • Infrequent purchases. People don’t regularly buy most unsought products, because they don’t need them often. Market analysts sometimes consider these a separate class of goods, known as “shopping products.”

Businesses that succeed in creating and selling unsought products often take different approaches to overcome the challenges unique to their industry, product, or service.

For example, businesses that build something new might start by raising consumer awareness and explaining their product’s benefits. A high-visibility product launch could kick things off, and a business might continually run marketing campaigns to generate demand for its product.

Consider the effort and marketing Apple put into promoting the iPhone, the first smartphone, then an unsought product because no one knew about it. The company’s leader, Steve Jobs, spoke before large crowds at livestreamed events to introduce the product while heavy advertising on TV cast standard phones as obsolete.

Insurance companies, meanwhile, try to overcome these challenges with memorable advertising—often delivered with a jingle or by a mascot. A campaign might motivate consumers to buy a new policy by telling them how a disability insurance plan helps cover costs that their health insurance doesn’t. Or by highlighting how protecting your children’s financial future with life insurance is a parental responsibility.

How to generate interest in unsought products

Consumers don’t regularly choose to buy unsought products, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do extensive research and comparison shop before making a purchase. Small companies that create or sell unsought products need to think about building product awareness, demonstrating benefits, and making sure their brand is top of mind or comes highly recommended.

Unsought product marketing might employ a variety of marketing strategies, including:

  • Targeted marketing campaigns. You can reach people shopping for things related to your product or service based on their location, online search history, or social media use. For example, someone located in an area with wildfire risk might be willing to consider buying smoke detectors—even more so if they’ve searched keywords related to wildfires on Google. 
  • Trade shows. A trade show can help you connect with a targeted group of buyers who may be interested in products like yours. These gatherings also allow for face-to-face or personal selling, offering an opportunity to explain a product’s benefits to potential customers.
  • Video presentations. Videos provide a quick and easy way to demonstrate a product’s benefits and how it works. Consider creating a YouTube channel and adding high-quality videos to your landing and product pages.
  • Social selling. People might ask their friends and family for recommendations or look for reviews online before buying unsought goods. Building a referral program and encouraging buyers to leave positive customer reviews can help increase your word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Outdoor advertising. Insurance companies, for example, try to raise brand awareness with outdoor advertising using billboards and stadium naming rights.

Unsought products FAQ

How do unsought products differ from regular products?

Unsought products are goods and services that consumers don’t frequently choose to purchase, because they don’t need them right now or aren’t aware they exist. Examples include new technology and prepaid service plans. Regular products, such as convenience goods and shopping goods, tend to be items that consumers frequently buy or want.

Why do companies create unsought products?

The name might make you think unsought products are undesirable or unneeded, but that's not true. Unsought products are simply products that consumers don’t know about or aren’t looking forward to buying. Companies can still make a lot of money selling unsought products and, if they create enough demand, their products could become a product consumers regularly seek out.

What are some common reasons consumers may not be interested in unsought products?

Consumers might not be interested in an unsought product right now because they don’t know it exists, won’t receive an immediate benefit from the purchase, or avoid thinking about unpleasant events related to the unsought product. However, that doesn’t mean the consumers won’t need the product in the future or consider it unimportant.

How can companies determine whether a product is unsought and how best to market it?

Some products and services fall within the unsought product category because they’re tied to unfortunate or unpleasant events, such as accidents, illnesses, and death. Or, if a company launches a brand-new product, it may also be unsought because consumers don’t know about it. To market these products and services, companies can focus on building awareness for the product and highlighting the benefits of their specific offering.