What We Talk About When We Talk About Value

What a Great Value!

Everyone wants to feel like they’re getting great a value when they spend money, but what do we actually mean by “value”? It’s sort of a loaded question. There are many definitions, some of which have nothing to do with commerce. There are three important ways to approach thinking about value when it comes to brand positioning and marketing. Consider the top three definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • The amount of money that something is worth: the price or cost of something
  • Something that can be bought for a low or fair price
  • Usefulness or importance

What “value” means to your company depends not only on how you position your brand, but also on what kind of value people are looking for.

Value as Monetary Worth

Think luxury goods—gems, mansions, and sports cars. A Ferrari and a Toyota do the same basic thing: transport you from point A to point B. But a Ferrari costs exponentially more because people perceive its worth to be higher. It’s a better crafted, more finely tuned, more stylish automobile. And it’s a status symbol. Owning an elite car shows that you’re a member of the elite. Building this kind of brand identity is a long-term project. These kinds of consumers are selective and want to make sure they’re getting the real deal.  

Value as Low Price

Think dollar stores, family-sized meals, and Aldi. The general axiom of “more product for less money” remains a popular way to push goods ranging from giant tubs of coffee to used cars. If your target customer doesn’t mind sacrificing a little bit of quality in exchange for saving a buck, you should make sure they know about your low prices.

Value as Usefulness, Importance (Moral Position, “Values”)

Think eco-friendly, organic, or “Made in the USA.” These messages are aimed at people with particular political, ethical, or religious values. What is important to them? What do they think is a useful way to think about the world? Those are their values. Walk into a Whole Foods and you’ll immediately see value as a moral position. People pay a premium to shop at Whole Foods because they believe the company is better for the environment and better for their health. Just like in the case of luxury goods, it takes time and effort to convince customers that your company represents their values.

What Do Your Customers Value?

Trying to determine what people value is, as you might expect, still more complicated than this three-pronged approach. Human assessment of value is not a rational process and involves a range of factors. The crazy algorithm that is the human decision-making process takes all three of these into consideration, among hundreds of other inputs.

Nevertheless, you should consider which of these three value propositions will most likely persuade your ideal customer. And that’s often determined by how the customer wants to perceive themselves and be perceived by others. Let’s take frozen pizzas as an example. How might your brand positioning differ for different target markets?

  • Box # 1: Does your customer value the finer things in life? Your premium pizza might have toppings with fancy Italian names.
  • Box #2: Does your customer consider himself thrifty? Then he will be more likely to value bulk pricing on cases of frozen pizzas.
  • Box # 3: Does your customer think of herself as eco-conscious? Those pizzas better be in recycled cardboard.

The brand impression each box gives has to align with how each target market views the world. You must express the benefits and value(s) of your product, service, or company to potential customers, so they know what the value is to them and can decide if your offerings align with their needs.