What we have to say on effective marketing.

Al MacKay
Value is still the new black

The problem with Value is it doesn't sound like a trend at all. It sounds like the oldest trick in the book; an obvious factor in your product offering.

If you weren't offering value, then people wouldn't be buying your product or service. But for a long time in the economic boom years, value was not all that important to many consumers. You could win them over with clever advertising, or some beautiful packaging. Consumers were spoilt for choice and brands were fighting to win their attention with gimmicks and marketing fluff.

Value is back in the spotlight. Many consumers are under financial strain after the years of recession and rising costs, while others, holding on to behaviours learnt during the recession, are simply unwilling to pay for things that they don't value any more. Whether they be disgusted with the excesses of consumerism that led to the financial and environmental crises, or simply feel less secure with their money, consumers are more conscious of what they buy, and why they buy it. Many have switched to brands that offer the same for less, or even those that offer only almost the same (it's called Next-Besting). It is now cool to find a bargain, or to mix unlabelled clothing with accessories. The new icons of pop culture are sensible and smart. Geeks are the new celebrities.

And with the focus of the world economy shifting to emerging markets, the imperative to focus on value has never been greater. The majority of the world's new consumers don't individually have a huge amount of money to spend, but they collectively represent a massive, lucrative and often untapped market. Many brands target them with cheap and nasty products, but brands that offer real benefit for the little these consumers have to spend will win their loyalty and potentially grow with them. There are incredible opportunities for brands that innovate to give value at the bottom of the pyramid. Think of Unilever selling single-serving sachets of its Lux shampoo in India for consumers who cannot afford to buy a bottle but want to be able to try or use the product whenever they can. Or Coca-Cola, that realised the huge value that most South Africans placed on being part of the world cup experience, and created Happiness Taverns to give township-dwellers a taste of the 2010 World Cup without the expense of a ticket to a game.

Offering value does not just mean making things cheap. And brands should certainly never make their consumers, even those with very little money, feel cheap. Offering value requires brands to understand what it is about their product or service that their consumers value, and to give them more of that. It may well be lower prices. But it could just as easily be a combination pack of two related products, or an extra 100ml free; it could be exclusive experiences and access to interesting people; it could mean less mayo and more ham, or a fabric that lasts more than a season. Amazon, for example, encourages readers to sell back their books to the site and pays for the postage itself. It has realised, of course, that to its customers the value of a book is in the experience of reading it, not in the paper on their book-case. So why not give them more of that for less, and get the books back to give to someone else?

In this new world order of much more rational, considered consuming, make sure that your brand offers enough of the good stuff. Ask yourself how you can help your consumers do or get more for less. And if you have to cut back on anything, be sure you've understood your consumers' value equation so that you never cut back on the key reason people buy from you in the first place.


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