Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one that intrigues me. It can have a number of subtle meanings but within the novel it is specifically relating to the bartering of an item in Wardour Street . In the late 19th century this part of London was known for antique and furniture shops and Lord Henry’s bidding for a piece of old brocade may have hinted at the difficult economic circumstances of the period. Lord Henry’s frustration at the time taken to secure his purchase leads to his statement, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Fast forward to the 21st century and things are not so different. One effect of the recent recession has been our re-focus on reducing our outgoings both personally and commercially as the pinch on our profit and lifestyle hit home.
Let me be very clear (sound like a pompous politician there) I don’t have an issue with careful cost control. Quite the contrary, I actively encourage a regular domestic and business review of expenditure. The issue as it relates to Oscar’s brilliantly written line is that we can become “hard wired” to focussing exclusively on the currency of a product or service and not the benefit or return that item will bring.
As a marketer and business owner this is very important territory. I’m equally a supplier and customer and in both relationships I try my best to be consistent. The difficulty is in identifying what that often quoted but rarely defined “value” is.
What is “value”?
As a noun it’s “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”
As a verb “to estimate the monetary worth”
All too often we see the term reduced to a base level with items branded as “value meals” and the like. That’s not really value, it’s just cheap but of course that’s a word that won’t shift a chicken tikka masala from your local supermarket shelf.
Knowing the value of something can be harder to realise than you might think. Often we only truly gauge something’s worth when it’s no longer available. From your favourite TV series to particular brand of perfume, that great boss who selfishly retired or reliable local mechanic who always fixed your car with a smile. When they’re gone we appreciate them more.
This test equally works on goods and services that we might already attribute more value to than they deserve. What about that expensive watch, particular club membership, car, holiday destination or brand of coffee? These are often aspirational items and by owning or experiencing them we believe as a consequence our lives to be “better” and thereby valuable. That’s a state of mind that many brand owners want their target customers to buy into but if we were forced to use an alternate would our lives be so much worse?
Businesses that sell services can often struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition. There will always be those who use price as a promotional blunt instrument. Successful companies take the time to understand not only the mechanics of their offering but the emotional response to experiencing the best and worst of the market offerings.
You might technically be measured as the very best at what you provide but if you employ robots or a team of over confident practitioners to deliver, they’re unlikely to capitalise on that technical advantage.
Good business is all about the human experience.
So what are the factors that make the difference?
And of course this can all add up, when we include the fee, to value.
If you’re up for a challenge take a look at a couple of services and products that you use over the course of the next few weeks. Ask yourself what you are basing your decisions on and consider if that is the best measure for making those purchases. Put yourself in a position where you must justify those purchases to a boss and they are going to want clearly articulated and rational responses. Consider which of those items you would wish to retain and those that fall short and face being replaced.
What does value look like to you? Once you’ve thought about it from your own consumer perspective you might want to have a go at applying it to your own business. Consider, honestly, if you would want to buy from your business, if so great…. can you do even better? If the answer is no… where are you failing and how can you address the shortcomings?
If you’re not a typical customer of your company’s product or service, seek out those who are and ask for their honest, non sugar-coated views.
Knowing the price of something is the easy bit, knowing the value… that’s a skill that we all need to work on.