Tagged by: pricing

Marketing, Pricing and Value: what I learned during Black Friday

Line at UGG Factory Store

This post originally appeared as a guest contribution on Rags Srinivasan’s Iterative Path blog.

Like most people in the US, during Black Friday week my inbox received an onslaught of promotional emails from every company I have done business with. All of them, without exception were promoting sales and discounts.

In a previous post on this topic we established “When a marketer’s creativity runs out he defaults back to price discounts. “ Creating a promotion or a sale is the default way to generate sales in the short term. Even though we know, deep down, that short term discounts erode value and train customers to expect discounts as JC Penney learned the hard way.

It was Black Friday and we decided to stop by the Factory Outlet in San Marcos – my daughter had an eye on a pair of UGG Boots that I was hoping to get at a good price. This is what I found: It was not that surprising to find a line outside a popular store, especially on Black Friday, but there were a couple facts that made this experience interesting for me as a student of marketing and consumer behavior:

This post originally appeared as a guest contribution on Rags Srinivasan's Iterative Path blog. Like most people in the...

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How can a higher price result in more sales?

Value and Price

The concept of sales going up with a higher price is counter intuitive. It goes against the basic concept of price and demand taught in school. It defies the ‘law’ of demand. But it is real. Here are a few examples:

  • I wrote about a post about doubling price with no decrease in sales and a dramatic increase in profits in A Pricing Lesson from the Concorde it’s one of my most popular posts.
  • Here is a story of doubling the price of software and selling ten times as many copies.
  • Another software product originally selling at $3K was doubled in price with no impact to sales volume.
  • An entrepreneur quadrupled subscription prices with no impact on unit sales, effectively finding a 4x sales increase with the same demand..

But the question we need to ask us is Why? Increasing price is fantastic for any business because the additional revenue goes straight to the bottom line. If you have been reading this blog, you know I am a fan of leading with value rather than discounts. Not that I every advocate abusive pricing, which is simply a form of bad profits.

Back to the question – Why is it that customers are willing to buy more products at a higher price? The answer is straightforward: price communicates value. Maybe we can be bolder: price establishes value in the mind of customers.

Imagine I told you I just found a wonderful whiskey that sells for $5 a bottle. It is not credible. Your first thought may be that I don’t even know what is good whiskey (and you’d be right, but that’s another story). Conversely, when you are at a restaurant and you see a bottle of wine priced at $150. you immediately assume it is of very high quality.

You can charge more money for a product and see higher sales when your price and the value you deliver to customers is not aligned. In other words, when you are leaving money on the table.

How do you know if you are in this situation? The first and most common clue is when the price for your products or services is determined using a cost plus model. You have a target profit margin that gets added to your total costs and that becomes the price. This happens often when finance is in charge of pricing. The alternative is value-based pricing.

Building a value-based pricing model requires understanding your customers, what aspects of your product or service they value, and how they quantify that value. Often times, the value customers put in a product or service is determined by pricing anchors. Pricing anchors are prices in the mind of the customer that provide a range of costs for a product, a service or to solve a problem.

Pricing anchors are the reference points customers use to judge the relative price of your products. In a future post, I will explore how you can set these anchors using techniques such as Goldilocks Pricing.

For now,  imagine you need to replace the furnace in your home. You may think a furnace is going to cost you somewhere between $700. and $1200. (these are the numbers that came to my mind)  Whether those figures reflect the range of prices in the market is irrelevant. When you call the repairmen you will judge the price based on the range established by these anchors.

As in the post about the pricing lesson of the Concorde, when your price and the expected price are misaligned, you can make a correction without an impact to demand. You can also do this with products that don’t have a strong price elasticity.

Understanding your customer segments, their anchors, their values and their price expectations is fundamental for value-based pricing.

Let’s look at another example: As told in the book Playing to Win , when P&G was re-launching the Olay brand they did test on three prices:

  • At $12.99 the sales were good. It was affordable to the mass market.
  • At $15.99 sales tanked. Not expensive enough to be considered a premium cosmetic for the mass market, and to cheap to be a credible quality product for the prestige shopper
  • At $18.99 sales were great. A good value but not too cheap for premium shoppers, yet credible as premium and still affordable for Mass market

Launching at $18.99, Olay became a $2.4 billion dollar business for P&G with double digit growth and fantastic margins.

Pricing can make or break a business. I want to suggest another resolution for the new year (the first one is at the end of this post): understand the value model for your products and services, and use it to review your pricing strategy.

The concept of sales going up with a higher price is counter intuitive. It goes against the basic concept of price and d...

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Content Marketing as an Antidote to Discounting

Coupons1Flying back from San Francisco, I open the in-flight magazine and a half-page ad by Riedel catches my eye. Riedel a German company and one of the best known manufacturers of high quality wine glasses.

It is a premium brand: a pair of wine glasses especially designed for Cabernet and Merlot retails for about $50. Their customers are either wine enthusiasts or people with a lot of money who don’t mind spending $25 for a wine glass.

It is a nice looking ad, but I was surprised to see the ad’s main message is an offer of  20% discount for a purchase of $100 or more. It does not seem to fit the brand. At the same time, it was not that surprising to see a discount oriented message: it is the easy answer.   ‘What should be the message? I know, let’s offer a 20% discount’

When a marketer’s creativity runs out he defaults back to price discounts. Tweet This

Here is why I suggest discounting it is the wrong strategy for Riedel

  • Discounting erodes Riedel’s position as a premium brand
  • The discount is only redeemable at Riedel.com ignoring and/or undermining their channel strategy that includes local retailer like Macys and online retailers like Amazon
  • A 20% discount reduces the overall profitability of a sale by probably 40 to 50%, even as a premium brand
  • You may say this is an offer to get customers who have never bought a Riedel to buy their first one, but It is unlikely I will want to start spending $80 on wine glasses based on finding a coupon code (minimum purchase is $100)
  • The continued practice of providing discount codes and coupons trains customers to only buy with a discount. Anyone who shops at Kohl’s or Bed Bath and Beyond can tell you shopping at these stores without a coupon is overpaying.
  • The discount is only valuable for customers who already have a predisposition to buy the product: customers who already now Riedel and believe it is a good investment to buy their products. Customers who were likely to buy anyway. For the rest of us, the discount is irrelevant as we were not planning on spending $100 on wine glasses.

If discounting is the lazy answer, what would be a better strategy for a premium brand like Riedel? Content Marketing.

After all, Modern marketing is about being helpful and educating your customers. Tweet This

As someone who enjoys wine and appreciates quality products (although I am not sure I want to spend $50 on a pair of wine glasses), I imagine most wine enthusiasts would be interested in learning what kind of glasses are the right ones for each kind of wine and the effect of a good glass in the enjoyment of wine.

While most wine drinkers know there are different glasses for red and white wine (and for champagne and whiskey), until I did some research today I had no clue there were different glasses for drinking Cabernet than for drinking other kinds of wine.

Behavioral psychology has taught us that it really does not matter if the type of glass has a material effect on the actual taste. It is enough for someone to believe it for your brain to register increased enjoyment while drinking on the right kind of glass. And as the story The Emperor has No Clothes taught us, it may be enough for the host to share how special the glasses are to get everyone at the party to believe wine will taste better in a Riedel glass made specifically to enhance enjoyment of a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Getting back to the ad, imagine if , instead of a discount that assumes I am interested in buying their product, Riedel offered a guide to enjoying wine: a booklet in the mail or an eBook that educates customers on the properties of the different types of wines, the need for different types of glasses, how their different properties influence taste of different wines, and some history of quality lead-based glass made in Germany and the craftsmanship that goes into their products. The killer is Riedel already has this content.

This kind of content would be attractive to a large percentage of wine enthusiasts and would have a high probability of converting more than a few of them into loyal Riedel customers who brag about their unique glasses next time they are hosting guests at home, spreading the message. After all, you can’t love a product until you get to know it – that’s the key point of one of my recent posts. Reading tweets about the brand shows how this strategy would fit their overall educational strategy very well.

There are times when a discounting strategy works very well: WalMart, Joseph A. Bank and the last few years at JC Penney (who tried a strategy of everyday low prices instead of discounts) have proven that there are markets and brands for which discounting works well. Discounting is often the only strategy that works when selling a commodity product – or at least when you think your product is a commodity.

When your value prop is a discount, you are making your product a commodity – look at the picture of the coupons I got in the mail recently: there is no expression of value other than the discount.  I encourage you to think about how you can be helpful and how can you educate your customers, avoiding the trap of discounting and helping them fall in love with your product, making them want to buy it because of its unique properties, not because of the latest discount or promotion.

RiedelAd

Flying back from San Francisco, I open the in-flight magazine and a half-page ad by Riedel catches my eye. Riedel a Germ...

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Microsoft’s Missed Opportunity to Take a Leap in the Tablet Market

When Microsoft announced the Surface there was a lot of expectation of the market. Since I got mine, almost every time I send an email with the signature “Sent from my Surface RT” or every time I use it in a group setting, I get asked about it – they have the market’s attention, or at least curiosity.

The device is not perfect. No device is. Even the iPad 4 has its own share of limitations and bugs. I love mine and I think it is a much more complete and usable device than the iPad. But this post is not about my opinion aout the device, which you can read here on Quora. My observation is that every Surface user I have heard from has generally the same reaction: “Compared to the Surface, the iPad is a toy.” or “Since I got my Surface, my iPad is in a drawer”. The point is not to say the device is better – every customer has to make that decision on its own. The point is that Microsoft has a real fighting chance.

The device launched just in time for the Holiday season. It still did OK, in my opinion, selling a million units in its launch month against 14 million units sold by Apple. Yet the opporuntity was much larger. The problem (or a problem) is that a 32Gb iPad costs exactly the same, $499. This forces buyers to make a concious decision of buying the Surface versus the iPad. Here is the opportunity:

Copyright(C) 2013 Gerardo A. DadaWhat would have happened it Microsoft had launched the Surface at a price of $275?

There would be no comparison against an iPad at $499. It would make the competitive decision much easier for customers who were not already sold on iPad. A large chunk of the market made of people who don’t want to spend $499 for a tablet wuld probably jump in. It would be a no-brainer compared to a 16Gb iPad mini at $329.

At $275. the Surface would certainly be a better buy than the Kindle HD, which sells for $299, and was selling at a rate of a million units per week at the peak of the holiday season.

The economics make sense

The cost to manufacture a Surface RT with 32Gb of memory, according to iSupply, is $271. Let’s assume Microsoft sells 5 million Surfaces instead of one million, just for the sake of the conversation. If we take $224. of profit from each of these four million units, that would have decreased $896 million in profits for Microsoft.But in reality it only sold a million, so te actual los in profits would only be $224 million.

That would have taken its operating income from $7.77 billion for Q3 2012 to ‘only’ $7.55 billion. hardly a dent, and well above the $6.6B from the same quarter last year. More importantly, it would have added $1.1 billion in extra revenue to bring the quarter from $21.46B to $22.56B, avoiding a miss of expectations (see stock price for the impact of that).

My point: reducing the price of the Surface to $275. would have had virtually no impact to profits and would have had a large impact on revenue. Microsoft could have opted to make this a promotional, limited-time offer, creating a sense of urgency for consumers.

Even at the $275. price, Microsoft would have a profit opportunity in the lucrative accesories market. An installed base of millions of devices creates a large opporutnity to sell keyboards, cases, mice, applications and other accesories. they could have charged a nominal monthly fee for Office.

Microsoft’s opportunity to earn a solid footing in the post-PC era is surely worth more than a 3.5% decrease in profits.

Besides the neglible impact to profits, the only other downside I can think of is the impact to OEM partners. This is an important point, but one on which Microsoft should have decided on when they decided to enter the hardware business. Would Acer and Dell be upset our would they have been thankful for the creation of a market, acceleration of the application base and pressure to be more competitive?. Yet, the upside for Microsoft could be very big:

  • $1.1 Billion in increased revenue for the quarter, bringing revenue not only in line with expectations, but probably exceeding it.
  • Creating a product line with $4 Billion in revenue, esentially overnigt would be an incredible business success by any measure.
  • The stock is near the bottom of its 52 month range at $27.55 as I write this. I can’ speculate the actual impact to the stock price, but I think it is reasonably to expect a jump if microsoft had sold 5 million Surfaces. Every dollar increase in stock price creates $8.3 billion in stockhohlder value. The stock has hovered around  $30 for a decade despite very large increases in sale and profits. You could argue an event like this could generate positive momentum.
  • Microsoft would have earned significant economies of scale, bringng the costs down for them and OEM partners, providing a long-term economic advantage.
  • It would have eliminated any doubts of the consumer adoption of Windows 8 which would have lifted the entire ecosytem incluidng sales of Windows Phone and PCs, resulting in a benefit to OEM and accelerated porting of applciations to Windows 8. Maybe we would have Instagram on Win 8 by now.
  • Apple would have sold less iPads. Let’s assume out of the 4 million incremental units two come from would-be Apple buyers. Microsoft is a very competitive company, this would not be an insignificant win.
  • Imagine the impact of the news “Apple sells only 12 million iPads in Q4, Microsoft sells 5 million in its first quarter”. The brand, PR, employee morale and talent acquisition value of this statement is woth much more then a 3.5% decrease in profits. Imagine the Businesweek cover story “Microsoft is Back”.

When Microsoft priced the Surface at $499 I was very suprised, knowing Steve Ballmer is hyper competitive and a long-term thinker that has demonstrated a discipline to invest in markets for the long term.  Microsoft has a lot of smart people, I am sure they spent considerable energy in their pricing startegy.

I believe the Surface will be successful anyway. The 128Gb Pro model sold out in hours. A million units in their first quarter is not bad, even compared to the iPad’s 3.3 million in its first quarter. But I can’t avoid thinking of what could have happened with a more agressive pricing strategy. We probably would be in an alternative future. your thoughts?

For the record, I admire Steve Jobs and Apple and have blogged about it a couple times.

Disclosure: I worked for Microsoft from 2004 to 2008, I am no longer affiliated with the company but still own some stock.  As with all post in this blog, this post reflects my personal opinion. I own a Dell PC, a Surface, a Lumia 920 and a Zune. We have an iPhone, multiple iPods and an iPad at home. I have used Macs since the 1980s and sold a few of them when I was in the digital imaging business.

When Microsoft announced the Surface there was a lot of expectation of the market. Since I got mine, almost every time I...

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Establishing a Premium Position in the Market

Today I had the opportunity to present at the Austin luncheon lunch on how to establish a premium position in the marketplace.

[slideshare id=11620097&doc=amatakingapremiumpositioninthemarket-gdada-120216142028-phpapp01]

The key points form the presentation:

  1. Building a premium product is about differentiating by focusing on a segment of customers who are willing to pay more for a product that serves them better. Premium products are created by value.
  2. People buy emotionally – then justify their decisions rationally
  3. People buy experiences
  4. Price communicates value
  5. Packaging communicates value
  6. Happy, empowered employees create value

Today I had the opportunity to present at the Austin luncheon lunch on how to establish a premium position in the market...

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A Pricing Lesson from the Concorde

Pricing lesson from the Concorde

Are you pricing your products right or are you leaving money on the table?

The Concorde was one of the most innovative machines ever built. The first and only supersonic commercial aircraft capable of flying at twice the speed of sound is also one of the most beautiful machines ever built. The Concorde story provides an interesting lesson on pricing.

During the first 6 years of operation, the fantastic Concorde lost money for British Airways. Losses were so bad, in 1982 BA’s boss Sir John King gave the responsibilities of the newly created Concorde division to  Captain Brian Walpole and gave him two years to turn Concorde losses into profits. If he failed, BA would terminate operations, shutting down Concorde for good.

The COncorde team decided to do some market research. They asked businessmen how much they thought a Concorde ticket cost. The answer, “Most of them didn’t know. It was their secretaries or travel companies doing the bookings. When they were asked to guess, because they were senior, very important people, they all guessed that the fare was higher. ” – explained Captain Jock Lowe, Concorde resource & Planning Manager.

This insight led to a new pricing strategy. Captain Lowe described “So very simply, we said, we’ll charge them what they think they are paying. And so we put the fares up”.  There was a discrepancy between what the company was charging and the value customers saw in the product. Have you asked your customers how valuable is your product or service to them?

Concorde ticket prices were doubled to over $7,000,  one way, in today’s prices. As a result, Concorde was repositioned to provide a super-elite class for bankers, the rich, and the famous. Concorde became the place to be seen.

Despite the high price, sales were very strong.  For one particular day, half the tickets for its first fare-paying London-New York flight were sold out in the first two hours of booking, (source).

Concorde started making money. Lots of it. “We made about $500 million pounds in net, clear profit.”. Estimates point to $50 million pounds in profit per year. That’s significant, even for a company the size of BA.

Many companies build their pricing strategies based on cost + margin. Often, there is a predetermined margin based on an overall pricing strategy or on a corporate profitability target. The story of Concorde sows us the power of market-based pricing and the importance of understanding the true value of the products and services your company offers. Do you know what is the price elasticity of your products?

Source: “Concorde, Flying Supersonic” – Smithsonian TV, 2010

Concorde photo courtesy Flickr user Howard N2GOT – Creative Commons

Are you pricing your products right or are you leaving money on the table? The Concorde was one of the most innovative m...

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