Value is relative

We tend to see ‘value’ as synonymous with ‘cost’ and interchangeable with ‘value for money’. In reality, value is entirely subjective and dependent on context. As a result, an intangible change in the positioning of a product can be just as impactful as a physical change, and it’s a tried & tested technique.

Frederick the Great ruled the Kingdom of Prussia for approximately half of the 18th Century. At that time, a failure in wheat crops not only meant famine but also dramatic price rises and inflation. Frederick wanted more farmers to adopt potatoes to keep the cost of living stable. The challenge was that Prussian people thought potatoes were ugly and had a weird taste, so farmers were reluctant to grow them as they weren’t valued as much as other produce.

Frederick, a clever marketeer, took a creative approach and effectively re-positioned the potato. He declared that potatoes were exclusively a food for royalty and began to grow them in his garden. His crop was also protected around the clock by his guards, which changed the perceived value of the humble potato almost overnight. So much so that an underground market quickly emerged.

More recently, Behavioural Economics research has explained how the value of something is often determined by how it is framed. For example, in Italy (infamous for aggressive drivers) points are deducted from your driving license rather than added as “penalty points”. They’ve found that loss aversion is a more powerful influence on behaviour than deterrent.

Framing also works in the wine industry. Surprisingly, there is no correlation between quality and enjoyment of wine except when you’re told the cost.

In Marketing, Professor Mark Ritson (of Marketing Week fame) laments the era of ”Communification” where our role has gone from “listening to customers and responding in a way that offers a meaningful solution to them” to being ‘framed’ and ‘valued’ by tangible outputs, i.e. campaigns.

At Graymatter, we work hard to ensure our clients don’t all get the same answer but benefit from a tailor-made response that results from many options being considered. Our process starts with a rigorous diagnosis before we get into tactics. Yes, we have a large creative team, but we also offer clients creativity in its boldest sense which might be in the form of smart technology or the right data to make our clients’ brands more meaningful and deliver results.

For that reason, we’re inspired as much by amateurs, such as Frederick the Great, as we are by iconic advertising figures, such as Bill Bernbach and John Webster.

Dean Gray | Founder, CEO


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