How do you deliver value to the 'value consumer'?

16th Mar 2011

Value consumers are a group that marketing teams often find the least inspiring. But it may be time for a rethink. With customers more demanding of 'value' than ever, Bryan Urbick explains why value means so much more than being the cheapest.

Value consumers are often a group that brand and marketing teams find the least inspiring and sometimes frustrating.
Usually ‘value’ is a shorthand for ‘cheap’, and few brand teams find inspiration in only being the cheapest. Importantly, though, value has two sides to the equation - cost being one side. It is the worth of the job that product or service delivers, how it meets needs and its quality that make up the other side.
If we focus on the cost side without investing in understanding the other side of the equation we risk missing out on invaluable insights into extending and marketing the brand - in fact an imbalance in the equation  can impede an otherwise promising brand from flourishing. So often brands can be denigrated by thinking that value is only about ‘lowering the price’. By focusing only on price, a self-fulfilling reduction in value can be created.
Our research has thrown up, time and again, particularly during this tough economic period, how frequently people re-evaluate the important things in their lives. As expected, family and spending quality, connecting time with those they love is a resounding and recurring mega-theme. Whilst some of these consumers may be driven to shop on price (out of need, or out of feeling that they must be more frugal because of fear of the uncertainties in the future), there are other, more powerful drivers. These renewed values in fact, can change the game.
In several very different projects over the past months we have been spending time to ‘deep dive’ and truly understand these values, and to find ways for brands and products to connect with them through shared values. What is emerging is an understanding of a ‘values’ consumer – a concept that goes way beyond merely thinking of consumers who brand owners often describe as ‘buy only on price’.
The other side of the values equation
So what does the other side of the values equation look like? Heritage, integrity, longevity, authenticity and transparency are a few qualities that represent real value to a consumer. They may prefer to spend more money on something that will last them longer or which will deliver greater reward. If we took as an example a simple product such as popcorn, the true value brand may not automatically be the cheapest one - it could be the one that suggests getting the family together, sharing a snack with friends, ease of use and easy to prepare (microwavable), and more consistently pops fluffier and has less waste. This is because the brand represents a positive social activity; the consumer feels the brand relates to their emotional values - even if only indirectly.
Drinks that promise health as well as flavour add value, they demonstrate you care. Delivered in small bottles which are easy to hand out for lunch packs, they may cost a little more but they are easy to use and they represent caring. If the recipient feels that little bit better as a result, the benefit side of the equation is enhanced, thus making the few extra pennies a bargain.
The ‘hidden side’ of equation is often a subliminal issue, hence it being so easy to miss or to ignore. It is all about how it makes the consumer feel, it is about what mind set and mode it triggers in the consumer. If brand teams feel that a lower price is the unique selling point they really are missing a major trick. It is the subtlety of the values ‘other side’ which often eludes yet makes it all the more powerful. The brand that genuinely demonstrates that it shares its consumers' values is the brand that will more often find itself in the consumers’ shopping basket.
Time to value the value consumer?
The question arises then, should value brands make a determined effort to look inexpensive in order to draw on price, or should they instead focus on finding out what values their target audience are looking for that marry in with economic restraints? The question really answers itself, the additional research into finding out what motivates these clients deep down always pays off, this because it responds to a much more emotional cue than merely what they can afford. It concentrates too on what represents ‘value’ to them, be it creating a regular family gathering, the ritual that makes them all feel good or going the extra mile for something which will keep the kids healthy or which will ensure deeper bonding.
Value consumers have always existed, it is these harsh economic times that have thrown a spotlight back on this segment. In fact the entire consumer mindset has shifted down a gear - consumerism is seen as much less desirable. Generally speaking consumers are far more cautious in their spending attitudes. This does not however make them ‘thrifty’, it makes them more aware of, and more demanding of ‘value’. And this is where today’s brands have a perfect opportunity to shine. Today’s value consumer is looking to brands for resonance, emotional nurturing and understanding. They want support and caring. They want to know that whatever they spend is definitely worth it.
Hence suggesting that those brands with lengthy heritage are generally the easiest to offer the type of reassurance a values customer is seeking. Our research actually demonstrates that ‘retro’ is an excellent way of reassuring a values customer. Bringing back products and ideas from past generations offers emotional reassurances, it reflects the emotional cues of a bygone era which always seems more rose tinted.
Whether brands choose to dust down their heritage, bare their souls to consumers, hold their hands or listen to their stories it is very evident that value means so much more than being the cheapest. That in itself should inspire brand teams to value this set of customer more than ever. 
Bryan Urbick is one of the founding directors of the Consumer Knowledge Centre and currently serves as the CEO and chairman. For the last 15 years, he has been working to develop consumer research methodologies that innovate the research process and improve product success. Bryan was part of the team that won the ARF David Ogilvy Gold Award 2007 for creative research resulting in a successful advertising campaign. He also blogs regularly at To contact Bryan, please email him at [email protected].

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