Consumer Reports rarely endorses the same products that enthusiast magazines do. They rarely pick the same car that, say, Car and Driver might, or select the same stereo that Audiophile would deem a “best buy.”
Why is that?
Because Consumer Reports tries to objectively calculate the “sweet spot” on the Quality-to-Price Ratio, while enthusiasts give more weight to subjective subtleties and refinements; things like aesthetics, ergonomics and brand affinity. Such things aren’t as big a factor for Consumer Reports when they’re trying to help you find “the most X for your money.”
Enthusiasts go beyond the point of so-called diminishing returns because, to them, the return doesn’t feel diminished.
The Perceived Value Curve
Just to make this as clear as possible, I graphed it…
As you can see on the chart, Consumer Reports looks for products that sit on the inflexion point, that spot on the curve just before it gets too steep. They do this because their audience wants an objective, substantiated and dispassionate analysis of which brand/product offers the best bang for the buck. They’re looking for those 85%-as-good-but-half-the-price products.
From “Consumer” to Enthusiast
Unlike the Consumer Reports crowd, enthusiasts are more conscious of a product’s refinements, or lack thereof.
The enthusiast’s minimum standards are higher than average. Audiophiles can distinguish between a CD recording and a 192-bit encrypted MP3 file. Driving enthusiasts appreciate the smooth clutch and slick jolts of a great manual transmission. Wine connoisseurs can anticipate the blackberry notes and soft minerality of their favorite Cab Franc
This is why acquiring a taste for expensive wines, stereos and cars can sometimes “ruin you” for lesser quality goods, because as Kathy Sierra insists, “Learning increases resolution.” Enthusiasts continue to perceive noticeable, worthwhile benefits well beyond the normally perceived point of diminishing returns.
How to use this in your copy
So, if you can’t substantiate your product’s superiority in a no-nonsense Consumer Reports-style manner, your best bet may be to write copy that evokes the Enthusiast’s experience.
When you create a high-resolution experience with your Web copy, you help the average, uninitiated consumer picture themselves as enthusiasts, which in turn helps them justify paying more for the service or item.
Back in 2008 when I first wrote this article, Fuji’s F30 Compact Camera was a perfect example. The F30 had rather unimpressive specs (6 megapixels with a 3X zoom) and had supposedly been supplanted by the newer F40 and F50 models — but it was STILL selling for between $220 and $300, which was as much or more than either the 12 megapixel F50 or the 8 megapixel Canon SD850.
Why is it commanding so high a price?
Because enthusiasts had embraced the F30 for its unmatched ability to take high ISO and low-light photos. At the time, it was the only pocket camera able to take really great low-light shots. So as soon as a retailer “sold” a consumer on that ability, the lower megapixel count no-longer mattered. Smart copywriters could have focused in on this “hidden” ability/refinement of the F30 in order to raise its perceived value.
Roy Williams gives an example of copy that does just that:
In this brilliant Monday Morning Memo, Roy writes this (made up) sample copy which perfectly illustrates my point:
“The prettiest camera in this price class has a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. But the shutter speed of the ugly Canon PowerShot S500 is a superfast 1/60th of a second, allowing you to take fabulous photos in low-light situations. Your indoor photos will look rich and vibrant when all the others look dark and grainy. And your nighttime photos will make people’s eyes bug out. Beautiful contrast and luminance, even without the flash. This camera can see in the dark. Take a picture of your lover in the moonlight. It will become your favorite photo ever. And that superfast shutter speed is also very forgiving of movement. That’s why no one ever replaces their PowerShot S500. Go to your local pawnshop and see if you can find one. We’re betting you can’t. But you will see several of that “prettier” camera available cheaper than dirt. So if you’re looking for a great price on a sleek-looking camera, that’s probably where you should go.”
Who wouldn’t want a camera like that?
And if copy alone won’t do the trick, think about staging live events, webinars, streaming videos… whatever it takes to show a glimpse of the hi-res experience. (Here’s another example from Kathy Sierra.)
Overcoming Conditioned Irrationalities
Very often in competitive industries, certain specs get distorted in comsumers’ minds as being, the only thing that really matters. In cameras, that feature is megapixel count, but this consumer symptom ain’t unique to cameras, it happens in everything from granite countertops to jewelry to kitchen knives to computers. Just try explaining why Macs are worth the premium to a spec and price-conscious PC-buyer
In fact, I’ve heard it said (probably in jest) that there’s only 2 real business models:
- We give $5 haircuts (maximum spec per $)
- We FIX $5 haircuts (Real value / all the subjective goodness most people “in the know” want)
While I may not fully agree with that, it certainly clarifies the point: building perceived value often means overcoming the “conditioned blindness” around “the one spec that matters.” A conditioned blindness that often requires getting burned to break free from.
So for companies using business model #2 who would like to expand market share beyond the once-burned crowd, (re)creating the enthusiast’s experience and dramatizing the benefits beyond the specs is usually the surest and best way to create Perceived Value.
[The “From the Vault” series is an attempt to spotlight some of my older Grok posts that remain relevant for today’s readers. As always, I’m open to suggestions, if you’d like me to re-visit a topic of interest to you]