Value for money brands: it’s not about being inexpensive

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Traditionally, ‘value for money’ in the branding world is associated with an inexpensive brand, even a cheap one. Usually the implication is that it delivers what an expensive brand in the category does, at a lower price. Hence, suggesting a prudent buy. 

But even the most expensive, super luxury brand in a category can be good ‘value for money’ for someone who seeks such brands and can afford to buy them. It’s all about evoking a sense of money well spent or ‘worth it’ and the benchmarks are simply different, not lower or higher. At the centre of such an experience is the product or service which should evoke the feeling of worth paying a premium for, even if the core function is met by a cheaper alternative. 

A watch tells time. But it’s also a fashion statement and beyond that it can be a factor to evoke the ‘feel good factor’. A basic wrist watch brands and a luxury watch satisfy the needs of two different mindsets. Similarly with mobile phones, hotel brands, resorts and more. ‘Why would anyone spend so much on a mere mobile phone’ maybe a legitimate question but the fact is, ‘there’s a market for everything’. What might seem as irrational or even stupid for one person (spending $1000+ on a mobile phone, for example) may be ‘right’ for another. 

The question perhaps is about certain brands having that emotional connect so as to command an irrational desire or loyalty to command a premium, any premium. We see that in luxury brands in fashion and fragrances – they seem to evoke a desire and deliver a feel-good factor which lower priced brands in the category are unable to command. Advertising stimulus does play a role in creating that desire. Ads for luxury brands for example have an air of mystique and an upscale quality about them. But it’s not just about advertising. It all starts with the quality of the product or service. Why is it that some are willing to pay a huge premium for Gillette when there are equally ‘competent’ and lower priced options available? Yes, the growth of Dollar Shave Club and equivalent brands across the globe is triggered by the feeling that perhaps one is paying way too much for a mere razor. But Gillette still manages to evoke loyalty and a positive equity based on product performance. 

‘Value for money’ can be associated with premium brands in even mundane categories. Recently we saw Sebamed name lower priced competition in their advertising. A 100g bar of Sebamed Cleansing Bar is costs Rs.199 in India when a regular bar of soap would be priced far less, yet the former would be seen as good VFM for those seeking a specialist brand. Audiophiles, petrol heads and such aficionados in a category are known to pay a super premium for the brands they love in stereo systems, cars and bikes. For them too, ‘money well spent’ is a likely emotion, whatever the price tag. 

A company which makes great value for money brands in my book is…no surprises, Apple. Even though the iPhone and MacBooks are priced way above competing brands, they evoke a fan following largely based on the product experience. Before you present the ‘iSheep’ argument which suggests that buyers of Apple products are idiots, conned into buying expensive products, merely to show off, when ‘good enough’ cheaper options are available, it is a fact that good marketing cannot sell a bad product, at least not always, not for a long period. The value for money aspect of Apple products is also demonstrated in the product longevity and re-sale value. 

Even in the education sector, the price paid for tuition fee varies between ‘brands’ in colleges. But the intangibles associated with a degree from a premier institute in medicine, engineering, management or in any other field is what makes those who could afford it or got through the tough selection criteria feel that the expense was worth it. 

When a brand delivers value for money to its intended target audience it is a combination of product or service delivery, pricing and intangibles such as brand affinity and a comfort level with being associated with the brand. 

What would you describe as parameters for a ‘value for money’ brand? Which brands do you consider as great value for money? Do comment in. 

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