Perceived Value

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I’m driving myself nuts with semantics this morning, trying to reconcile the ideas of perception and value.

Perception is a subjective experience in which individuals use their senses to literally grab understanding (percipere). Value is the assessment of cost/benefit, or a ranking among things that has been somehow established (valere).

So then is "perceived value" two steps removed from reality…simply a double-down on the concept that we human beings assign internal meaning to an otherwise meaningless external reality?

I know it’s a weird thing to ponder, what with the economy crashing in flames around us, but it has direct relevance to how we use brand marketing: when we talk of "perceived value," are we:

  • Addressing the need to attach things to products or services (i.e. manipulate or create perception), or
  • Talking about the necessity of making sure people accurately see value (i.e. perceive what’s already there)?

If it’s the former, perceived value is an imaginary construct that runs the risk of getting denigrated by reality as much as it builds upon it. We want people to see things that simply aren’t otherwise there, but rather exist in their minds. So what makes these associations real is that someone believes in them, consciously or otherwise. And we have to work to make sure we preserve those internal beliefs, irrespective of what external reality might throw at them.

One could argue that this is the traditional platform upon which brands are built. It certainly might be where brand premium is realized, since it doesn’t cost more to produce imagined value (other than the branding to invent and perpetuate it).

And it’s the premise upon which a number of otherwise identical products and services are sold, from colas to computer hardware; creating perceived differentiation can take the place of actually delivering difference. Not only will consumers fall for it, but they’ll depend on it, what with the way they define themselves by the brands they possess.

The alternate interpretation is that value is the knowledge of what’s real; that there is an objective ranking of tangible benefits and, therefore, perceiving them is the marketing challenge. If brands are based on this definition, the mandate is to:

  • Identify, clarify, and revisit/remind (not invent), and constantly
  • Revise, update, and make relevant (not preserve)

So which is it? Is one definition more credible than the other? More powerful? Sustainable? I may be a dim bulb, but I think the way each of chooses to answer the question has significant implications for how we go about our jobs.

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