November 5, 2013Price isn’t always important. But value always is.

I can pinpoint the precise moment it happened. The moment everything changed. It was the morning my kitchen flooded.

My washing machine had broken. Luckily it had chosen a Saturday to die, so I was able to stem the flow before my neighbours took to building an ark. Nobody would be available to look at it until Monday. So I went online, bought another one, and had it replaced on Sunday morning.

From floods to fresh clean clothes in under 24 hours.

And that was when I realised that everything had changed.

How? You ask. Well, let me paint you another picture. Of a young, dare I say handsome journalist, recently fired and terminally unemployable, sleeping on a mate’s couch and surviving on noodles. Not even supernoodles. Just noodles. Super cost 10p more.

Yup. You guessed it. This is going to be a blog about price.

These days I don’t think twice about dropping a few hundred quid to replace something when it breaks. But for people on a (super)noodle budget this would have been a disaster.

And at that moment I realised in that moment that I’d forgotten something very important about where I came from.

Price still mattered to me. But now what was more important was value. The value of having clean clothes the next day and having it fixed was worth the money.

Price always matters. It’s just to different people, price means different things.

Take my friend, the banker. We went for cocktails the other week. However much I earn now, add another couple of zeroes to that for this guy. No decimal point.

I relayed him my washing machine story. He put down his double-digit cocktail and thought about it for a pensive moment. “It’s been a long time since I thought about anything like that,” he said, also remembering his “moment”.

But for him money was something completely different than it was for me.

The newsletter Efinancial Careers came in for some stick recently for saying how bankers were finding it “impossible” to live on $1,000,000 a year.

At the time I gagged as much as the next person: reflexively, the article makes you want to be sick.

But it’s not so different to my washing machine problem. Once you get used to living a certain way it gets hard to live on less.

Plenty of people, when their washing machine breaks, have to go to the launderette. Have to save money, have to go without, until they can afford a new one or to have the old one fixed.

And sometimes I would be called upon to write copy for those people. Could I relate to them? I had become complacent and comfortable.

I decided I could.

Because the fact is, no matter how much money you have, whether you’re a wealthy banker, a comfortable copywriter, or barely earning minimum wage, price is always a factor in purchase. Even when it’s not explicitly stated.

The iPhone 5c vs 5s: proving price still matters

As Apple ramps down production numbers, I think it’s fair to say the iPhone 5c has been a flop.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the 5s is a beautiful bit of kit. Most of my friends have one. But I haven’t seen a single person out and about with a 5c.

Why? It’s the price.

The iPhone 5s will set you back £549. The 5c a “mere” £469.

For an extra £80 (17% more) you get a phone that is, approximately, twice as fast. And with a shiny new fingerprint scanner. Encased in aluminium, not plastic. It’s miles more than 17% better.

There might be a few people who buy the cheaper phone to save £80. But if you can afford to spend £470 on a phone, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t just take the plunge and buy the better one.

The copywriter’s job is to prove a product’s value.

So let’s look at how the 5c was marketed.

The Apple website states:

“For the colourful.
Colour is more than just a hue. It expresses a feeling. Makes a statement. Declares an allegiance. Colour reveals your personality. iPhone 5c, in five anything-but-shy colours, does just that. It’s not just for lovers of colour. It’s for the colourful.”

There’s only one “benefit” in this copy. And it seems to be that you can choose a colour that expresses your personality!

It’s a bit like the old (and very sexist) joke of asking a woman what car she drives and she replies “A red one!”

Nobody actually does that.

Compare it to the product description for the 5s, which, by the way, also comes in a range of (three) colours (to “reveal your personality”):

“Forward thinking.
iPhone 5s is purposefully imagined. Meticulously considered. Precision crafted. It’s not just a product of what’s technologically possible. But what’s technologically useful. It’s not just what’s next. But what should be next.”

Now this is a phone I’m excited about. There are several selling points – design (“meticulous”), build quality (“precision”), and being on the cutting edge of technology… as well as being “useful”.

I count four winning sales points in the same space it took the copywriter to tell me I could express my personality by picking a different colour.

But look beneath the surface. Why does the copywriter need to tell me that the 5s is so well designed, well built, technologically advanced, useful?

Because, more or less, the 5S is the most expensive phone on the market.

Yup, you guessed it. All these sales points are ultimately about price — about justifying its high price.

You can’t do that for the 5c because, at £469, it isn’t a good deal. Not when the far superior 5s is just 17% more.

At ~£500 a phone, nobody is on a “supernoodle” budget, where every percentage point counts. If you’re spending that much, you want to buy the best. Otherwise you might as well just buy the similarly specced Nexus 5 (starting at £295).

When you can’t compete on price you have to compete on something else.

And the only thing the 5c seems to have going for it is colour.

My point is this:

Price always matters. No matter how rich or poor your audience, no matter what the product.

Because price = value.

The iPhone 5c may be cheaper than the 5s. But in comparison it looks like terrible value.

I used to tell clients it doesn’t matter what price your product is so long as it’s the most expensive or the cheapest. That way you compete on price or quality.

But value is a combination of both and you can prove it at any price point.

Here’s how I might have written some copy for the 5C:

“Not just a pretty face.
iPhone 5c comes in a range of bold, expressive colours. But beneath the hard-wearing plastic beats a heart that’s completely iOS 7. Whether you’re taking pictures, chatting on Facetime or simply browsing the web, you’ll love the way iPhone 5C was designed for you.”

How much value do you think I added?

The meaning of value

Value has different meanings to different people depending on how much money they have and how much utility they derive from the product.

Personally, I don’t see the iPhone 5c as being 17% cheaper. I see it as being 40% more expensive (than the Nexus 5) for the “privilege” of being able to choose a colourful case.

It’s little wonder that the iPhone 5s is selling like hotcakes. It’s a great machine. I bet the Nexus 5 will sell shedloads as well.

And the 5c? They’re already slashing production.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 at 5:44 pm and is filed under Blog, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. Great post, Alastaire. Funnily enough, I was recently comparing the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5. It’s no contest really…

  2. So true – and reminded me of something about stress, which I controversially raise with friends from time to time.

    I think about people walking to the well in some far off country. They hate it.

    They’re all like “Man, this is lame.”

    Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a warm house, doing something like filing a tax return.

    And I’m all like “Man, this is lame.”

    And even though they’re in a much worse situation, and I should count my blessings, I don’t think they’re more stressed than I am. I think it’s just human nature, to worry, to feel under the kosh, and whatever the cause is, the actual ‘cost’ of that stress emotionally remains the same.

    Same with money. Same with time. Same with all those primal, fundamental things that make us people.

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