As if getting consumers to buy less isn’t hard enough, try encouraging brand owners that they should be encouraging consumers to buy less .
Why would they? Consumers don’t have to buy that T-shirt or magazine or computer, but if no-one buys your T-shirt, magazine or car then you go out of business. And that’s not going to go down well in the Boardroom.
But, is there a way for businesses to sell less, but make a higher margin on each item? It’s not a new strategy, but it could be a sustainable strategy.
A brand can be defined as the difference between what a good is actually worth and what someone is willing to pay for it. There are many mays that brands manipulate our emotions and feelings to encourage us to pay the difference. A rose is just a rose, but on Valentine’s Day it £19.99 for 6. On February 15th it’s £9.99 for 6.
The skill of branding is to attribute an emotion or feeling to a product, whether it be love, being a protective mother, or the belief that you’ll be better sportsperson. Taking this thinking, you can use the idea of sentimental value and apply it to brands.
Sentimental Value can be defined as “value based on emotional association: a value placed on something because of its emotional associations rather than its monetary worth”. So, the champagne cork on the shelf in the living room has no monetary worth, but it has tonnes of emotional associations because it’s the one you opened after you proposed to your wife.
What’s this got to do with sustainability? Well, something with Sentimental Value is likely to be something that you’re going to want to keep, to cherish, to repair, to maintain, rather than something to dispose of and replace.
This idea of Sentimental Value has been used with great effect by a brand – Patek Phillippe watches – with their line ‘You never actually own a Patek Phillipe, you merely look after it for the next generation’.
This is a clever way of positioning the watch not as a timepiece but as a family heirloom alongside the Georgian sideboard, the oil paintings and the vintage car. Or rather buying a Patek Phillippe buys you entry into the upper class world where this happens.
So, the idea of brands as building sentimental value and therefore create a desire to keep, maintain and protect the products is a long way from the disposable society that we live in and the idea of built in obsolescence that we find (iphone 4 anyone?). This requires the products to be built to last and for companies to accept that there won’t be much ‘frequency of purchase’, but it will mean that you will be able to charge more for the product because, you will be able to make money from items and services that help extend the life of the product
This isn’t a new idea. The idea that things increase with value the older that they get. Sotherby’s and Christies et al are build out of the idea of scarcity and age. People understand the basic idea that they older something is, the possibility that it can be worth more. However, the counter of this is also true, with Charity Shops full of cheap, second-hand items. Somehere in between is ebay.
So, the question is, how does a brand make people want to pay more for an item, encourage them to look after it and not want to replace it, in a way that’s going to make enough money for a business? How you do make age and holding onto something which socially desirable?
American Express used to do this with ‘Member since 19XX’ on the front of the card – loyalty was a badge of honour.
To start with the product has to be something which is going to last. It’s no point trying to pursue a strategy
But it seems like an interesting thing for brands and communications to try and learn from.
It’s the same axe, it’s had 3 new handles and 2 new shafts
Vintage works for clothes
Ripped jeans – built in wear and tear, but to create the faded look
What about vintage for technology – you take out the insides but retain the casing?
You can upgrade the softwear, but not the hardwear
AmEx – member since 19XX
Google – employee 2
Value and social value in having something for a long time