I’d like to introduce you to a little thing we marketers like to call the Naïve Theory.
The Naïve Theory states that because consumers can’t know everything about a product, they fill in the gaps with their own (naïve) theories to help make decisions about whether the cheaply priced product is a terrific deal or a piece of junk.
Steve Posavac, a professor at Vanderbilt University, describes the Naïve Theory further. Posavac states, “Most people simultaneously believe that low prices mean good value, and that low prices mean low quality.”
Think about that.
When offered a low price on something – like the Mercedes CLA – do you think poor value and great deal at the same time?
I know I do.
This, my friends, is the Naïve Theory.
The Naïve Theory isn’t just another psychological observation with no relevance to the real world. In fact, the Naïve Theory has immense practical application the world of marketing.
As we’ve established in previous blog posts, most consumers simultaneously believe that low prices mean good value, and that low prices mean low quality.
Got it? Good.
New Fun Fact: Marketers can sway consumers one way or the other – also known as priming. So we, as marketers, can encourage the consumer to perceive low price as either low quality or great deal.
The official definition of priming is simply this: consumers can often be coaxed into focusing more on value or quality.
Depending on how the marketer presents it.
But don’t just take my word for it…
A team of researchers at Vanderbilt University, led by Steve Posavac conducted a revealing study of the Naïve Theory and published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Study participants read this passage:
Remember that more expensive does not always mean better. Take bamboo for example: it is cheaper than other exotic woods, but it is resistant to wear and very stylish. You need to consider your needs carefully in order to get ‘more bang for your buck.’ When the time comes for reselling, a good value for the price will guarantee a better return on investment than expensive products.
The results were that consumers who read the passage were more likely to perceive a low discounted price as equating to good value. A high product price, on the other hand, was viewed as an indication of poor value. Thus, they’d been “primed”.
The takeaway message is that low price can communicate one of two things – low quality or great value – depending on your branding and messaging.
It's all about Messaging
I bet you can think of a time or two when a low price communicated low quality to you and also other times when it communicated great value. Maybe it was an insanely discounted “luxury product”, or basement bargains at below bargain prices – we’ve all seen these.
Priming is a good strategy to consider when you are tasked with marketing a product or service with a relatively low price. Don’t just let consumers draw their own conclusions – they won’t be good. Prime them with strategically chosen messaging that communicates low price translates into a great deal and watch the sales roll in.
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