When I was very young, I heard Joe, a friend of my older brother, talking about his job at the local grocery store. Joe had opened a case of Spanish olives, checked the price list, set his price marker (called ‘rotators’ back then), and marked each jar $.95. They sold out in a couple of days. The next case came in, and my brother’s friend checked the price again, and realized his mistake. The olives should have been marked $.59. He put the lower price on the jars of olives, and they sat on the shelves. Feeling experimental, he marked them back up to $.95 each, and they again sold out. Even at the age of 17, Joe was able to extract a business lesson from this incident: People will pay according to their perception of value. Spanish olives must be worth more than just plain olives, and if they cost the same as—or less than—other olives, they must not be anything special.
We see this every day in the marketplace: Brands with some cachet are priced higher. Value is subjective. Price is set by what the market will bear.
This is very basic, but sometimes we lose perspective when we start valuing our own products or services. We know what raw materials went into the product and exactly what it cost to produce. We incorrectly assume that some standard markup percentage will suffice to price the item. If we sell services, we might think it’s better to bid low rather than risk losing the work. If we look deeper, however, what we find is that a premium product or service often attracts more business. This is the basis of the concepts of differentiation and value-added.
Here are some steps to take to make sure you are not undervaluing your product or service:
- Know your market – If you have a basic understanding of what your customers consider a fair price, you are halfway home
- Differentiate your product or service – You should be able to clearly articulate why your customers should choose you as opposed to your competition, even if you cost more
- Brand yourself appropriately – If you are a Spanish (i.e., special) olive, make sure your customers can clearly see that, and will know they are getting a premium product or service
The next time you are pricing your products or services, remember the Spanish Olive Paradox, and price accordingly.