Value Is In The Perception Of The Beholder

What is value? Can value ever be determined 100% objectively? Which is woth more, real value or perceived value? Which is more important to your blog? To your business?

Two posts about value caught my attention recently. The first is a thread from the Small Business Forum, which begins

when we started we had our stuff in a barn and really good stuff….now we are on concrete and all cleaned up… and the new customers think we are so much better than before….. before we had lots better stuff in the old days….. so I have to believe in perception…

and later continues

but it really doesn’t trump the actual value of the thing you are marketing … in the long run what matters most for my situation is how they feel about their purchase a year later…. when they really realize what kind of value they got…. and then come back or recommend or bring their friends and family…

Both of the above comments are right. The perceived value of something is very important. The real or actual value is also important, but only in how it maintains and increases the perceived value. That might sound a little strange to think that the reason the real value of something is important is because it affects the perceived value of that something, but it’s true.

The second post that caught my attention is a post by Skellie entitled How to Avoid Fool’s Gold and Create Value-packed Content. Skellie is looking at value in the context of creating content and while I generally agree with her that you need to offer real value, I disagree with her definition of perceived value.

Here’s what Skellie has to say about perceived value.

Perceived value is different. It looks like it could be valuable, but there’s little going on beneath the surface. It’s the 300+ item linkbait composed of mediocre resources. It’s the sensationally headlined post promising to solve all your problems in 5 minutes or less. It’s the article you’ll bookmark and never look at again. It’s little more than fools gold, and its benefits are illusory.

Skellie is right. A sensational headline doesn’t make a post better. It doesn’t change the real value of the post itself. A bad post with a sensational headline is still a bad post. However, a great post with a sensational headline is still a great post.

Perceived value does not automatically mean there’s little beneath the surface. It could be the case that there is nothing beneath the surface, but it could just as easily be the case that there’s something wonderful beneath the surface. A sensational headline doesn’t really imply one or the other, but it may help to get the post read in the first place.

All a sensational title does is raise your perception of the eventual value the post will have for you.

What is Value?

Value is a very subjective thing. You and I won’t necessarily see the same exact post as having the same value. The value it has for us is dependent on a variety of factors, including what we thought about the topic before we read the post.

At the moment I have no interest in learning how to knit. You could write the world’s greatest ‘how to’ on knitting a sweater and it will have no value to me. If on the other hand you were looking to knit a sweater for your nephew you might see that same ‘how to’ post as having a great deal of value.

Value can’t be measured as an absolute. It can only be seen in relation to something else. Real value is the illusion. Value is only perception.

Think about Skellie’s example again. You read a sensationalized title of 300+ ways to something something. That title creates the perception of value of the post behind the title. If the post doesn’t deliver then your perceived value of the post drops. If the post does deliver on its promise the perceived value goes up. Either way it’s still your perception of the post’s value.

The reason ‘real value’ is so important is because it affects your perceived value so much.

Let’s look back at part of one of the quotes I pulled from the forum thread

in the long run what matters most for my situation is how they feel about their purchase a year later

Why does how someone feels about their purchase matter? It matters because it affects the perception of how they’ll feel about their next purchase. It doesn’t change what will actually happen with that next purchase.

What Factors Affect Perception and Value?

There are many factors that affect the value you perceive something as having.

  • Worldview – Your belief or lack of belief in the causes of global warming will great affect your perceived value of the solutions being put forth.
  • Benefits (WIIFM) – A how to article on knitting has no benefit to me. The same article might offer great benefit to you.
  • Current need or want – Just because I have no interest in knitting a sweater today, I might have an interest in knitting one tomorrow.
  • Brand associations – Past associations affect future perception. If you’re happy with the Chevy you drive now you’re more likely to see value in Chevy in the future
  • What others say – A movie you that doesn’t look interesting becomes more interesting when 10 of your friends recommend it.
  • Aesthetic Design – For good or bad how something looks affects your perception of its value. Do the clothes you wear to a job interview change how qualified you are for that job?
  • Price – If one restaurant sells a steak dinner for $5.99 and another sells a steak dinner for $19.99, which would you think is offering the better steak? Does price alone convince you to buy one steak over the other?

By no means are these the only factors that can affect your perception of value. Everything affects your perception of value.

Why it’s Important to Increase Perceived Value

I want to reiterate that I agree completely with Skellie when she argues for putting the emphasis on substance over style. You can arbitrarily raise value perception and get someone to click into a post, but if the post doesn’t deliver you aren’t getting that same person to click in again. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still very important to increase the perception of value in your content and your services.

You could ignore all those things that may only be illusory when it comes to altering ‘real value,’ but if you do the perceived value of what you are offering will decrease regardless of its ‘real value.’

I could have written this post as one very long paragraph. It would have done nothing to change the substance of the post. But you wouldn’t have read it. How you design your posts changes the perception of your posts’ value.

The post design doesn’t alter the information in the post, but it does play a role in whether or not the information gets read.

Glance back at some of the perception factors listed above. Worldview is all about your target market. Choose the wrong market and what you are offering has no value. Features don’t affect perceived value, benefits do. SEO works, because it puts you in front of someone when they currently have a need or want. Recommendations and testimonials help sell your products, because they increase the perception of the value of your products.

Yes, it’s important to back up the initial perception you create if you want repeat visitors and sales. But it’s important to raise initial perception to get the visitor and sale in the first place. There is no quantifiable way to measure value as an absolute. Value is always in relation to other things. Value is always perception.

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  1. Value (real and perceived) also has to do with scarcity. Whenever you have a really hard time finding information that you need make a note of it. If you can create a resource where a demand already exists you’ll have a winner.

  2. I think you hit it right on the nose with your last sentence. Value is always a perception.

    There are many blogs out there that have no value for me. Either they don’t deal with subjects that interest me, or they aren’t that well written, and so I don’t want to waste my time reading them. Some of those blogs have a lot of comments, so some people must find value in them. They just don’t meet my definition of what is valuable.

  3. @David – That’s a good point. Supply and demand definitely affect perceived value, which is reflected in price.

    @Kristine – And that perception is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve come across some very popular blogs that for whatever reason I don’t care for. It doesn’t mean those blogs have no value. They clearly do for a large number of people, but not so much for me. Value is relative and based on so many different things. It’s all perception.

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