There are several reasons why testing your value messages and overall value story is important. The obvious one, of course, is value selling. We must get the value messages and overall value story of our products and services right in order to be able to sell them at their fair price. But, we must also be careful about consumer psychologic effects, such as the framing effect and inference.
So, if you’d like to know more about why testing value messages is so important, as well as what framing and inference are and their role, keep reading.
Let’s start with the importance of...
Value message testing for value selling
As we all know, these days everyone seems to be pressed for time, and at the same time, constantly bombarded with calls for attention from all over. This has made us a lot more selective in terms of what we pay attention to.
We may not have an attention span smaller than a goldfish’s like some have suggested, after all, we can still concentrate on tasks for long periods of time as long as they are interesting to us, but, we do pay less attention to all the different stimuli surrounding us than a goldfish would, because there are just too many stimuli.
That means that we need to put our product’s best foot forward, and as quickly as possible, because we won’t have more than a couple of seconds to grab our potential customer’s attention before he moves on to some other distraction. And there are plenty of distractions competing for their attention.
The problem here is, we often don’t really know what our product or service’s strongest selling point is before we ask buyers and other people involved with the purchase decision (if they exist).
I’ve worked on dozens of projects in which what my client assumed was their product’s main selling point turned out to be wrong. And I’m talking about really large companies with teams of professionals dedicated to this. So… it’s not always as simple as it seems.
What I’ve noticed, is that to begin, when you have a lot of potential selling points, you don’t always know which will be valued most by different purchasing stakeholders (in the absence of a really outstanding and differentiated selling point, which isn’t always available).
And another issue I’ve noticed, and which is actually something I struggle a lot with too, is that we tend to become attached to our products, and completely lose perspective. I’ve been in situations in which just by reading the product description it’s hard to believe that the client did not see issues or selling points that couldn’t have been be more evident if they had been written on a neon sign.
That’s why it’s really important that we get feedback form people involved in the purchasing process, to make sure that we are selling our product or service based on what matters most to them, and not based on some feature that we might have personally fallen in love with.
What we think is amazing about our product (especially if it’s something that we’re really proud to have been able to offer) may just be an… “oh, ok..” type of feature for potential buyers.
And, believe it or not, the main selling point of a product might not even be the most valuable thing that it has to offer. It may just be something that people want more.
Sometimes we just have to sell by highlighting how our product offers something that people really want to buy, and discretely slip in what IS really needed AND valuable for them, but that isn’t something that they’re eager to spend their money on.
That happens all the time! So… we must figure out 1), what captures people’s attention the most, so that we can lead with that. And 2), what they value most, so we can explain to them how our product offers it, once we are able to get their attention.
That’s one of the reasons why we must test out marketing messages. We need to figure out which of our value claims will be the most successful at doing each.
But at the beginning of te post I also mentioned a psychological effect called framing effect. So… what’s the deal with that?
The framing effect
A second reason why it’s important to test value messages, is that they may frame people’s perception of your product, potentially modifying their attitudes towards it. That is, the way you communicate your message may predispose people to have higher expectations and even experience your product in a more positive or negative way (even if the message is essentially the same, and just worded differently, or transmitted in a different way).
Let's see how:
Framing effect experiments
To test the information framing effect, researchers recruited a group of people to participate in a study, in which they would be evaluating participants’ attitudes towards the purchase of ground beef.
Participants were asked to assess the beef in terms of 4 pairs of attributes: good tasting vs. bad tasting, greaseless vs. greasy, high-quality vs. low-quality, and finally, lean vs. fat.
But here’s a catch: they never got to taste the beef. Instead, they would have to base their expectations only on the beef’s label information regarding fat content.
And, one more important detail: to half the people the researchers described the ground beef as 75% lean, and to the other half, as 25% fat. 75% lean and 25% fat are not that different, right?
Or are they?
Let’s look at the results.
So, in terms of the fat vs. lean assessment pair, people to whom the beef had been described as 75% lean, expected it to be more towards the lean side. While those to whom it had been described as 25% fat, expected it to be more towards the fat side.
And similar things happened regarding the other pairs. Those to whom the meat had been described as 75% lean scored it higher in terms of being lean, but also with regards to higher quality, greassless, and even better tasting.
And the differences were statistically significant, just in case you were wondering.
But for all the details, I suggest you check out the study. You can find the reference below.
So, even though a lb. of 75% lean ground beef with any other label is still a lb. of 75% lean ground beef, the expectations people have regarding it, and consequent purchase likelihood, do change depending on how that is stated on that label.
But you’re probably thinking that if participants had been able to actually try the beef, this difference wouldn’t be seen, right?
Well, you weren’t alone on that one, so, a second study was made to test it.
In this new study the rating pairs used were the same, as were the two different descriptions (that is, 75% lean, and 25% fat).
However, this time, participants were allowed to try the ground beef.
And, to half the participants the description was read before they tried the beef, and to the other half, after they tried it.
And the results were:
In this slide you can see the results for the attribute pair fat vs. lean, as rated by the group to whom the ground beef was described as 75% lean:
In the first chart we have the results from the first study (where participants never tasted the meat), on the second one, the results for participants to whom the description was read before they tasted the meat, and finally, in the third one, the results from participants to whom the label was read after tasting the meat.
As we can see, even though the differences in perceptions of those to whom the meat was described as 75% lean vs those to whom it was described as 25% fat did decrease when participants had a chance to taste the meat, they were still biased by how the meat was described.
Even though both descriptions mean exactly the same, the only difference being that in one case it is communicated from a positive perspective, and in the other one, from a negative perspective.
Now… I’m not inserting the results of the other pairs because this would be too long, but if you’re curious, you can find them in the original study.
Anyway, moving on, the implications of this are huge. This means that the way you communicate your product’s value not only sets different expectations on the minds of your potential customers, leading to different purchase likelihoods, but it may also prime them to enjoy your product more or less after they actually use it.
It’s important that you identify what are your product’s positive attributes that are more conducive to achieving this result, as well as what’s the best wording to describe them.
But there’s one more important reason why you must test your product’s value messages and overall value story.
From the previous studies’ results, one might think that communicating negative aspects, or even neutral ones in a negative way should be avoided at all costs, right?
Makes sense. At first glance.
But this is where inference comes in.
Inference in marketing and sales
Here’s the deal: as consumers, when there’s information missing about a product, we tend to either avoid making a purchase at all until we have all the information that we require to feel sure that we’re making a good decision, or, fill in the gap created by the missing information with our very own assumptions. This second one is called inference.
In the absence of information about a product, potential buyers sometimes just take a guess.
Now. Inference is generally positive thing, since the likely alternative to consumers making up the information by themselves might be not to purchase at all.
You may even notice that sometimes in the absence of information, sellers will say something like “I don’t know, but I’d assume…” or “I don’t know, but it’s usually easy to guess..”. What they’re doing, is trying to prevent you from walking away without purchasing anything.
But the “I’d assume” is actually no information at all, it’s just a guess that they make to make you feel more comfortable about making a decision without all the information that you’d like to have to feel comfortable making that decision.
The “I don’t know, but I’d assume” annoys me a lot. Especially when it comes to pricing and confusing terms of service in contracts that lock you in for a period of time. “I’d assume it’s included”.
Come on! if it’s not explicitly stated that it’s included, “I’d assume it’s not!”
And this is the issue right there.
As a consumer, when I’m analyzing a product to decide whether or not to buy it...
... and I’m missing a piece of information that is relevant, and that is clearly something that people would be expected to ask about, when it’s not mentioned, I ASSUME it’s missing intentionally, because if it were available, selling the product would be a lot more difficult.
And as it turns out I’m not some weirdo (well, in this regard at least).
When it comes to this particular inference, the general population seems to be on the same page as I am.
In the absence of information about a relevant feature that is likely to be a negative aspect of a product, we just assume that it IS negative.
Now I’m not going to describe any inference studies here because this is already long and they are on the more complex side. I may write a post on those in the future, though.
For now, what we must take into account, is that we must test not only how what we say resonates with our potential customers, but also how what we don’t say impacts their assumptions regarding our offering.
Although for framing reasons it might seem like a good idea to mention only the positives, we must make sure that by not bringing up the negatives, we’re not leading people to assume that they’re much worse than they really are.
A very simple example: if you describe your product as best in class, but say nothing about the price, what do you think people will assume? (“that’s probably expensive”, right?). That’s why sometimes we see ads that after listing a series of outstanding product features add the “at a price that’s much lower than you would expect for this level of quality”.
Because copywriters know that you’ll be inferring price, and that you’ll be guessing it will be high.
So… we need to test our products value story and value messages to make sure that we identify:
- The best value selling arguments,
- The messages that will allow us to frame customers and potential customers’ minds in the most valuable way possible, and
- What potentially negative assumptions people may make about our product when we don’t say anything about characteristics relating to relevant purchase decision criteria.
Anyway, in my next post I’ll go over the more practical side of how to test you potential marketing messages for value-selling purposes in market research.
And that’s it for today. I hope it was useful!
Framing effect studies:
Levin, Irwin. (1987). Associative effects of information framing. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society. 25. 85-86. 10.3758/BF03330291.
Levin, Irwin & Gaeth, Gary. (1988). How Consumers Are Affected by the Framing of Attribute Information Before and After Consuming the Product. Journal of Consumer Research. 15. 374-78. 10.1086/209174.