Pricing is positioning

16th November 2011

When I was a junior brand manager in France, I thought myself a local hero because I managed Bounty. Chocolate that is, not kitchen roll. Not only was the brand big news for the Gallic palette, it also had a very clear brand positioning which made life very easy.

‘Whatever the question is, the answer is always the same: moist tender coconut from paradise’.

My boss did not mince her words, nor her advice. And she was right – Bounty was a clear and enjoyable brand management experience because the strategy had been so well articulated.

One of my little merchandising ventures while King of Bounty was a solid plastic impulse display for each individual box of 24 Bountys. It was my pride and joy, and I was eager to share the magic. When a brand manager colleague from Germany rang up looking for ideas, I sent her 1000 of my left-over displays, and charged her nothing. In my mind, the most important thing was to get the idea out and about.

My boss disagreed. ‘We never, ever give something for nothing. If it’s really wanted and respected, it will be paid for’.

I had learnt a lesson for life: pricing is positioning.

Which bring me neatly to the problem of newspapers. The struggle over how to ‘monetise content’, marketing lingo for ‘getting some damned money from consumers’, has exercised publishers all over the world as they see their sales drop and competition increase exponentially with the internet.

The answer is not an easy one; but there are two marketing principles which may inform the debate.

The first is my Bounty-lesson of over twenty years ago: anything worthwhile is worth paying for. Of course, this has been flagrantly ignored. Up to five months’ ago, I could access the whole of the New York Times and its archives free, gratis and for nothing.

That venerable paper was in the paradoxical position of being the most broad-reaching and influential media operator in the history of civilisation whilst simultaneously facing the real prospect of going out of business.

In truth, the biggest issue for newspapers is likely not a crisis of confidence in their product, nor that they feel it is not worth paying for. Rather, there is not yet a workable, easy mechanism on the web to collect the pennies, allowing those pennies heap upon each other and finally amount to something. Steve Jobs created iTunes. We await an equally beautiful, tailored mechanism for great journalism.

The second principle is that of differentiation. This is as true for newspapers as it is for cheddar cheese and nations. Every time a consumer makes a choice, it must be clear why that choice is different and therefore worth choosing.

As it happens, Bord Failte seems to have a pretty good grip on what makes Ireland unique. The cheddar cheese industry is a little less enlightened – as any walk down the price-fighting antics of any cheese aisle in the British Isles will attest.

Ironically, the last thing newspapers are about is news.

This, for two reasons. Firstly, news is instantly available and effectively the same across all news sources. When the Japanese earthquake and tsunami broke earlier this year, it made little difference who reported it first, as everyone had reported it within an hour.

What did make a difference is the analysis and understanding of what the event meant, to Japan, to the Pacific ring, to the world community. Thus, newspapers demonstrate their differentiation by their superior understanding, insight and relevance – a triptych of journalism, editorial judgment and creativity. Consumers will always, always pay for such a product as it has the power enrich their inner life.

The advent of the internet means that we, as consumers, can choose to inform, educate and entertain ourselves with world-class journalism. When we find it, we will happily pay – and it is the challenge of great journalism to know the true measure of what it is worth.

And bit by bit, the purveyors of journalistic mediocrity will discover that they have been uncovered.

Now that would be a scoop from paradise.

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