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Consequential Value Manifesto

Most Americans view the concept of “value” as a quality or quantity vs. price issue: If I pay less than the market rate, I’ve got a good deal. That’s why my Sunday paper is stuffed with tabloids—to convince me the sale at Best Buy will provide more bang for the buck than Circuit City or Radio Shack It’s why I shop at TJ Maxx—the notion that I can buy a Calvin Klein coat for 30% of its real value. These are “good deals.”

Corporate promotions usually assume much the same consumer mentality: If enough consumers believe that our free sexy widget is worth the extra visit to the store and spending more than she normally would on regular product—AND she ends up feeling commensurately sexy…voila! Great Deal. This defines a good promotion. We make money and the brand gets a lift.

On an economic level, I can’t argue with these ideas: they work, they are true. I’d love a new iPod for dropping by your website. Throw a logo on it if you want. Thanks! But is that all there is?

No it’s not. And, fortunately, many businesses (profit and non-profit alike) use promotions, offers, and services that promote brand lift while addressing real human need. These efforts should be celebrated.

Truthfully, most of us don’t really NEED more stuff. I can’t explain why well-paid people will stand in line to get schwag bags at conventions, but it’s not because of need. Maybe we just love the thrill of the deal. Regardless, we don’t need more stuff—logoed or otherwise–hence the great song “Too Much Stuff” performed by Delbert McClinton, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine. (Lovett: “I’ve been hurt by too much stuff.”)

Rarely connected to the stuff we get promoted at us, our real needs are more spiritual, more material if we are poor enough, and more physical. They are more basic, more primal, and more painful, and therefore more deniable. We need relief from the pain of failure or poverty or invisibility. We need acknowledgment as human beings or escape from forces that make us less than human. We need a cleaner environment or cleaner political leaders. We need justice where there is violence and “ism’s,” we need grace for our inadequacies. We need educations. We need better health. Some of us need shoes that fit.

True, it’s far easier to offer “stuff” than address “need.” Stuff makes a great analgesic–even the poor and the unhealthy are happy for a deal. So why go deeper than merely “wants,” “cool,” and “perceived needs”? Especially if it doesn’t have a direct affect on the brand?

Ah, but there’s the rub. Can’t an offer from a business that addresses human need also affect brand in a positive way? We should be imagining how this can happen.

The search for what I have coined “consequential value” asks not for number of “impressions made,” but:

  1. In what way does the promotion/offer/service meet (not just promise) a real need–spiritual, material, emotional, or physical—of the targeted consumer?
  2. Does the promotion educate or engage the consumer about the brand or a goal of the brand?If so, to what degree?
  3. Does the promotion create a human benefit for a community larger than its own interests?If so, how big is the impact?  To what degree is this generosity offered altruistically (without concern for some kind of “payback”)?

This diagram gives you a quick snapshot of what I think needs to be evaluated. More on this matrix in future posts.


Consequential Value is being used here in a specific marketing context. What is the impact on humans, the brand, or both–beyond feeling good about a brand enough to buy it or even become loyal to it—that the promotion/service/offer elicits? There are at least two common denominators to qualify as “consequential”:

  1. The promotion itself must engage the consumer—the consumer must act.
  2. The benefit to the customer can not be more “stuff.”

T-shirts with logos, syrupy advertising campaigns, and Buy-One-Get-One’s need not apply.




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rhonda Amstutz permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:44 am

    This whole concept is so deep but fascinating. I think I will need a few hours (or days) to really absorb it and how I can apply this same idea in my role as a librarian. I am not a corporation or business but I do feel like I am constantly trying to “sell” to my students–the brand would be Read or Library, etc. I feel like I am constantly advertising, pushing… and yes we have our promotions “Do this and you get this!” I now want to reevaluate the incentives I offer to both students and teachers. I also know I will never be able to look at commercial promos in the same way.

    I want to be freed from all the “stuff”. Hmmm


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