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Customer Experience

The importance of brand value

Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

Sometimes it comes down to having the right vibe to persuade people to spend their money with you – and that’s regardless of price, says Rowan Dean.

I remember one of my first days working in an advertising agency — running errands. Naively, and somewhat arrogantly, I assumed that at the age of 19 I knew all anybody needed to know about marketing. Put simply, I thought it was all about price.

On about day three of my apprenticeship, I was stranded in the lift with a young female copywriter. Foolishly, and somewhat arrogantly, I attempted to impress her with my wit. “So I hear you write all the ads?” I said, offering my most fetching smile. “What, like ‘Hurry – 20% discount while stocks last’?” Needless to say, things went downhill from there.

The irony is that as a creative ad person, the last thing you pride yourself on being any good at is retail advertising, where price is the clincher. Indeed, the quickest way to end a conversation at some swanky advertising get-together is to mention the dreaded ‘p’ word. Of all the means of selling a product, selling it on price is to a creative mind the lowest of the low.

old cash register

Start here to sell a brand irrespective of price

In the early ’90s, fashion brand French Connection was being slaughtered by an influx of cheap competitors. It couldn’t beat their low prices and, worse, it had lost its youthful edge and looked increasingly old-fashioned. One night, its creative director spotted a fax from the Hong Kong branch (FCHK) to the UK branch (FCUK).

FCUK. Within weeks those four letters appeared on every new item of clothing, in every shop window and on every ad. Fuddy-duddies were outraged, cash registers chimed and the brand regained its youthful appeal. Anita Roddick built her brand The Body Shop not on price, but on the idea that her cosmetics weren’t tested on animals. “Against Animal Testing” was plastered everywhere. The crowds flocked in. Everything Roddick or The Body Shop did afterwards sought to reinforce that core brand value.

The greatest creative minds love nothing more than the challenge of selling a brand irrespective of price. So why shouldn’t you? Start with the most basic assumption: your product is superior to any of its rivals because you are better at your job than anyone else you know. And then analyse why that is. Compile a list of all the attributes that you believe you possess, that your enterprise or products possess, and the qualities that set you apart.

How to make competing on price irrelevant

For example, if you have set up a wedding planning business, focus on why. Is it because you would be more sophisticated, or is it because you would be funkier and edgier? Or because you would be more traditional? Already, you are building up a list of brand attributes and brand values. Keep finding words that better describe what you aim to achieve. Ditch ones that are too generic and focus on the ones that are uniquely you.

Next, apply those values to how you promote yourself in every single way. For instance, if you are leaning towards more unusual and imaginative weddings, you will want to focus on selling yourself in ways and places and to people who are “out there”. Conversely, if you realise your expertise and taste is more traditional, concentrate on everything from business cards to your website to your promotional ideas to reinforce that traditional feel. 

The reason brand advertising is so much more highly regarded than retail advertising and, ultimately, far more effective, is that deep down consumers love to believe in a product, a service or an enterprise. The emotional response will always trump the rational one. People will pay more for a coffee when they believe that the barista has special skills that lead to a superior product. Not because he has a sign up that says he is an expert, but because his every action, his every utterance, and his personal style are consistent with that belief.

Live and breathe your brand values. No short cuts, no deviations. Competing on price will become an irrelevance.


  1. Quality and expertise
    By far the simplest way to justify a higher retail price is by the quality of your product or the expertise of your services.
  2. Innovation
    Finding new or better ways of delivering an established product or service will always justify a higher price. People love innovation because it reflects on themselves.
  3. Value plus
    Going the extra mile or delivering additional services will always be ample reason for people to prefer you over cheaper rivals.
  4. Uniqueness
    Finding a niche that you alone occupy means you dictate the price.
  5. The cool factor
    Generating PR buzz is a double-edged sword if you overdo it, but if you’re honest about your products it will work.
  6. Trust
    Consumers will always be prepared to pay a premium for a product or a service they trust.


  1. Gimmicks
    Relying on stunts that your brand can’t live up to may work in the short term, but will alienate consumers in the long run.
  2. Add-ons
    Charging people a low entry price in order to compete and then trying to make up the shortfall with expensive add-ons is a popular formula. Eventually, people cotton on and you lose repeat business.
  3. Porkies
    Lying at the quotation stage is no way to build a brand.
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