Welcome to the Owl Street Studio podcast, where we talk about how marketing and design affect the unexpected areas of our lives.
One area that people often don’t think of as marketing (but absolutely is marketing) is prices. I know prices have been on a lot of people's minds lately. With the news stories of inflation and everything going on in the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, prices are on the top of everyone's minds, thoughts, concerns, worries, conversation. I feel like we can't escape prices.
But that's kind of true. Every single day we interact with thousands upon thousands of prices. But have you ever stepped back and asked, “What really makes a price a price?” Sometimes it's the most mundane, simple, seemingly obvious things that hold the most mystery and intricacy.
What is really driving this thing that impacts your life so much, that impacts our whole nation and our history? What really is within a price? What is it that makes prices matter so much to us and to everyone else?
For prices, there are two major components. (This may seem obvious, may seem simple, but sometimes it's those simple things that have the most impact.) Prices are made up of numbers and value.
But first, what's a number? Prices have to have some sort of numerical number to them. They have a decimal point. They have a placeholder. But numbers are just the surface. When it comes to price, numbers mean nothing. Numbers are void, empty, meaningless. They're amoral, completely blank. Numbers, all on their own, hold no power, hold no influence. They're just…there. They're just a form, a placeholder.
But it's with the second part of price, value, that that's what creates meaning. So when I say value, what I mean is emotions, beliefs, ideas, concepts, feelings. It's the value, it's all these emotional things that we pour into the mold of numbers to create a price.
This is why prices are completely relative. A good price for you might be a bad price for me. Even though the dollar amount hasn't changed at all. It's because you have a different feeling, belief, value with that price than me. And the opposite can be just as true: a good price for me might be a bad price for you.
And when we can step back and understand that prices are really driven by our feelings, it shines a tiny light into knowing ourselves a little bit more. Because when you know that prices are driven by feelings you can step back and ask, “Why do I buy what I buy?”
I buy these things because I feel something. I have a value. They mean something to me.
Everything we buy, from the fast food to the everyday groceries to the big ticket items, every single thing has a specific emotional meaning to you. Now, those emotions can be good or bad or have a good cause or a bad cause. We're not here to make any sort of evaluation on what's driving you. We're just here to say that, with prices, it helps you understand yourself a little bit more.
I know I've done this exercise for myself, to step back and say, “Why do I care about this price? What is the emotions behind it for me?” You know, it's revealed some things that are a little embarrassing and humbling. But it's also helped me understand how to use my spending and my money to live out what I truly care about, to live out how I want to impact the world, even in the small things from buying a can of beans at the grocery store to the big things.
When we understand what motivates us to buy what we buy, we can steer those motivations into, hopefully, doing something that has a greater good beyond just making us feel good in the moment.
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