Price is About So Much More Than Cost

Think about the last thing you “splurged” on: Why did you buy it? How did it make you feel? What story did it tell you? What story did it tell about you? What part of your values or personality did it confirm?

When it comes to the things we care about, we rarely make decisions based on price. Price might be a factor but it isn’t the make or break detail we worry it is as designers, idea people, and business owners.

If you create things that you want people to care about, you have to use price as an opportunity to tell a story not just pay your costs or your salary.

Price isn’t just what ends up on the tag. Price isn’t the only thing that determines whether something is affordable or too expensive. Price isn’t even the determining factor in whether someone decides to buy something or not. 

Getting the price right for your products and services is important. But if you’re basing your prices solely on how much it costs you to create, how big or small it is, how complex or simple it is, how much you’d like it to be affordable, or what assumptions you’ve made about how much people are willing to spend, you’re missing the pricing boat. I’m often asked for rules of thumb when it comes to pricing. 

Beyond a few calculations, an imperative to price for profit, and gentle urging to analyze the market, I don’t have any. There is no magic formula for getting to the right price for your new product or service. There is, however, an awful lot of strategic work you can do to determine whether your pricing strategy is going to succeed or fail. 

You need to know who you want to have buying your product and what they expect to pay for something like it. You need to know what problem you’re solving and how the resolution of that problem can be quantified. You need to know who your customers aspire to be and what community they want to fit in with. You need to know how you want your business to be positioned and how it is already perceived. 

And beyond knowing all of that, you need to choose. Most pricing struggles come down to trying to be too many things to too many different kinds of people (kind of a universal life problem, isn’t it?).

Of course, if your whole business is a little wishy-washy, you’re going to have problems pricing. Use price as a way to make a statement about the strategic direction of your business and then follow-through with every other aspect of your business. You’ll feel more confident about what you charge—and so will your customers.


are you telling the wrong story?

I have a confession to make. I think about you. Quite a bit.

I dream up what you might have had for breakfast. I envision the conversations you have with your husband or girlfriend. I imagine the situations you get stuck in and the kind that make your whirl with excitement.

You’re the main character in the story I write in my head.

Thankfully, you let me know I’m doing a pretty good job. You write me comments like, “How did you know I was thinking about that?” or “This is just what I needed to hear today!”

I’m no Sookie Stackhouse.

But I do make a point of understanding you.

By now, entrepreneur, you understand that your story and how you weave it is often what differentiates you from a pack of similar makers or service providers. Your story provides the context for your business. It explains what you do and, more importantly, why you do it.

But your story is not the reason people buy.

Someone buys when she understands how your product or service fits into her story. This is the essence of marketing: weaving your product or service into the story of your customers’ lives.

Lately, I’ve read some comments from people who get a little sick when asked to create a customer profile bedecked with demographic informational accessories like income bracket and age. “It’s icky to consider how much money my customers make or where their kids go to school,” they say.

“What does it matter?”

Stories have the felicitous capacity of capturing exactly those elements that formal decision methods leave out.
— Don Norman, Things That Make Us Smart

Yes, wanting to know the median age of someone’s children or their shoe size is icky if it means that you can create a formula that tells you exactly what marketing techniques will result in the most sales. But that’s not why we want to know these figures. These facts, figures, and suppositions help us craft a story.

Just like you, your customers’ circumstances are not separate from the greater narrative of their lives. Their income, age, location, clothing style, favorite coffee hang out, and Android vs iPhone preference help you understand their story. When you fill in the mad lib of their lives, you have a clear perspective on what they love and what they need.

Marketing and sales do not fit into some neat formula or instruction manual. Marketing and sales live in the imagination. They put us in touch with one of the greatest of human attributes:


One aptitude that’s proven impossible for computers to reproduce, and very difficult for faraway workers connected by electrons to match, is Empathy.
— Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind

The empathy we muster for the whole experience of our customers’ stories is directly related to our ability to close the deal.

When you understand a customer’s story, you can become a character in it.

Create your customer story
  • Use Pinterest or a photo editing tool to create an inspiration board that gives you a visual representation of what your customer is like.
  • Write out a “day in the life of” schedule for your customer.
  • Paint a picture of the situation your product or service aims to help with.
  • People watch. Look for people you might imagine to by your ideal customer. What are they thinking about at that moment?
  • Create a private Twitter list of users you think of as your ideal customer. Follow it for a few weeks to get a feel of what in their lives is “tweetable.”

The aim here is not to sell people things they don’t need. The aim is to create the things they do need. The aim is to understand what is missing from the story & supply it the only way your own character knows how.

Would you rather be a character in a story or an advertisement on the page?

That’s what I thought.

Today, forget about honing your own story. Concentrate on becoming a part of your customer’s story. Fill in a gap she didn’t know was there. Help her put into words what has gone unsaid.

Become a character in her story.

Play along. Leave a response below to tell me the story of your customer. Include as many details as you can. Tell me about a problem or question she has. Offer the tale of her greatest success. Today, you be the author.