Sometimes beauty beats value

In an old blog post I wrote about the perceived value of value. The conclusion of my musing was that hard value doesn’t exist. In business and in sales, value is in the perception of the beholder. It’s a subjective concept that lies squarely in the minds of your customers and it’s always related to the context of their business, working or living environments.

Though the premises and the context are different, the same is often true in the world of art. I can get a ‘beautiful’ painting by an unknown artist for little or no money at a flea market, while an ‘ugly’ picture by a famous painter would be auctioned at Sotheby’s for a ridiculous high price.

But sometimes beauty may trump monetary value. The  S.M.A.K. museum in Ghent, Belgium currently runs an exhibition, “No-Go Over 18”, at which contemporary artists (also some very famous ones, like Luc Tuymans) exhibit their lithographs. What’s so interesting about the initiative, however, is that admission to the museum is exclusively restricted to a young audience of under 18; ‘old’ people like me aren’t welcome. And that these youngsters can buy one or more prints at the affordable price of 45 euros each.

When making a purchase, the young art lovers won’t be influenced by adults. They won’t know the names of the artists. Or the market value of the pictures. They will make a choice based upon the artworks’ aesthetic appeal rather than on the creators’ reputation and his or her perceived market value. They will prioritize beauty over value. And only when they receive the litho in their mailbox after the exhibition, these kids – as well as their sponsoring parents – will find out who made the work they purchased. And if they possibly made a bargain investment.

It is said that real art is priceless and that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. I’m sure those young collectors will agree…

Bambi does the toothbrush test

Did you ever hear about the toothbrush test? The term is attributed to Alphabet’s CEO, Larry Page. And, as you may guess, it has nothing to do at all with a shiny white smile. The Google co-founder uses the test for determining whether a company is worth buying – which is always a complex and risky assessment to make.

As an alternative to diving into the nitty-gritty of revenue projections, cash flow forecasts, and profitability analyses, the test consists of this simple question:

“Is the company’s product or service something people will use once or twice a day, and does it solve a problem or make their life better?”

If I was asked for an opinion about my own toothbrush, the outcome would definitely be “yes.”

In this case, the toothbrush is used as a metaphor for usefulness and long-term value, in contrast to short-term RoI. Of course, one must be a business genius to make such an important decision based upon such a simple question. Please, note that I’m not naïve; you don’t have to convince me that Google’s people carry out a lot of due diligence beyond the toothbrush inquiry.

In an older post I wrote that simplicity always works. Life (and business) can be made so much easier than it is today, if you enable decision-making by asking simple questions, and effective communications by telling compelling stories.

Similar to Larry Page’s toothbrush test, I started using something I call the Bambi test. When preparing a public presentation, I ask myself the question below:

“Will people remember my words (or my visuals) two days from now, and did they get emotionally involved?”

I got inspired to use the Bambi metaphor after observing my kids watching Disney’s famous movie scene with Bambi and Thumper sliding on the icy pond. And like for the toothbrush one, the answer to the question would certainly be a “yes!” (Note to my sons Yannick and Robin: if you read this text, which you probably won’t, this was of course loooooong time ago…)


(image from Bambi by Walt Disney Studios)

Background reading:

Some B2B marketers are liars (or not)

What’s more important, the absolute facts and figures or  the story?

As I have written many times before on this blog (read e.g. the posts mentioned at the bottom of this article,) I am not a big fan of presenting naked numbers to an non-expert audience. IMHO, most numbers, spreadsheets and charts are meaningless without a value context or without a good story.

The title of this week’s post is inspired by the title of Seth Godin’s 2005 bestseller “All marketers are liars.” In this book the author illustrates the power of marketing an authentic story:

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better —and look cooler— than $20 no names… and believing it makes it true.”

Though Godin’s examples are originating from B2C use cases, the title statement also holds for B2B marketers. Often we think that, unlike consumers —who tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand— business customers only care about detailed product specs, competitive differentiators, and value-for-money. But business decision-making is often driven by emotion too.

Recently I came across a CEB research paper about the challenges that marketing leaders in large B2B organizations face in structuring a brand differentiation strategy and in addressing their customer’s real needs:

  • Branding is important. Most B2B buyers (74%) believe that brands provide business value, although the exact value is hard to quantify by numbers. Only 14% of customers perceive a real difference in a supplier’s offerings and value its difference enough to be willing to pay a premium for it, while 68% of buyers who see a personal value will pay a higher price for a product or service. This personal value includes emotional appeals in areas such as professional benefits, social benefits, emotional benefits, and self-image benefits.
  • Stories and personal value messages drive action. 48% of B2B buyers say they have ever wanted to buy a new solution but not spoken up about it because of fear of losing respect and credibility with colleagues (or even their job). To drive action, suppliers must shift their customers’ focus away from the costs and risks of change, and start a conversation with their prospects about personal difficulties, emotional needs and future personal gains.

By telling a story that empathizes with their customers’ real challenges and offers them solutions in a language they can understand, B2B marketers can build trust and support buyers in their choices and decisions.


And, although one should never lie to your audience or present them with content that you definitely know is incorrect, there is nothing wrong with omitting meaningless figures, or framing the facts to better align with the message you’re trying to convey.

More reading:

Moore’s law… and beyond

Earlier this year, the world (or maybe rather a few tech-savvy geeks like me) celebrated the 50th birthday of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (and thus the performance) of microprocessors would double each 2 years. Take for example today’s iPhone 6, which is 3.5 times faster than the iPhone 1 while its price is 30% less than the first generation 7 years ago. Moore’s Law has been used as a stable basis for forecasting technology evolution in the ICT industry for the past 5 decades.

Reading a few articles about this special anniversary reminded me of a conference presentation I gave (also) many years ago, in which I explored the thin line between “nice to have” and “need to have” technology.

Starting with a picture of Moore’s Law, and with the help of two other famous industry laws, a bit of visual thinking, a healthy dose of abstraction and some creative chartsmithing, I developed the following storyline…


Note that, although “doubling each 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented a straight line ― complemented by an exponential scale on the Y-axis.

Several years after Gordon Moore’s famous observation, another ICT pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, …) while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Take for example a wireless network: if you have only 2 subscribers with a mobile phone, they’re only able to make calls to each other. If you have millions of subscribers however…


Metcalfe’s Law is about network growth, customer acquisition, and value creation, rather than about technology evolution. The combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws explains the rise of information technology and the growth of the Internet as we know it today.

As the next step in my presentation flow, I introduced my audience to the technology adoption lifecycle, and more specifically to the “chasm theory” that was developed by another Mr Moore. In his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,” management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore talks about the gap between the take up of new technology by early enthusiasts and the mainstream market.


And finally, in an unprecedented apotheosis, by combining the three preceding charts and by ― I have to admit ― visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place ― and if this doesn’t happen, that any new product or technology introduction is doomed to fail.


That’s a nice conclusion, which ― just like Moore’s Law ― still holds today, isn’t it?

You may view my original presentation on SlideShare. Please note that the deck dates from 2002, and that the market, my company, and the technology and product related content obviously have evolved since then.

What are words worth?

Recently, I ran into the mission statement below. Do you have any idea what firm might have formulated this ambitious vision?  Which company would write (or as will become clear in the next paragraph, rather wrote) such big words?


It may come to you as a complete surprise, but – ironically enough – the mission statement above was owned by… Lehman Brothers. The financial services firm that collapsed in September 2008 and triggered a superior, unprecedented, global financial crisis. Their bold mission statement remains, the rest is history…

Actually, you may try any mission statement generator on the web (such as the one here) and I can assure you that its output may be as good as the text created by Lehman’s communication agency – for which they probably paid thousands of dollars.

Here’s a simple lesson. Stay away from buzz words, hollow phrases and meaningless statements. Tell the people what you really stand for. What you do. The value you deliver. Let your customers speak for you. Talk your walk. Walk your talk. And walk your walk.

More reading:

The perceived value of value

As I discussed in former blog posts about “five lessons from B2C” and “the good life”, there’s a lot that business presenters can learn from consumer marketing. A key lesson is that there is no universal standard that defines value.

I have worked in high-tech companies for many years now, and although me and most of my fellow marketers proudly call ourselves “customer centric”, we tend to assume that we always need to impress our audience with the latest ‘n’ greatest technology and with the best in class performance. And we use to call this “value”.

But lately I presented to an industrial customer who didn’t get impressed by the Mbps, GHz or PPI figures, the complex system architectures and the tons of product features he was bombarded with, but kept asking for a simple, stable and field proven solution. To this specific prospect, “value” just meant that the product would flawlessly do what it was supposed to do – nothing more, but also nothing less. And at a reasonable (which is not the same as the lowest possible) cost.

This is exactly what is happening in B2C too. Starbucks is offering good coffee at a “bearable” price (but not cheap at all). Their value offering is in the quality and the choice of their products, combined with a few extra differentiators (or benefit experiences) such as e.g. free Wi-Fi.


McDonald’s is a similar case. Why would you spend big money to take your young children to a three-star restaurant if there’s Happy Meal® box and a PlayPlace at walking distance?

And there is also the story of Harvey’s: a half-a-century old hardware store in Massachusetts that sells commodity goods like nuts and bolts, but manages to obtain a revenue per square meter that is almost four times higher than its large-scale competitors  – by pricing products based on the (perceived) value of the benefit experiences they provide to their customers.

Sometimes good is good enough. No thrills, but also no surprises. With a few extras. No need to compete with players in a different league. So, hard value doesn’t exist. Value is in the perception of the beholder. It is a subjective concept that lies squarely in the minds of your customers and it’s always related to the context of their business, working or living environments.

So, as a B2B presenter, you’d better adapt your content and adopt your tone to the needs and expectations of your audience. And give them value for listening to you.

Other articles about the companies mentioned in this post:

It’s the story, stupid

 “Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” – Nancy Duarte

Recently I had a discussion with a colleague about my Living by numbers blog post. Being active in business consulting, he is used to creating and delivering long, dry and factual presentations (read Jan Schultink’s article on how to write ‘McKinsey presentations’) and did not feel very comfortable with some of my recommendations.

consultant_cartoonThough not all content is equally suitable for storification, I remain convinced that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management level presentations.

  • We’re all human beings, and –let’s admit it– most of us love stories. As Robin Dunbar states in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, 65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about “who did what to whom”.
  • Listening to a story is cooperative (and most of the time interactive) learning. A story can put your whole brain to work. It helps make the complex simple and make the message more memorable. We tend to forget figures, lists and bullet points. Stories help to persuade where facts can’t.
  • Storytelling is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally and/or ethically. Stories produce mental images. They are a means to stimulate higher level thinking and let the audience come to a conclusion on their own.

Of course there are different kinds of audiences that may need different styles of presentations in different situations. And some content and/or circumstance can make you decide not to tell a story, e.g. for financial reporting or in cases of crisis communication. As a professional presenter it’s your call to go for a storytelling approach or not.

Five lessons from B2C

It is often assumed that B2B and B2C are two different worlds. This is based upon the observation that people who buy goods for themselves are acting in a different way than people who purchase products or services for their company. Hence, marketing and sales people need a different skill mix.

This is (at least partly) true – but there’s also a lot that B2B storytellers can learn from their B2C peers…

  1. Segment your audience. There’s no one-size-fits-all presentation pitch that will suit all possible listeners. You won’t sell the same products to a 76 and a 16 year-old consumer. Neither can you charm an engineer and a company purchaser with exactly the same value proposition.
    Always make sure you know your target audience and its needs before you start preparing your story and your visuals.
  2. The one you address is not always the one who buys. There are many examples in B2C marketing, such as selling mobile minutes to teenagers (Dad pays…) or advertising the unique features of a car (Mom decides…).
    The most attentive listeners (or the most active question askers) in the room are often not always the ones who own the budget. Try to identify upfront who has the real decision power and draw a power-map of your audience.
  1. Decision making is often emotion-based. Another misconception is that business people behave rationally and pragmatic, and that –unlike consumers, who (sometimes) tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand– they (always) go for the highest-tech or lowest-price proposition. Quoting Seth Godin’s blog: some of them “might be willing to look at the specs, but they really don’t understand them enough to care.
    A 2012 Upshot study shows the role and the value of emotion in B2B marketing. You can influence decision-making by creating an emotional connection with your audience. Use inspiring visuals, stories, anecdotes and real-life examples… it can make a difference.
  2. Value is in the eyes of the beholder. Two persons may have a completely different perception about the ‘value’ of a hamburger menu or a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s not always the price/quality ratio that makes the difference.
    De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum (there’s no arguing about tastes and colors). Know and understand the WIIFM for your audience members and try to fit your value proposition to their expectations.
  1. The medium supports the message.  Consumer marketers use repetition and imagery to capture the public’s attention, create interest for their products and reinforce their brands.
    In your business presentations, apply pause-and-repeat techniques and frequently summarize your key points. And in this era of transmedia storytelling, don’t stick to static imagery: use sound bites, video clips and live demonstrations to add pizzazz to your message.

So, next time you present to a group of business people, take a step back and think of them as a collection of everyday consumers. You may get some surprisingly positive reactions…