In our research we don’t accept on its face a consumer’s statement that a certain product attribute is important; instead we explore what underlies that statement. For example, when someone says her bank is “convenient,” its value derives from some combination of the functional elements saves time, avoids hassle, simplifies, and reduces effort. And when the owner of a $10,000 Leica talks about the quality of the product and the pictures it takes, an underlying life-changing element is self-actualization, arising from the pride of owning a camera that famous photographers have used for a century.
The elements of value approach extends Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.”
Three decades of experience doing consumer research and observation for corporate clients led us to identify these 30 fundamental attributes, which we derived from scores of quantitative and qualitative customer studies. Many of the studies involved the well-known interviewing technique “laddering,” which probes consumers’ initial stated preferences to identify what’s driving them.
Our model traces its conceptual roots to the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” which was first published in 1943. Then a faculty member at Brooklyn College, Maslow argued that human actions arise from an innate desire to fulfill needs ranging from the very basic (security, warmth, food, rest) to the complex (self-esteem, altruism). Almost all marketers today are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy. The elements of value approach extends his insights by focusing on people as consumers—describing their behavior as it relates to products and services.
It may be useful to briefly compare Maslow’s thinking with our model. Marketers have seen his hierarchy organized in a pyramid (although it was later interpreters, not Maslow himself, who expressed his theory that way). At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological and safety needs, and at the top are self-actualization and self-transcendence. The popular assumption has been that people cannot attain the needs at the top until they have met the ones below. Maslow himself took a more nuanced view, realizing that numerous patterns of fulfillment can exist. For example, rock climbers achieve self-actualization in unroped ascents of thousands of feet, ignoring basic safety considerations.
Similarly, the elements of value pyramid is a heuristic model—practical rather than theoretically perfect—in which the most powerful forms of value live at the top. To be able to deliver on those higher-order elements, a company must provide at least some of the functional elements required by a particular product category. But many combinations of elements exist in successful products and services today.
Most of these elements have been around for centuries and probably longer, although their manifestations have changed over time. Connects was first provided by couriers bearing messages on foot. Then came the Pony Express, the telegraph, the pneumatic post, the telephone, the internet, e-mail, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites.
Consumers perceive digital firms as offering more value.
Well-designed online businesses make many consumer interactions easier and more convenient. Mainly digital companies thus excel on saves time and avoids hassles. Zappos, for example, scored twice as high as traditional apparel competitors did on those two elements and several others. Overall, it achieved high scores on eight elements—way ahead of traditional retailers. Netflix outperformed traditional TV service providers with scores three times as high on reduces cost, therapeutic value, and nostalgia. Netflix also scored higher than other media providers on variety, illustrating how effectively it has persuaded customers, without any objective evidence, that it offers more titles.
Brick-and-mortar businesses can still win on certain elements.
Omnichannel retailers win on some emotional and life-changing elements. For example, they are twice as likely as online-only retailers to score high on badge value, attractiveness, and affiliation and belonging. Consumers who get help from employees in stores give much higher ratings to those retailers; indeed, emotional elements have probably helped some store-based retailers stay in business.