I used to be a digital sale junkie.
I have more Steam games than I could play if I took 2 years off from work. My Udemy library has nearly 200 courses and I could attend my personal CreativeLive academy full-time for a month without spending another dime.
But not anymore. Today I can handle my digital sales. In fact, even if there’s a HUGE sale with some skill I’m dying to learn (I’m a sucker for self-improvement) I can walk away. Really.
How did I master my digital sale urges? It certainly wasn’t a matter of willpower. Actually, all 3 of those companies – and a lot more like them – have made it easy for me to not feel the urgency to buy anymore.
To paraphrase a villain from one of my favorite movies: when everyone’s always on sale, then nobody’s on sale.
Brand Value Dilution 101:
Here’s the thing: Steam, Udemy and CreativeLive used to run sales only occasionally.
Now they have what I call ‘chain sales’ (think chain smoking); when one sale ends, another ‘special’ almost immediately begins.
And this is deadly – not for me, for them – because it has the opposite effect, over time, of what they want, which is increased sales.
Steam sales used to be the most compelling because they were dynamic; pricing changed regularly throughout the length of the sale, so you had to be vigilant to get the best prices. It was fun, and a brilliant way to keep customers engaged for the entire period of what were often week-plus events.
Not too long ago they changed this approach: now best-pricing is fixed at the start, so you can mosey on in just once during the long sale period, grab everything you want and never come back ’til the next one. Now has all the excitement of a Vegas-style buffet: gorge yourself to your heart’s content and feel nothing but full. In a time when online businesses are competing for attention (or maybe thinking about Time on Page or Session Duration stats), to me that’s a crazy shift in strategy.
Because it’s an an engagement killer.
Seriously, if you knew you could get your customers to come back of their own accord constantly over the entire course of a sales event, make impulse buys exponentially more likely, encourage exploration of your entire product catalog and keep them riveted and active during an entire 10-day period, why would you change that model?
Beats me, but after a few rounds at the gorge-at-best-price-period buffet, Steam sales are no longer must-do events. I’m full, in no rush to run back, and if a game comes up that I do want, I can rest easy knowing that it will inevitably go on sale, and soon.
Here’s why CreativeLive is the worst:
Because I used to hold them in the highest regard in terms of course-quality and value-for-the-money, for me, CreativeLive is the most disappointing self-victim and really illustrates the danger of the chain-sale approach.
CreativeLive was the real deal when it came to credibility. Their production values were consistently awesome. Their experts were actual experts and their courses were courses: not regurgitated factoids presented n a nonsensical manner that made you wonder whether you could have – or should have – just gone to YouTube or bought a book.
When I went to CreativeLive, I went in willing to pay top-dollar because I knew I was getting high quality and high value. And that meant if there was a sale, it was important that I get there. Fast.
But not anymore.
You see, CreativeLive in particular has now conditioned me to believe there is no reason to buy at any one particular time. Sure, they do their best to stoke urgency with the typical ‘ends soon’ countdown and ‘just added’ hack strategies but then, inevitably, as soon as one sale ends, another begins.
They’re always on sale. And if not, I just have to wait for a few days. So why should I care?
Even worse, this chain-sale approach has to changed my perception of their Brand. If they’re always on sale, are they putting profitability ahead of mission? Are the courses still consistently high-quality? Are they in a desperate financial state?
And am I foolish for ever paying their regular price now?
Worst of all, do I trust them to consistently provide value if they themselves don’t seem to recognize it?
Here’s Why A Chain-Sale Mentality is a Brand Killer:
Think of it this way: your Brand is simply the way people think about you, your business, product or service. That’s it: it’s a perception game.
When you’re always on sale, this is what happens:
- There’s nothing special about your sales, so they become less effective over time.
- The brand (perception) is cheapened
- Your screaming message of ‘savings’ obscures all of your other more important brand messaging – namely that you’re excellent and unique in your category.
- When this happens, you attract customers who only care about price and, in terms of buyer psychology, you have chosen to present yourself as a parity provider; one whose sole differentiation from your competitors is by price alone.
- This is a recipe for failure, because as your perceived inherent value decreases, you’ll need to consistently cut profit margins in order to compete for less than loyal, price-only customers. And even if you argue that your competition is of lower quality or that you’re better because of X, Y and Z, you’re preaching to a new audience now: the price-only customer does not care. And because they’re the ones you’ve reached out to and cultivated this particular audience via the chain-sale approach, it’s your fault.
- Over time, you die a slow, agonizing business death at increasingly unsustainable, razor-thin profit margins serving disloyal people who don’t recognize your value.
So what do you do?
Don’t be the Brand that someone wants just for a good time: Instead be the Brand that someone wants to Marry.
Here’s the thing – just as people have relationships with one another, people also have relationships with brands. And when you have a relationship with something, you determine the value of that ‘thing’ in a very specific way based on how it presents itself relative to your needs and expectations.
More importantly, the way in which you perceive something – be it object, person or brand – forms the basis of how you feel about it, and how you treat it. It’s a human thing to do; as much as data is helpful, we remain inarguably human and subjective in our understanding of the world. In short, our feelings about a thing drive our response to that thing.
In keeping with the dating analogy, in a two-party relationship, if you continually present yourself as compliant, and willing to do anything just to get attention, you are sending signals that you are weak. Inherently pliable. Not to be crass, but depending on the dynamic of the relationship, this can easily make you appear usable on some level. From there, the relationship will likely become more unbalanced over time; soon there will be little reciprocity or mutual respect, both of which are hallmarks of a healthy and sustainable relationship.
If you are ‘always on sale’, you are sending a message of weakness. And your customers will use you and move on to the next best price when it suits them.
Instead, you should be the Marrying kind (or the Life Partner kind, if that’s the way you roll). The one in which both parties respect and appreciate the value of the other. The one where the value of a long-term commitment far exceeds any minor discrepancy in price.
How do you do this?
Tell a different story. Take stock of yourself and what you do, and then create a truthful brand narrative that focuses on what you do for them, and that continually elicits a positive association with your entire brand – not just what you charge. You story must present you as both approachable and professional, and you must be self-assured enough to be honest, truthful and transparent.
And make no mistake; this is not about veneer, or an impression to create via advertisement, but instead by a brand-holistic attitude of confidence, expertise and uniqueness. You need to be human and, at times, even vulnerable – not weak, but open to connection, empathy and understanding. You need to listen first, and from there find true common ground with your customers – if you listen carefully, you’ll find that they often have all the answers you need.
You’ll also need to say NO sometimes, but explain why. You need to be honest with your customers, and yourself, by demonstrating the value you provide, and why it’s worth the price you’re asking (and if when you take stock you find it hard to articulate your value and true USP, you need to ask yourself why, and what you can do to make it so). And though you always need to be flexible, you can never fold.
When you create a persistently positive, mutually respectful voice for your brand, you win over the long-term, because people do business with people they like, understand, respect and trust. This is what I call the Brandphilic® approach. And it works.
The Result of Taking this Approach?
If you switch to this long-term, sustainable model abruptly from a ‘chain sale’ scenario, sales volume will likely drop (for a time), but the quality of your new customers will increase. Rather than living in an incessant, frantic grind always looking for ephemeral leads based on price, you will instead begin building a loyal customer base that recognizes and appreciates your unique value and expertise. The ones that respond to the right brand messaging based on your true value are the ones you want; it’s like employing a magical pre-filter that brings you the exact type of customer that’s right for you while screening out the ones you don’t.
That’s the practical benefit of the developing and executing the right Brand Communications Strategy. Now that you have the right customers, they won’t stray when competitor tries to undercut you because they know what they’re getting from you, and understand your value. And because of this, you can be fair to yourself on pricing and margin as well, which means you can build a healthy business that can serve your customers best over the long term.
And then, when you DO run some sort of special it will have higher perceived value – because YOU do – and much higher conversion and better response.
And that’s far better than a hugely successful Going Out Of Business Sale.