Are bargains actually a waste of money?

How many times have you bought something that you considered to be a great deal at the time, only to find that it was poor quality or didn’t fulfil the purpose that you purchased it for?

The Black Friday sales have got me thinking about the conundrum of suitability vs price. This year, more than ever, businesses will undoubtedly be taking advantage of the American-inspired shopping bonanza to shift stock – and fair play to them if they have retail premises that have been forced to close for two or more lockdowns in recent months, with all the negative implications that has brought.

For the shopper, this could either mean bargains galore, or a tempting array of cheap products that are too good to be true. The problem is, how do you tell the difference?

What is good value?

Good value is a personal perception. One person’s ‘extortionate price’ is another person’s ‘reassuringly expensive’. One person’s ‘bargain buy’ is another person’s ‘cheap tat’. So how do you decide which is which?

I believe that there are two main things to consider before making a purchase:

  1. The product itself;
  2. The reasons why you are considering buying it.

Forgive me if that sounds obvious, but it is actually more complex than it seems. Consider, for example, that you were thinking of buying a cake. How much would you pay for it?

That’s a deceptively tricky question. I’ve not told you anything about the cake (what flavour it is, how many people it serves, who it was made by or what ingredients were used), or your reason for considering buying a cake (perhaps a special occasion or simply that you feel in need of a sugar fix). All of these factors, and plenty more, will influence how much you might pay for the cake, and whether you would consider it to be good value.

How do businesses set their prices?

Setting the right price point for an item is not an easy exercise for a business – price it too high and you might put off potential customers who think it’s too expensive; price it too low and you might put off potential customers who think it’s cheap for a reason. Good value is when the customer is happy that they have paid the right price for the item they have bought.

Let’s stick with the example of our cake. The business selling it needs to consider the cost of the necessary ingredients, equipment and utilities to make the cake, along with staff costs, packaging costs, marketing costs and other overheads.  This provides the unit cost of the cake – the total cost to the business of baking it and preparing it for sale. In order to make any profit and ensure the business is viable, a margin then needs to be added on top to give the retail price for the customer.

These costs and margins are unlikely to be the same for different businesses, even if, to all intents and purposes, they are selling identical cakes. It will cost a lone baker far more to bake a single celebration cake to order than it will for a supermarket to mass manufacture a similar cake as part of a large batch using bulk ingredients. This is why customers are often puzzled about why extremely similar products can vary so much in price.

What is a good price?

Ultimately, this comes down to the consumer and what they value. Most people would be happy to spend more on something bespoke to their requirements than something mass produced, but it depends upon the occasion and their reason for buying. The considerations for commissioning a wedding cake would be very different to buying impromptu cakes for the office (remember those days?!).

Unfortunately, in shopping, as in life, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Whatever you purchase, you will inevitably end up compromising on something – your budget, the quality, or how quickly you can receive the item.

I can’t take any credit for this, but there is a useful formula that sums this up neatly:

Cheap + quick ≠ good (You can buy something cheap and get it quickly, but it’s unlikely to be good)

Good + cheap ≠ quick (You can buy something good and cheaply, but you’ll probably have to wait for it)

Quick + good ≠ cheap (You can get something that is good quickly, but it’s unlikely to be cheap)

Shop wisely

Whether you are shopping for friends, relatives or your business, think twice before you click ‘Buy Now’. Seek out whatever ‘good value’ means to you, and what will leave you happy that you have paid the right price, for the right product, from the right place.

And if reading this has given you a craving for cake, make sure it’s a good one!

Until next time,

Emma

As Ronan Keating once crooned,‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all’.

Whilst the teenage me would have taken this as gospel, I now have to question whether Ronan was telling a bit of a fib.

After all, saying nothing – particularly when others know that you are holding something back – can actually make things far worse.

The information gap

We see this a lot in the news and in our workplaces. When we know that there is something that we don’t know, it generates a culture of ‘us’ and ‘them’, making us feel at best left out, and at worst deliberately excluded.

The longer that nothing is said, the more audiences attempt to fill the gaps themselves. It is human nature that people usually assume the worst, fuelling their innate fears by filling gaps in their knowledge with the worst-case scenario.

2020 has been a year of rapidly changing circumstances and information gaps, resulting in ever-increasing anxiety levels as the nation continuously waits to hear whether jobs are safe, wages will be paid or we can see our loved ones. Whilst some of those information gaps have been inevitable and unavoidable, it is clear that a lack of information can make things worse.

How to handle a crisis

When I completed my crisis communications training, I remember the tutor stressing how important it is to give accurate information in a timely manner. This sounds simple, but the day’s activities proved just how hard this can be in a highly-charged and fast-paced crisis situation.

Each of the course participants were given a role to play in a mock crisis situation, and were drip-fed information throughout the day (some of which later proved to be incorrect), which they could use to shape their communications with the media, the public and those affected by the incident.

I was nominated as the spokesperson for a fictional airline which had lost contact with one of its scheduled flights, and the plane was suspected to have crashed. As would be the case in a real crisis, information was scarce to begin with, and there was a lot of speculation – both within the airline and in the wider world – as to what had happened.

During the day, I was put through my paces by a current tabloid journalist and a former BBC cameraman, who between them used every trick in the book to try and get me to say more than I could be confident was true. I was grilled at a press conference, I was confronted by a doorstepping journalist whilst attempting to get to my ‘office’, and press statements were misquoted in order to try and change the implications of the original wording.

All of this was filmed for me and the other participants to watch back at the end of the course. Whilst not easy viewing (who likes watching themselves back on camera?!), it demonstrated how much our body language can give away even when our words say very little.

There’s no doubt about it – it is tough to be a spokesperson in a crisis situation.

Preparing for a crisis

Providing crisis communications support is now one aspect of what I do for a living. When something unexpected happens to a business which knocks it for six, panic can quickly set in, and it can be hard for those directly involved to take a step back and see the bigger picture. It can be helpful to have someone on the outside who can see the wood from the trees.

Thanks to the double-edged sword that is social media, stories travel quickly, and it is vital for the business in question to take control of the narrative as soon as possible to prevent inaccuracies spreading like wildfire. That’s why I always advise businesses to prepare for an unknown crisis that might never happen (so that they will know what to do if it does), rather than wait for disaster to strike.

5 top tips for communicating in a crisis

It’s always a good idea to have a full plan in place so that you know who your spokesperson/people will be, who will prepare the response, and which communications channels you will use. However, if you find yourself needing to get the word out quickly, here are my 5 top tips for communicating in a crisis.

  • 1. Respond quickly, but don’t say more than you know. Set out the facts as you know them, and be honest about anything that you don’t (yet) know.
  • 2. People first, pound signs second. Always acknowledge the human (or animal) impact of the crisis before referencing any damage to property or finances.
  • 3. Stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to read from a pre-prepared statement, and repeat its contents as many times as you need to in the face of media questions. Use this opportunity to quash any rumours that you can prove are not true.
  • 4. Prepare your team. If the media or the public think that they will get more information by asking your team members directly, they will do so. Help them to know what to do or say if they are approached.
  • 5. Say what will happen next. Advise when you will next communicate – this could be a physical time (e.g. a press conference at 3pm), or when something has occurred (e.g. issuing another statement when XYZ is known). Doing this keeps the ball in your court.

Above all, try to remain calm. This is easier said than done, but remaining in control of yourself helps you to remain in control of the situation and the narrative. I’m not saying you need to be a robot – in a crisis situation it can be very important to show that you care – but be confident in what you are saying, and know that in a tough situation you are doing your best.

Saying nothing vs. saying something

In everyday life, there is much to be said for following the old maxim ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’, but saying nothing in a crisis situation can quickly make matters worse.

If you don’t have a plan for responding to a crisis, perhaps you should. Even a quick chat with your team and some scribbles on the back of an envelope will be of some help should disaster strike.

Forewarned is forearmed. Or, as the Scouts put it, always be prepared.

Take care and stay safe,

Emma

Oi!

That made you stop in your tracks, didn’t it?! It was meant to.

It’s incredible how two little letters and one syllable – that arguably don’t even constitute a ‘real’ word – can generate such an immediate response.

We can communicate a lot in just one syllable.

We use ‘oi’ to tell someone or something to stop what they are doing with some urgency and no small hint of annoyance. Whether we’re trying to rescue the sofa cushions from the cat, prevent a thief from escaping, or ensure that we get to speak with someone before they leave, a loud ‘oi’ usually does the trick of catching their attention. Once we have done that, we can move on to communicating the reason behind the ‘oi’. Those two letters are a powerful little tool.

Big-hitting little words

Little words make up for their size with bucket-loads of attitude.

Try using ‘now’ on its own without it sounding like a demand, or ‘help’ without it becoming an urgent plea for assistance.

Single words are strong and powerful – they mean a lot and say a lot without waffle. Consider a simple ‘yes’ in relation to a marriage proposal or a firm ‘no’ to end an argument.

Huge impact; tiny words.

How to use attention-seeking words

Using words efficiently can make it easier to get your messages across – whether in business or in life.

One word might not always be enough, but less can very definitely be more.

Before you get to start a conversation, you need to grab your audience’s attention. Much like with the first line of a book, if the first few words of an email or article don’t spark their interest or imagination, the audience is unlikely to make any further effort.

Long, rambling opening sentences are liable to make readers tune out, so something short and punchy can be much more effective.

The sole point of the first word or sentence is to make your audience want to read the next one. If you can achieve that, then you have a much better chance of them acknowledging and engaging with the messaging that follows.

Top tip

Say less to communicate more.

Give your audience everything they need and strip out everything that they don’t. Grab their attention and make it quick and easy for them to find the information they are looking for.

They will thank you for it.

Know when to stop

All good things must come to an end, even blog posts and customer communications.

Until next time, I share with you the only two words that seem appropriate in the circumstances.

The End.

Time to be honest

I’ve found it a challenge to write a positive blog post this week, against the restrictive backdrop of another lockdown and the unrest of the US election. The news is filled with so many all-consuming reasons to be miserable, and the presence of social media ensures that those stories are with us constantly.

However, one thing that has helped me is to remember the huge number of things which haven’t been banned or restricted, and to focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud.

There is no denying that times are tough for a lot of people at the moment, whether financially, physically or emotionally, but we still have a choice. We can choose to dwell on the circumstances which hold us back (and which are largely outside of our control), or we can choose to celebrate the good things which still can and do exist.

How to stay positive

Putting together a gratitude list has helped me to stay, if not persistently positive, then more optimistic than I might otherwise have been.

Here are my top 5 things to be thankful for, which cannot be touched by a pandemic or political unrest:

• Sunshine – bright, crisp winter days with sparkling frosts. A feast for the senses.
• Laughter – even if remote or socially distanced, there is nothing like a good belly laugh to lift your spirits.
• Kindness – nothing can take away the warm glow of doing something wonderful for someone else, or someone showing you that they care.
• Ingenuity – adversity brings out the inventor in us, prompting brilliant ideas and solutions that might otherwise have remained undiscovered.
• Love – whether across the miles or for those in our own households or support bubbles, love prevails.

Now, that might seem like a pretty sentimental list – and that’s because it is. It’s a list based on values, principles and the underlying things which I believe enable us to be happy, despite everything going on around us.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and I would love to hear about the things that keep you going through tough times. If you have any tips or suggestions that you would like to share, please get in touch.

Keeping a level head

Anxiety is a very real problem for many people right now, and if you are one of those people who is really struggling, then please do seek help. There is no shame in it and plenty of organisations that you can turn to.

We can all help ourselves to a certain degree by monitoring what we watch, what we read, and how long we spend seeking out information which reinforces our fears and worries. Surrounding ourselves as much as possible with positive influences and information will help our glasses stay half full, rather than half empty, and make us better equipped to cope with the world around us.

To seriously misquote Rudyard Kipling, ‘If you can keep your head when all others are losing theirs, you’ll be a survivor, my friend’.

Keep smiling.

Emma