Pricing: What $845 coffee can teach us
A different kind of pricing training today…
A few months ago, we watched this video:
And we bought $64 worth of the “rarest coffee in the world.”
Was it worth it?
Here’s the result:
So what did we learn?
Turns out, quite a lot.
First, I’m a sucker for scarcity and something about the word “rarest” really got to me.
Secondly, elephant poop coffee is not my “cup of tea.”
And the rest of the lessons were a little more useful. Read on…
Let’s break down the copy…
The gold seal on the front of the coffee says “Vintage 2017” which adds to the scarcity factor. It’s like a fine wine. There’s a limited number of bottles produced each year, which adds to their value.
The packaging also felt expensive. And it should. In cooking, there’s a phrase that “people eat with their eyes first.” It’s why all the cooking competitions judge presentation so highly. Your brain is taking in information from all 5 senses. What the packaging looks and feels like is going to directly affect how the consumer feels about your product.
So what’s the lesson for us as service providers?
Design matters. It matters on your website, your invoices, and your emails. If things look expensive, people will be willing to pay more for it. It might not be fair, but it’s true. People are using all the available information to make a decision about you, especially when there’s a lot of money on the line.
So, when you send an invoice to a client, what are you communicating to them? Are you communicating gold seal service, or something else? It doesn’t take much to step up your presentation.
A Delicacy Created Through Relentless Passion
One of the many things that Black Ivory Coffee got right was consistency in their message. This coffee can certainly be described as “artisan.” Most of the promotional video above is the founder explaining what it took to create this coffee and how it’s not a “gimmick.”
This is textbook “revere your work” technique (I learned this from Jay Abraham). Basically, you need to dimensionalize what goes into your product or service to get your customers to really value it.
How service providers can use this technique: What does it take to write a piece of a copy? On the surface, you sit down, type some words, edit those words, and email it off to the client. Or, you feed some elephants some coffee beans and when the beans come out the other end you wash them off and put them in a fancy bag.
But what’s behind the copy (or the coffee)? Years of research, proven scientific principles, and the know-how to put it all together. Your clients should understand that, and if they don’t, it’s your job to teach them.
We need to address the objections our clients have up front — like that our work is a “gimmick” or money-making venture (sound familiar?).
Ten years in the making, Black Ivory Coffee is the rarest and most unique coffee in the world.
Again, Black Ivory is teaching you to revere their work. Now by adding a proof element (“Ten years”). This further dimensionalizes the process and creates a differentiator.
Then, they make a bold claim. “Rarest” and “Most unique”… not just “rare” and “unique” but the most in the world. Two of the most powerful words to use in copy are “always” and “never.” People don’t want choices. They want the best. And Black Ivory is not vague about that.
How service providers can use this technique: I struggled with this for some time. How could I stand out in a sea of copywriters that offered basically the same services? Kevin Rogers at Copy Chief is the best I know at helping copywriters figure that out. Kevin worked with me to find the “rarest” and “most unique” parts of what I offered.
Note that Black Ivory isn’t saying they’re the “best” coffee. They are saying there is no coffee out there like it. How can you say the same? I did it by leveraging the systems I’d created over the years to replicate and evaluate voice as well as manage large-scale launches. No one has a system like I do and while I can’t claim I’m the “best” copywriter on the planet, I can confidently say that my systems are unlike anything else out there.
Naturally refined by elephants, Black Ivory Coffee beans are broken down by the elephants’ digestive enzymes, resulting in a smooth tasting coffee without bitterness.
First off, “naturally refined by elephants” is the best euphemism ever. Sounds much better than, “we feed it to the elephants and then collect it from their poop” doesn’t it?
This is the part where we switch from emotion to logic. Words like “rare” and “unique” elicit emotional responses, which is key. But, the emotion also needs to be backed up. The way we make decisions is driven by emotion, supported by logic. The visceral “ooooh I want that” thought comes from the most primal part of our brain. This part has the ability to stop all cognitive function. But eventually, the more advanced, logic side kicks in and says “wait a second here…” In copy, there’s two ways to attack the logical side:
1) Sell them on it before the logical side kicks in (easy to do with impulse buys or highly emotion-driven products)
2) Give the brain just enough “data” to keep it happy
Black Ivory, being $845/lb would have a difficult time going with option #1. Most of the market has to take a step back before dropping that kind of cash. So, they smartly went with option #2. They gave us some “scientific facts” a la “broken down by the elephants’ digestive enzymes.” Now if you really took the time to think about it, that sentence isn’t really giving us much information at all. Of course the coffee is broken down by digestive enzymes… that’s how all digestion works. But our logic brain is good with a few science-y sounding terms and thinks, “cool, sounds legit.”
Then… they use the one-two punch of feature-benefit to sell you “resulting in a smooth tasting coffee without bitterness.” Derek Halpern coined this the “so that” principle. To find the benefits hidden in the features just add “so that” to the end of the feature (or in this case “resulting in…”)
How service providers can use this technique: It’s Copy 101 to always think “benefit first” when writing. You’ll often hear the acronym WIIFM, which stands for “What’s in it for me?” We don’t really care how the coffee is made until you tell us what’s in it for me. “Ok cool, better tasting coffee.”
Clients are the same way. We can only talk about our process to a point then we have to turn it on them. For example, for my voice system. I talk about the comprehensive process I have in vague terms and then turn it… “so that…”
“I have a system to codify and evaluate voice so your writers can get up to speed faster, produce better content, and virtually eliminate the back-and-forth feedback loops.” This is a major pain point for my clients so explaining WHAT my process is becomes secondary to HOW it can solve their problems (i.e. even with a team, they’re spending too much time on copy and content).
Thirty-three kilograms of coffee cherries are required to produce one kilogram of roasted beans. With only a few hundred kilograms produced annually you are one of the few people to experience this coffee.
This is a key turning point in the copy. This is the first time we see the word “you.” And it’s done beautifully. First, they continue the scarcity and reverence, then they subtly switch to giving some kudos to the reader. “You are one of the few.”
Let’s talk communication theory. In graduate school, I studied the “Communicative Principle of Relevance” developed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson and further explored by Marshall T. Poe in his fascinating book A History of Communications. Basically, the theory proposes that EVERY communication — spoken word, written word, Facebook post is to be seen as relevant. This comes from our primal desire to be accepted into the tribe. Power, money, love… they are all just ways for us to feel relevant. Nothing says “you’re relevant” more than “you are one of the few.”
How service providers can use this technique: There’s a few ways you can create the feeling of “the few, the proud” with your clients. The first way is by putting them in good company through your testimonials. If you have well-known past clients, name drop whenever you can. Clients feel good about working with me because that puts them in company with Ramit Sethi, Jeff Walker, and Ryan Levesque, among others. If I’m working on a fitness product, I’ll use names like Charles Poliquin.
But what if you don’t have impressive names to drop? Well, there’s a way to create the same effect, ethically. When you’re speaking with clients and pitching a particular marketing strategy, you can help bolster your credibility by mentioning the person you learned it from or someone who used it. In this article, I named dropped Jay Abraham. Although I’ve never worked with him, you’re likely to believe me (and in some cases, even associate me with Jay Abraham) because I use his name.
So when you’re talking about the type of copy you write, you can use phrases like, “I’m in the ‘Clayton Makepeace’ school of thought” or “I’ve spent a lot of time studying the work of Jeff Walker” to make your clients feel like they’re in good company.
Another way is to (honestly) create scarcity. If you only take on 1 client per month, tell your prospects that. Even after they’ve hired you. I often say things like, “this week is all yours, I have no other clients on the books.” This makes them feel taken care of and special.
As a result of our commitment to elephant welfare, a portion of the proceeds from this envelope of coffee will support the elephant care giving families in Ban Ta Klang, Thailand.
As humans, we want to feel connected to a higher purpose. We want to feel like we’re not just contributing to someone’s bottom line, but to improving the world. It’s why I only work with clients I believe in. Black Ivory is appealing to this desire here. You can feel good about the amount of money you’re spending on this coffee because it’s funding the care of elephants and families in Thailand. This significantly cuts down on buyer’s remorse (we’re back to the emotional appeal again).
How service providers can use this technique: Stand for something. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I’m passionate about natural disaster response and specifically the work of Team Rubicon. I’ve raised over $10,000 for the cause in the last 5 years, donated countless hours of time and expertise, and been an extremely vocal spokesperson. And, my clients have been involved, too. Lisa Rangel of Chameleon Resumes did a special promotion to support my Hurricane Harvey fundraiser. That partnership deepened our relationship because we put our energy toward a cause bigger than ourselves.
And beyond just “charity,” standing up for injustices in the marketplace or wrongdoing toward your clients can go extremely far in establishing you as someone they want to work with. Good people want to support good people doing good things. So do good things.
I hope you enjoy experiencing Black Ivory Coffee as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.
Blake Dinkin, Founder
On the packaging, you’ll notice a little gold autograph by the founder, Blake Dinkin. It adds a little touch that makes it feel personalized. Now, logically, I know that Mr. Dinkin did not personally sign each package in a magic gold pen, but it feels that way when I look at the package.
His salutation is also reads sincere and personal. It makes me feel like I’m doing business with a human, not a corporation.
How service providers can use this technique: I’ve evaluated dozens of freelancers’ websites and discovered an alarming trend: “sound biggeritis.” The syndrome is characterized by the use of “we here at ___,” speaking in the 3rd person, or using your made-up “company” name. I’m not sure who decided that bigger = better when it comes to hiring a copywriter. My experience has actually been exactly the opposite. Clients sometimes don’t love that KC does the invoicing and admin work because they want to talk only to me.
This is also a problem with so-called “B2B” marketers. Just recently, I got asked at a conference if my voice frameworks or client acquisition strategy would work in B2B markets. The problem with thinking about yourself or your clients as B2B is that we tend to forget that it’s still a person talking to a person. Corporations don’t make decisions or hire people. A person inside the corporation does that. So let’s talk to our clients like people, not like “prospects” or “the market.”
Lessons About Price
Ok, so now that we’ve learned all about great copy and how to use it, let’s talk about the price thing. How is that Black Ivory Coffee can charge $845 per pound when the almighty Starbucks only gets about $12? You can get coffee at the grocery store for around $7/lb.
How is this possible? And who are these people spending $845 on something they can get for $7?
LESSON 1: You have to tell a great story
It’s not a secret that story sells. And Black Ivory has story nailed. I had to know what “elephant refined” coffee tasted like. The whole bit about the altitude change. The mahouts and their wives. The elephant foundation. I am hooked.
To sell anything at a high price, you need a compelling story. People need to feel connected to you before they will ever consider paying high prices. And you need to tell that story over and over and over again.
On my About Page, on the sales page for Business of Copy, on every podcast and stage you find me one, you’ll hear me tell the story of how I became a systems convert. How I sat at the kitchen table in a hoodie at midnight, missing another deadline. Story is how we connect with other people. There is a ton of material out there on telling great story and it is essential for positioning yourself as a luxury, not a commodity.
LESSON 2: The entire customer experience needs to be aligned with your price
There’s a lot of misinformation about what it takes to charge $10K, $50K, or even $100K for a copywriting project. You’ll hear a lot of the time, “Just double your price!” If it was that simple, everyone would do it. And while a lot of people are undercharging, it’s not easy to price in the top tier. You have to be worth it if you want to sustain it. You might fool one or two people with artificially high prices, but you won’t be in the game for long.
So what does it take to charge high prices? If you’re going to be a luxury item, you need a luxury product. Think of a fine dining restaurant. You expect the server to give you attention and be knowledgeable about the menu. For the maître d’ to be attentive. The atmosphere to feel good. If you paid $500 for a meal and it felt like Applebees, you wouldn’t be back… even if the food was good.
As freelancers, we need to give our clients the same amount of attention. We have to talk to them about their offer, give them great service, and go above and beyond. I regularly send my clients physical gifts, hop on calls with them, and give them regular status updates on my progress.
LESSON 3: Your product or service has to be good, but not THAT much better
To continue the restaurant analogy, the food at a high-end restaurant has to be good. It can’t be garbage. But the difference between a $100 meal and $500 meal doesn’t have to 5x as good. Black Ivory Coffee was good coffee, but it wasn’t 100x better than Starbucks.
It’s the same with freelancing. You have to be good at your craft. Period. There’s no way around that. But you don’t have to be the best ever in the whole entire world. People get hung up on endlessly studying their craft rather than just going out and doing it. If you provide great service, great copy, on time, you’re already ahead of 99.9% of people. So focus on doing that.
NOTE: Please do not interpret this as me saying you don’t have to be good or that I don’t study my craft. I study more than anyone I know. But you get better by doing, not by reading. Charge what the market will bear, not what you think you’re “worth” because you know someone that’s better than you. The mental bullshit will hold you back forever. Be great. Get paid to be great.
LESSON 4: When you price at the top, it doesn’t matter what your competitors do
We get stuck in pricing a lot. Especially when we see someone else charging less. I do it to. We think, “How could I possible charge full price when ____ is offering a discount?”
Think about Folgers vs. Black Ivory. I was thinking about if Folgers did a special for a month where a pound of coffee was $1, people would go crazy. Maxwell House would probably lose a ton of customers. Even Dunkin’ and Starbucks might see a temporary hit. But Black Ivory? Nothing.
There is no one that would consider Black Ivory Coffee and then change their mind because Folgers was on sale. No one. Because they aren’t buying on price. The clients at the top of any market aren’t looking at price. They want the best.
And when you’re the best… or better yet, the only, competition disappears.
We talk a lot about pricing and the psychology of inside the Business of Copy… the place where freelance copywriters get solutions for everything in their business besides the copy (and a little of the copy, too).
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