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13. Per Bylund on Subjective Value

Per Bylund talks to Hunter Hastings about the value-centric model for successful entrepreneurship, and we provide an infographic to help you apply the model to your own business.

Show Notes

Subjective value is an important subject in economics — and even more so in entrepreneurship, where it is fundamental to what entrepreneurs do. It’s the critical factor in entrepreneurial success. Business schools talk about “creating value” and “value added” as if value creation were an objective process. But it’s not. And businesses can fail if they misunderstand value, because they can easily produce something for which there is no market.

Value is a felt experience, 100% inside the consumer’s head. Value is a satisfaction that consumers feel. It’s the result of an escape from or a relief from a felt uneasiness, or felt dissatisfaction. That’s often called a “consumer need” in business language, but unease or dissatisfaction are better words to describe what the consumer feels before the entrepreneur’s new solution is offered. Unease and dissatisfaction are hard to articulate, they are emotional conditions, they are affected by context and circumstance, and they can be inconsistent and idiosyncratic. The consumer feels, perhaps vaguely, that life could be better, or their current circumstances could be improved. Value is the feeling the consumer experiences in the period after having consumed the entrepreneur’s offering that relieves this vague feeling. They feel better – perhaps in a way that the entrepreneur never expected.

The consumer’s perception of value can change, in unanticipated ways, and very quickly. Take food as an example. Consumer needs are changing rapidly. There’s a new unease about ingredients and methods of production. It’s not exactly clear what the consumer “wants”, but their preferences are changing to include notions of holistic health and wellness, so that taste and calories and other attributes of food are less important to them. We can’t rely on consumers wanting today what they wanted yesterday. Just look at the problems big companies like Kraft-Heinz are experiencing as they try to keep up with this rapid and broad-based change in consumer preferences. And it is even harder to predict where the consumer is going next on this journey of change.

So, if value is perceived by the consumer, what do entrepreneurs really do? Do they create value, or add value, or something else? Per Bylund thinks of entrepreneurship as facilitating value. Entrepreneurs can’t create it and can’t add it. They design a value proposition based on their empathic understanding of what the consumer wants and of their sense of unease about their current circumstances, and they present this value proposition to the consumer. Then they must listen for and measure the consumer’s response to find out if the consumer is experiencing value.

Production must be designed with the consumer in mind. The consumer is the boss, and the production chain must reflect the consumer’s preferences and change with their evolving tastes. The economists refer to consumer sovereignty — the consumer determines what is value, and therefore which entrepreneurial initiatives are successful and which are not. The successful entrepreneur designs a production chain that can deliver value. In a very real sense, the physical and financial and human capital in the production process must be a reflection of the consumer’s preferences and desires. The consumer’s preferences determine the capital structure.

And since the consumer’s preferences are continuously changing, the successful entrepreneur practices a kind of capital dynamism that follows these changes and, to the extent possible, imagines where the consumer is headed, because production takes time and entrepreneurs are always concentrating on facilitating future value.

Advertising, marketing and communications are a fundamental part of the value proposition and not a supplemental part. The entrepreneur must tell a persuasive story about the value the consumer will experience. Advertising and marketing are ways of communicating to the consumer that there are new alternatives available to them — new ways to improve their circumstances and feel like life is better. Often, the entrepreneur is a pioneer, creatively interpreting the consumer’s need and developing a solution that the consumer might not have thought of on their own, but which they’ll embrace when they find out about it. Sort of like the Model T the consumers got in place of the “faster horses” they asked for in the (probably apocryphal) store about Henry Ford. Advertising and marketing tell the entrepreneur’s story, and they’re an important and integral part of the value proposition.

This consumer-first (or customer-first) process works in B2B businesses as well. When selling to or supplying a B2B customer, it’s important to know the customer’s individual preferences and needs, which are subjective — the need to feel satisfaction — in just the same way that the consumer’s needs are subjective. In fact, since the ultimate consumer determines what is valuable throughout the production chain, an entrepreneur who is knowledgeable about the B2B customer’s end consumer can establish an advantage. Being able to demonstrate (1) a deep knowledge of the end-consumer’s needs (especially when they are changing), and (2) how to bring the B2B customer’s position into greater alignment with those needs, makes the vendor-entrepreneur an especially important partner. The B2B customer will experience their own sense of satisfaction and value in the exchange.

The entrepreneur who adheres to a value-centric process has the greatest chance of success. The entrepreneur’s process of thinking must start at the consumer and work “backwards” to production. The entrepreneur must live inside the consumer’s mind, and employ empathy to understand the consumer’s subjective needs and wants. From an empathic diagnosis, the entrepreneur designs a product or service and a value proposition and takes it to the consumer when it is ready. By this time, the consumer may have changed, and so speed and agility are mandatory. It’s easier said than done. But it is critically important, especially for a new business or initiative. For established businesses, when the consumer changes, it’s extremely hard to change with them.

Use our free download of the value-centric process for entrepreneurs to help you think about the stages of value facilitation.

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