Without Contrast Everything Seems Expensive

price psychology Nov 21, 2016

Why everything seems expensive without contrast 

I often get asked what the most powerful technique is when it comes to pricing.

And I reply – “The contrast principle.”

I believe that it’s described most effectively in the introduction to a book called Influence, Science and Practice by Dr Robert Cialdini.  The book – which I consider to be the best book on selling that I’ve ever read – talks about the primary laws of influence. Dr Cialdini calls the concept ‘perceptual contrast’ and describes it like this:

“When we see two things in sequence that are different from one another, we'll tend to see the second one as more different from the first than it actually is.”

It’s a theory that carries into pricing. Human beings are clueless about price.

Honestly. We don’t know the price of anything because we don’t know the absolutes.

Therefore we compare.

And our clients compare too. Without you controlling the pricing process they will compare your price to something less and say “That’s more than I was expecting”.

So you need to take control. You need to provide the comparison.

And this is where the contrast principle comes in – letting you frame your price in a way that seems so much less.

In his book, Dr Cialdini uses the example of three buckets of water to illustrate the principle.  One hot, one cold and one lukewarm. He points out that when putting your hand in the cold water bucket and then in the lukewarm bucket the latter will feel warm. However, first put it in the hot water and then the lukewarm bucket and the temperate will seem cold.


You can watch the video here.


It’s all about perception


It’s the same temperature as with the previous example but our perception is affected by what happened immediately beforehand and therefore it feels different.

The same needs to happen with price – you have to create contrast.

One way of doing that is by quantifying the value and benefit to the customer. The bigger you can paint that picture of value the smaller your price will seem by comparison.

The bigger the contrast.

That’s the principle. And it works.



If you found this valuable and would like to learn more about value pricing, I run a free live online training session every month with a topic chosen by you. Attend live and you can ask me any questions you have. Click here to register and I will send you an invitation to the next session.

Wishing you every success on your pricing journey

Mark Wickersham

Chartered Accountant, Public Speaker and Author of Amazon No.1 Best Seller “Effective Pricing for Accountants”

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