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Pricing Psychology and Tactics for Digital Products

Introduction

Pricing digital products like SaaS subscriptions, apps, online courses, and more involves unique challenges. With no physical item, pricing relies heavily on positioning perceived value. Psychology and optics play crucial roles.

Smart digital merchants blend research-backed pricing strategies with testing and optimization to settle on the sweet spot. Read on to explore proven pricing tactics rooted in consumer psychology to monetize digital offerings while avoiding missteps eroding perceived worth.

Understand Key SaaS and Digital Product Pricing Factors

Pricing digital products isn’t as simple as calculating costs plus a set margin. Additional psychological and positioning factors come into play.

Convey Ongoing Value

Unlike one-off purchases, digital subscriptions imply continuing value. Prices signal whether you’ll consistently deliver.

Price for Positioning

Digital pricing often aims less at precisely covering costs and more at aligning with customer expectations based on competitors and archetypes.

Account for Free Alternatives

Many digital products have free versions or analog alternatives, requiring pricing below inherent value.

Consider Accessibility

Digital subscriptions lend themselves to tiered pricing suiting wider budgets, unlike physical items with fixed costs.

Factor in Switching Costs

Digital subscriptions are easily canceled, so customers are price sensitive. Lower switching costs allow higher pricing.

Remember Intangibility

Customers anchor pricing to physical worth cues. Lacking physicality requires more justification of value.

Psychology, archetypes and intangibility make digital pricing an art as much as science. Optimal pricing blends math with consumer sentiment.

Define Pricing Goals and Constraints

Before setting initial pricing, define specific goals and limits guiding decisions and tradeoffs. Ask:

  • What overall revenue targets do prices need to hit?
  • Will prices be set to maximize unit sales or overall profit?
  • Does growing marketshare outweigh short-term revenue?
  • How price sensitive is the target audience expected to be?
  • What constraints are there on product costs and margins?
  • What prices seem normative for the product type and positioning?
  • How will prices be communicated to customers?

Anchoring pricing strategies to goals and constraints lends structure to decision making amidst countless variables.

Learn from Customer Willingness-to-Pay Research

Rather than guessing at pricing limits, ask customers directly for insights on perceptions. Willingness-to-pay studies uncover:

Price Ceilings

The highest prices customers consider remotely worth paying for your product at different tiers based on communicated benefits.

Price Floors

The lowest prices that seem suspiciously cheap, signaling lower quality in customers’ minds.

Anchors and Expectations

What pricing archetypes customers have in mind for your category of product—their anchor points.

Deal Breakers

What specific combination of price, features, convenience, etc. represent the minimum threshold of acceptability to convince target customers.

Budget Realities

The actual dollar amounts customers have budgeted and mentally allocated for purchases in your product arena.

Probing willingness to pay in qualitative research and surveys informs realistic pricing ranges in tune with consumer psychology.

Know the 6 Key Anchors Driving Digital Price Expectations

Buyers don’t assess prices in a vacuum. Their notions of appropriate pricing anchor to reference points. Be aware of the 6 main archetypes shaping digital price expectations:

1. Competitor Benchmark Pricing

Customers naturally compare your prices to rival products and services. Drastic undercuts or premiums require justification.

2. Category Norms

Consumers expect pricing in line with norms for your broader product category like software, apps, online courses, etc.

3. Physical Alternatives

Digital subscriptions still anchor to prices of tangible alternatives like books, DVDs, or in-person services.

4. Free Analogues

Free digital equivalents like YouTube or Google Sheets define $0 baselines that paid options must exceed.

5. Past Generations

Customers expect similar value generation-over-generation for updates and new editions at familiar price points.

6. Own Product Line

Cross-product pricing creates expectations. Raising or lowering costs without changes risks customer skepticism.

Pricing counter to entrenched archetypes requires careful messaging to realign anchors. Don’t assume customers will intrinsically see value in radical departures.

Map Pricing Tiers to Customer Jobs and Outcomes

Tier pricing helps broaden accessibility and appeal by aligning with the core “jobs” different segments aim to achieve.

Analyze target customers to define 3-4 tiers corresponding to outcomes sought:

  • Entry tier priced for dabblers seeking simplicity above depth
  • Mid tier balancing capability and convenience at moderate cost
  • High tier priced for demanding professional use with all the bells and whistles
  • Premium tier removing constraints for unrestricted access (ex. enterprise)

Tiers priced according to varying customer needs widen the pool of viable buyers beyond one-size-fits-all pricing.

Remember That Few Customers Actually Use All Features

Don’t fall prey to valuing tiers simply by tallying all included features. Studies consistently show users stick to a core 20% of features in products despite paying for the full suite.

Price based on the subset of features delivering the primary utility sought from your product for each tier. Customers pay for solutions fulfilling jobs, not laundry lists of functionality.

Consider Customer Acquisition Costs in Pricing

Your customer acquisition costs set an invisible floor on pricing. If each new customer costs $100 on average to acquire through marketing, you can’t profitably sell to them for $50.

Factor your sales, marketing, referral, and advertising costs per account into pricing minimums, or you’ll lose money on sales.

On the flip side, know how much potential revenue customers represent over their lifetimes. Large lifetime values allow spending more to acquire.

Remember to Calculate Possible Revenue Upside in Pricing

Basic pricing calculations focus on revenue from baseline prices. But don’t ignore potential extra upside from:

  • One-time setup, activation and integration fees on subscriptions
  • Overage or usage charges beyond base usage tiers
  • Add-on fees for premium features, additional users, expanded capabilities etc.
  • Fees for faster support response times or priority service
  • Cancellation fees and retention offers if users threaten churn

Pricing ceilings represent only a fraction of potential revenue from a subscriber relationship when accounting for upside.

Use the 4 Key Pricing Models Strategically

Digital products lend themselves to variety of pricing models. Know when to apply each:

1. Flat Fee Subscriptions

Offer fixed, even access for a recurring fee without overage metering. Suitable for products encouraging maximum usage, not rationing.

2. Metered Usage Subscriptions

Base recurring fees partly on measured usage volume metrics like API calls, compute hours, storage occupied etc. Disincentivizes abuse.

3. Hybrid Tiered Usage Models

Blend fixed usage tiers with overage fees beyond blocks. Provides needed flexibility while discouraging excessive usage.

4. Per Active User Models

Charge based on the specific number of active user accounts rather than flat site licenses. Scales costs with growth.

Evaluate your product dynamics, customer behaviors, and use patterns to pick pricing structures optimal for specific offerings. Don’t assume one model fits all.

Remember that Pricing Ends in 9’s Nearly 3x More Often

The subconscious tendency to anchor prices to left-most digits means prices ending in 9 or 99 seem more appropriate, while even dollar amounts can read oddly.

While not a rationale in itself for specific pricing, remember that prices even slightly under round numbers feel more appropriate due to this quirk of consumer psychology.

Use Good-Better-Best Bundling to Upsell Without Discounting

Bundling tiers encourages customers to spend more to upgrade by attaching higher pricing to clear additional benefits rather than through outright discounts.

Presenting options as:

  • Good (Entry Product)
  • Better (Mid Product + X Bonus Features)
  • Best (Premium Product + X More Features)

frames added costs as meriting additional value vs. arbitrary price hikes. The net effect is upselling customers to higher tiers.

Add Separate Pricing and Packages for Key Use Cases

Don’t force customers with specialized niche needs to overspend on one-size fits-all packages. Create targeted offerings like:

  • Starter packs with entry toolsets for specific beginner profiles
  • Bundles combining add-ons tailored around high-value use cases
  • Bulk pricing, storage or usage tiers suiting heavy professional applications

Customer segments appreciate fitting solutions without paying premiums for unnecessary features bundled in.

Incentivize Annual Contracts, But Don’t Penalize Month-to-Month

Provide ~10-20% discounts for annual contracts to encourage commitment and increase retention. But avoid starkly penalizing month-to-month buyers with dramatically higher recurring prices that feel punitive. Keep pricing acceptable for flexible customers as well.

Structure Free Trials to Gauge Willingness-to-Pay

Free trials don’t just let customers evaluate products—they provide opportunity to anchor pricing expectations. Strategically structure trials to set value anchors through:

  • Limited-time full-access passes positioning your premium offering as the norm
  • Selectively restricted free versions highlighting what customers would gain from paid tiers
  • Stepped trials granting broader access over time to acclimate users to higher tiers
  • Post-trial retention offers pegged to tiers to anchor value

Engineered properly, free trials frame paid pricing as the logical progression rather than a loss.

Avoid Large Percentage Discounting – Raise Value Instead

Rather than turn pricing into an expected haggle through ever-lower discounts over time, increase communicated value-to-price ratio with:

  • Added features, integrations, and improvements
  • Bundled expansions of capability
  • New solutions for emerging needs and use cases
  • Increased support response times and reliability
  • Multi-product bundles increasing collective value

Gradual discounting risks a death spiral. Raise pricing through increased value over time instead.

Conclusion

Digital pricing relies as much on consumer psychology as cost accounting. Tactics rooted in perceived value, anchoring, and willingness-to-pay avoid misalignments with customer expectations.

Test pricing approaches iteratively with ongoing research and data, but also trust informed instincts when intuitions on customer sentiment conflict with isolated data points.

At the intersection of art and science lies strategic digital product pricing with the customer empathy and business savvy to maximize recurring revenue. Find the sweet spot through experimentation, analytics and understanding.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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