Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Spring 2012

Life Currencies: A New Approach to Analyzing Product Value

BY Eric Schulz, Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of Strategic Marketing and Brand Management at the Huntsman School

Using Life Currencies

Suppose you’re at the store considering buying a new pair of running shoes. The display describes many new features in the shoes – spring-loaded heels, gel-cushioned insoles, sweat removing dri-fit casing. It all looks great, but you really want to talk to a salesperson to get more information. You look around, but there’s no one in sight. You try on the shoes but still want to ask some questions and get
more insight. Finally you put the shoes down and walk away in frustration. 

You just used life currencies.

The currency we always talk about is money, but the reality is that every individual has a combination of currencies, or value metrics, continually being analyzed in his or her subconscious when contemplating a purchase. I propose to call these subconscious currencies “life currencies,” and I suggest that they are often more important to the purchase decision than the currency in your pocket. What are life currencies? They are the factors besides money that affect purchase decisions. In almost every transaction, there is a combination
of life currencies in play that affects the decision of whether or not to buy something.

The twelve life currencies we as marketers can address in purchase decisions are: Information, Time, Space, Human Energy, Expertise, Fun, Fear, Frustration, Convenience, Love, Quality, and Money.

Using Life Currencies

Have you ever bought a product or service because having it would save you a lot of time? Time therefore is one currency that you value and use as a consideration when making the purchase decision, along with money.

Have you ever wanted a giant LCD HDTV, but haven’t bought it because you don’t have a place in your home to put it? Space (or lack of space) is the primary currency that sways that (non)purchase decision.

Step back for a moment and think about the purchases (and non-purchases) you’ve made in the past several days. I’ll bet that one of the life currencies was the determining factor in many of your decisions, even though you were likely unaware of its influence. 

When business schools teach marketing, they usually focus first on the 4-P’s: Product, Place, Promotion, and Price. When discussing price, they often only refer to money. That’s only part of the story. Smart marketers know that for most products, money is only one factor in the purchase decision, often a minor one at that. Even “customer benefits” or “value” are too general when with life currencies you can understand purchase decisions on a more specific, granular level.

Marketing Truth

The monetary cost of items is often not a factor in the purchase decision. More often than not, one or more life currencies drives the purchase (or non-purchase) decision. Think about the decision of whether or not to buy the services of a professional tax preparer. You may think it is wise to pay for the service because you lack information on the minutia of the tax code. You don’t have the expertise of a tax preparer.

You fear and have angst that if you do your own tax return, you’ll mess it up and get audited by the IRS. You hate having to take the time and expend the mental energy to do the return yourself. It’s more convenient to have someone else do it. The professional tax preparer will likely do a higher quality job.

All of these currencies are likely more important in the overall decision than the price of the tax preparer. So if you are a marketer for a tax preparer, wouldn’t it be smarter to focus on the benefits of these life currencies in your marketing efforts, rather than dancing around out on the street corner dressed as the Statue of Liberty and holding a sign?

Virtually any purchase decision can be linked back to life currencies. The key to smart marketing is to peel back the layers of the onion, recognize the existence of life currencies, use them to gain customer and marketplace understanding, and figure out how to maximize their value in your consumer marketing.


  1. Information
  2. Time
  3. Space
  4. Human Energy
  5. Expertise
  6. Fun
  7. Fear
  8. Frustration
  9. Convenience
  10. Love
  11. Quality
  12. Money