Determining The Value Of Intangible Benefits

How do smartphone manufacturers convince customers to buy their products instead of the identical products of their competitors? How do universities convince students to attend their classes when cheaper schools abound? How does the military retain troops when safer, better paying careers exist?  The answer to all these questions is with the marketing of “intangible benefits.”

Intangible benefits are the things we cannot assign numerical value to. They are how Android and iPhone, Xbox and PlayStation, Coke and Pepsi prey on the brand loyalty born from your cognitive biases. They are what convince thousands of teenagers every year to begin their adult lives with student loans. They keep brave people risking their lives in the military of an untrustworthy government. They are the ideals for which we trick ourselves into sacrificing more than we believe to be worth.

These benefits cost nothing to offer, and gimmicky marketing will have you assigning excessive worth to them. Maybe some intangibles really do hold value, but you must learn how to assign appropriate value to them as an individual. I’ll share some personal examples of when intangible benefits were thrown in my face, and how I assigned value to them.

The Military

The U.S. military is paradoxical in their policies on retention, at least from what I have seen. Despite many initiatives to reduce manpower because of budget cuts, the personnel section of my base put on a dog and pony show to convince us troops within a year of separation that the military was the best decision we’d ever made and getting out was the dumbest thing we could ever do.

After the speakers fed us some suspicious facts about how awesome our salaries and benefits were, the presentation attempted to tug at our heart strings. Several slides were dedicated to “intangible benefits.” From what I remember, the benefits were patriotism, being part of something larger than ourselves, camaraderie, and job stability. Although everyone will assign different value to different things based on what’s important to them, the thought process in deciding how much value should be logical and without emotion.


First, there was patriotism. You would think military personnel would be brimming with this virtue, but you’d be wrong. In fact, many people join the military because they don’t know what else to do with their lives. After their first contract is up, they decide to reenlist because it’s the only thing they know, not because of patriotism. Then there are the people who joined mainly for the educational benefits. In most cases, three years of service grants the member full GI Bill benefits; enough to earn an undergraduate practically for free. To these people, patriotism means very little. Not that these men and women aren’t patriotic, but the intangible benefit of continued service to their country is of little value to them and thus not enough to keep them in.

Then there was “being part of something bigger than yourself.” I used to believe this one, but after my first year of service, I realized it was just as dog-eat-dog as anywhere else.  This also goes with camaraderie. I don’t doubt that these feelings exist in some units, but it was completely absent in mine, and many of my friends say the same about their units. To us, this intangible benefit was completely worthless. However, I have met many veterans who truly felt like the men in their units were their brothers. Many of these people reenlisted solely for that reason. To them, this intangible benefit was worth the sacrifice of their time and safety.

Finally, there was job stability. My career field was law enforcement, not the most in-demand skill, but finding a job in the civilian sector wouldn’t have been too difficult.  Furthermore, I wanted to completely separate from my career field and go into an unrelated industry. To me, this benefit was also worthless. Not only could I find an identical job for better pay on the outside, I didn’t want to. There are, however, people that would put more stock into this intangible. Anything in the combat arms realm would be hard to find on the civilian side, so special-ops, infantrymen, artillerymen, and the like would find the intangible benefit of job stability to be worth more than I would.

For me, all these intangibles were just hoorah bullshit. Despite this, I watched many of my friends who shared the exact same feelings and goals as me get swept up in the patriotism, or scared off by the supposed lack of job stability on the outside. They assigned values to these benefits that were incongruent with their personal desires, subsequently promising another four years of their life to the military.


I’m into my first semester and I’m shocked at how much value my fellow students put into the intangible benefits colleges like to sell. Our first discussion in English class was a lively chat about how awesome these benefits are. According to one student, possessing a degree shows an employer you’re teachable. Another student said that a liberal arts degree won’t lock you into one industry, but allow you the freedom to work wherever you want. There was the obligatory mention of finding oneself. One girl even said that college teaches life skills; that algebra teaches one how to balance a checkbook, and English teaches one how to send professional emails. All while the professor nodded her head in agreement.

First of all, these ideas are clearly asinine. I’ve never had to factor square roots while balancing a check book, and I don’t think NASA is ready to hire a humanities major to fill their engineering vacancies. Secondly, the topic of the academic and professional merits of college has been addressed succinctly here and is beyond the scope of this article. I’m using these examples to show how organizations use non quantifiable benefits to sell their products.


A common intangible boasted by universities is the prestige that goes with their name. Big-name schools normally have higher tuition rates than commuter schools and community colleges. Whether or not the quality of education is any better is debatable, but the reason people are willing to pay such a high amount is for the intangible benefit of the school’s name on their diploma. Sure, there are probably some advantages to attending bigger name schools, but herein lies the point: Are these advantages worth the substantially greater sacrifices to you?


The most important thing to remember about intangible benefits is that they cost nothing to offer. The prices set on acquiring these benefits are usually set by the perceived value society awards them. Even though I wrote mostly about two specific areas of life (the ones I’m most familiar with), the concept can be applied to many different areas of life.  A soul sucking relationship might seem worth sticking with because you’ve been conditioned to believe companionship is irreplaceable.

You might be tricked into being thankful for your dead end job because you’ve been conditioned to believe there’s no work anywhere else. Expensive name brand products may seem worth the extra cash compared to identical generic products because you’ve been conditioned to believe brand names equal quality. The list goes on, and I’m not trying to tell you to only buy knock off brands and quit your job. I am trying to tell you, however, to ask yourself if the sacrifices you make are worth the benefits you receive, intangible or otherwise.

Read More: The Benefits Of Avoiding Fatherhood 

52 thoughts on “Determining The Value Of Intangible Benefits”

  1. There is actually a line item valuation for “goodwill” on a companies balance sheet. It factors in certain intangibles. I am not an accountant but there are methods of valuing intangibles.
    The thing about intangibles isn’t that they aren’t valuable, its that you shouldn’t allowed yourself to be snowed by them.

    1. “Goodwill” on a balance sheet is generally a measurement of the premium companies gain from brand popularity, loyalty and influence.
      For example, The Nike “Swoosh” symbol:
      A pair of sneakers sell for $50.
      A pair of the same sneakers with a the Nike “Swoosh” on them sell for $100.
      Thus the “Swoosh” symbol in that case made Nike an extra $50 which in many evaluations is classified as “goodwill.” Ownership of patents is also considered “goodwill” as there will be reasonably expected profits from these patents.

      1. generally speaking you are paying for a brand because to some extent they defend their brand with quality and you also expect consistency…. the whole concept of a brand name goes back to guys like Jack Daniels and Kelloggs, signing each packet to insure it’s authenticity – and thus guarantee the customer quality….. today it’s more about how much they spend on marketing…..
        if coca cola stopped advertising, they’d be out of business in 2-3 years… and all the generic brands would swamp them…. there’s zero difference in quality….
        on the other hand a BMW verses a Skoda is a big difference….

        1. Agree. At one point, many of these brand names were backed by quality items and could be trusted to retain that same quality over the years.
          But, once the new business model changed (back a few decades ago) we started to see the once “quality” name brand items turn to shit. Many manufacturers moved their production facilities overseas for tax breaks, cheap labor, etc…but the public still bought into their “quality” product.
          Today, I’ll try different brands because in the end it’s all cheap shit made for cheap (cheap labor, parts, etc..).

        2. Actually I do notice a discernible difference between Coca-Cola and other brands. A bad cola ruins a cocktail. Just my opinion.

    2. Buffett calls them ‘swear to god’ assets. As in I swear to god there is real value somewhere in there..!.. I think.

  2. Being a vet, I can agree with most of what you say. Damn near all of it actually. However, I lived in both Europe and Asia, and a ship in Hawaii for the ten years I was in. Speak a few languages, and I am using my GI Bill to get an engineering degree from my state’s major school, it’s school of engineering is in the top thirty of the world!
    So, to a certain extent, and at least right now, name recognition is not so mundane as that. A school with a big name is not going to get you a job. A school with a big name, which you put in a great amount of effort, and volunteered for people who could get you places, and whose fraternity you got drunk and funked in; that can actually get you good contacts!
    The military has actually opened some doors for me. Got our house without a down payment, and a much better one than I could have gotten otherwise. Discounts on businesses, and special deals not offered to others.
    Granted, it is not all shits and giggles when it comes to the intangibles. But you have to discover, learn how to operate, and use said intangibles for them to matter.
    If you don’tt, then you are right, they don’t mean shit.
    And I can’t stand the “bigger than yourself” and comradeship/patriotism non sense myself. A man who got a family, all of them (himself included) educated, started businesses that provides others with jobs, and helps out his local community is no less patriotic to me then a guy who spend his life fighting overseas.
    We both get anally fucked in family court.

    1. I was hired by Citibank’s NYC brokerage division in 1993 solely because the hiring manager was a Marine vet as well – as he glanced down my resume, he stopped, looked up and said “Where’d you go to boot camp?” “Parris Island” I replied. “Brick or wooden barracks?” he questioned – “Brick – You?” I responded. “Wooden!” He said as he smiled, stood up, we shook hands and he had his secretary bring me employment paperwork. That was the extent of the interview! And yes, I too was screwed equally in family court.

  3. In Florida when you look for work and they go and lowball you, they say “well the wages are lower here. You get paid in sunshine”.
    Every time it was some fat faced office troll saying that, a “Case of the Mondays” moment. I wanted to crawl across the desk and murder them with the letter opener.

  4. The days of a college degree in anything other specific STEM fields meaning shit are over. I’m an engineer, but be fore warned, that even this field is showing bad signs due to globalization (I know of a ton of unemployed industrial, aerospace, and mech. Engineers). Evidently China and India have a surplus of engineers.
    I know a Duke humanities grad who is underemployed, and he’s a sharp guy. 25 YEARS AGO having Duke on your resume put you at the very front of the line for government, finance, and management consulting. Now, it means very little except for network building.
    Keep on your toes. If you can get into oil and gas or something that can’t be outsourced and is manly.

    1. I made the mistake of attending a 4 year college. I never even graduated
      In 2011 I was fed up with my $10/hour job as a licensed nurse assistant and drove to North Dakota in October
      I got hired on within 2 weeks at Craig’s Roustabout Services (now Craig Energy) drilling/casing surfaces of wells on a 2 week on/1 week off rotation and making $100,000 a year right off the bat. Then I went to work at Cyclone Drilling ( a “big rig”) working 2 weeks on/2 weeks off and grossing $3k a week. Housing was provided with both jobs.
      I grew tired of drilling rigs and figured I could make more money elsewhere without breaking my back and risking my life. I attended a job fair today and had an interview this morning for a “wireline operator” position which went very well. The job is 20 days on/10 off, free housing at the company’s complex (includes 24-hour buffet-style cafeteria, movie theatre, weight room, basketball court, lounge rooms and single rooms with kitchen, TV, the works)…$65 per diem daily, $19/hour to start, 1.2% commission job bonuses (split among all operators, but still a sizable chunk of dough), 40 hour work week equivalent pay on days off and 50% compensation on round trip flights on days off. And of course the usual benefits- matching 401k, vision, dental, health
      Shit, if it weren’t for the bakken i’d probably be a lowlife criminal or drug-addicted, basement-dwelling bum like so many who stayed in my home state.

      1. Great story, still in Dakota? I’ve thought about, but I won’t last up there more than three years. I think it’s really worth it if you stick out that job for a decade bank a half a mill, may be more.
        The real problem with jobs today is the only way to get ahead is to do something unusual and challenging … And once you do that, your incentive to waste that hard earned cash on women and children decreases.

        1. Exactly. Last summer I pissed away $25k on travel, hotels, strip clubs, restaurants, etc. I have nothing to show for it…but I learned my lesson and won’t do that again. Six figure jobs are a dime a dozen once you gain experience- I keep raising my bar because now I’m not satisfied unless I’m earning over $100k
          In 10 years I’d save closer to a million than half a million. My 24 year old brother worked out here for 18 months and saved $100k. He started working with Tuboscope (inspecting drill pipe as a hand) then he ditched them to work for CSI Inspections and they flew him to Houston to get EMI certs to be an inspector. Then he was able to open an in-house account at NOV and went from hourly to salary with 20% commission.
          He got a great rate on a loan here in the US for an apartment that he bought in Iceland and he’s currently studying alternative energy at a school over there (lots of geothermal).
          The primary downside is that there are NO women here, so I’m MGTOW for now. LOTS of hookers though- ND puts Vegas to shame. i just had one at the bar inside Airport International Inn trying to solicit me at the job fair today. I had a buddy blow $20k in a year on hookers. I promised myself I’d NEVER pay a woman for sex

        2. You say you would save a mill, but even then, you need to be on your finances to make sure you beat out inflation. Im a saver, but I’m not sold on the idea of work and bank your money … that could have worked 25 years ago, but today it’s hard to get a good return in real estate or stocks minus inflation.
          When the boomers die or retire, stocks and real estate will plummet. Ten years is a huge sacrifice … it would be worth it under normal market conditions but today that’s a risk.

        3. I’m going to start investing in oil field service companies, since that’s the field I have the knowledge in. Otherwise, a 5% annual return I can absolutely expect in today’s market by investing with a money manager
          I plan on investing in real estate soon too. If I buy/rent out properties, I’m practically guaranteed a solid return. And with an 850 credit score and plenty of down payment, I’m gauranteed the right rate that would make it profitable for me. Seriously- I was a property manager for my father’s 2 houses that he owned across the street from Keene State College in NH and in 5 years he built $80k in equity in ONE house. Using your tenants to pay off a mortgage and build equity in a house for yourself doesn’t rely on market appreciation to make money- so long as you have tenants renting/paying and you generate positive cash flow to cover all expenses, you’re guaranteed a return

        4. One thing i remain skeptical about are retirement plans like 401k’s. Where is my incentive to pay earn a match and pay capital gains instead of income taxes, if by the time I’m able to access it I’m damn near life-expectancy age?? I talked with a guy the other day that drives his own truck hauling oil and files a 1099- he was downright bragging about evading taxes 100% …now if his bases are TRULY covered, I gotta hand it to him…but I can’t help but think he’ll be federally fucked once the IRS catches on…

        5. then there’s my bro’s example of his apartment in Iceland
          his 2 bedroom place cost $190k and rents for a staggering $2,500 a month (location!)
          You do the math. He rents it out, and his tenants are paying $30k a year. That’s what…a 15% return ??
          He researched & found a solid market to dump his dough in

        6. 5% return is just keeping up with inflation.
          The problem with real estate is:
          1) property taxes (ever increasing)
          2) relying on tenets to pay off mortgage used to be a good bet, but now with the economy having little stability and the idea of using leverage as not so safe (in the event of a deflationary cycle)
          3) the real estate ‘gurus’ of the past lived in an epoch where housing demand was high (anyone could make money by buying and holding, flipping, or renting), with a growing population with a lot of cash and steady employment; I do not assume the same for the future
          If I lived in Texas or N. Dakota (booming economies without debt and high property taxes), I would consider it.
          Also real estate is a hedge against inflation, but the leverage aspect is scary in case of deflation.

        7. Yea, you can’t avoid taxes, people who claim they do are full of it or are working abroad.
          I think saving for retirement is foolish (especially because those plans are always dependent on strong returns from the stock market); you should only save to retire young, not for old age.

        8. 15 percent return isn’t typical, but you have to subtract out repairs, upkeep (even if you do property management yourself, count that as time spent = money), taxes, and insurance, factor in inflation, this leaves you with closer to 7-8 percent return.
          On top of that, yes, you are paying mortgage, but remember you will have to pay capital gains on said property when the house is sold (even with depreciation).
          Renting for cash flow makes sense, but as I stated before, it’s usually based on leverage investing, which made sense in the 80s, but is a HUGE risk today in case of a housing collapse of deflationary cycle.

        9. Many people do not factor risk into their calculation of return. So for example, real estate can have a large liquidity risk premium. They also do not factor in inflation. People can be very naive when making property investments. Personally, I would not touch them except in a portfolio setting.

        10. Real estate rental property was a great investment from the 1950s to 2008 in America.
          Now that the economy is essentially growing at 1 or 2 percent if that, leverage doesn’t work as well. You can’t bank on the benefit of a stable economy where more dollars chase more housing … It’s less dollars and more housing in most of the country.

        11. I see what you’re saying . The pros of my dad’s situation was that his houses were in prime location to rent to college students and their parents would usually pay the 1st and last month’s rent and deductible up front. In one of the houses, he built an extra room and bathroom to accomodate 5 students total so at $600 ea/month, out of $3k gross flow, he “pocketed” roughly half of it after mortgage + property tax.
          The one major con was that these were college students and they showed NO respect for the house- I replaced roof rollout on the lean-to garage because they drank on it one evening and put holes through. My dad had me do the maintenance because I was cheaper labor than for him to do it, but I learned a lot. My dad held each house under an LLC so he wouldn’t be sued by stupid drunk college kids. I’m pretty sure not one of his tenets left with their deductible

        12. Yes, but what happens when these colleges go bust in the next decade, as they will?
          What I’m saying is the market is changing so quick that real estate is scary.

        13. Well there were lots of great investments in that time. Nothing wrong with investing in property as part of a diversified portfolio. Unfortunately many people did not do this.

        14. You’re much better off as a 1099 worker as you can deduct practically everything and avoid a tremendous amount of taxes. Not all – but way more than a w-2 employee. And yes, there are much better places to sock away money than a 401 k plan.

  5. College is a waste of time for most. Half of degrees are worthless. Anything in liberal arts is a death sentence. You will be stuck with student loans and working at Walmart or some shit job like that your entire life. You will waste your life trying to explain how you are educated and people with out degrees and no student loans will be working and starting families you can’t afford to start. They will be oh so impressed with your piece of paper. The only jobs worth going to college are hard sciences, law, medicine and stem fields. The education scam has ruined countless lives. . Don’t be a statistic. The middle class white collar jobs they promise any degree will get you don’t exist anymore

  6. Isn’t it basically intangible benefits that women dangle in front of us to get us to spend money/time on them?

    1. Yes when all you have to offer is pussy you have to try to sell intangibles that don’t exist.

  7. College is worth it for the girls. Fuck these old faggots who say dont go to college. Go to college MUSCULAR and it is well worth 10k a year.

    1. Nah, I just drove by my old campus. In college, if you’re studying a real subject life is stressful (if you major in marketing or communications, this does not apply). I had time to work out and party, but not at the same time. I chose working out.
      The guys who do best with women in college aren’t pre-med, engineers, or actuaries …it’s the soccer team and Bros majoring in business. Today I can do much better with young ladies than in college because I have more time, money, and status.
      Any young guys thinking about college, if you want to party your way through expect to have a shifty career ahead.

      1. The girls were all over the basketball team and track team at my college. At the time, I thought this was strange.

  8. On the whole good points although I can personally attest to the value of a good name university. Also, different mobile phones actually have tangible> differences such as operating system, hardware, size, shape, etc.
    There is a definite measureable difference between brand name products and generic brands. Its called the price. If this price was not justified based on materials, workmanship etc. no one would pay the additional amount.

  9. I work for one of the biggest health care companies in the world. I do internal communications, which is a joke that truly produces nothing of tangible value within the organization other than maybe the marginal promise that it spreads ideas and strokes the egos of upper management. The job is a joke and I regret thinking in college that PR was what I wanted to go into because of the money (must have been all the pot I smoked). It is worse than actually creating something of value for a company– it’s maintaining the illusion of order and authority when in fact the organization has no control or no will to control certain events. I learned that when writing for a pharmaceutical magazine, with some of the smartest (and thereby most pessimistic) people I have ever met in my life. Now, I work under two married women with children who barely play the game, because companies like these willfully ignore that women turn out at 3pm and work from home a good 40% of the time, during which I’m sure they are doing laundry instead of their jobs. It’s called “work-life balance,” which in today’s world truly feels like a euphemism.

  10. I don’t think the overvaluation of college is a problem (though it is in some cases), the overvaluation of degrees is the root problem.
    If you play it correctly, college gathers the smartest and the most hard-working people of your age group, which doesn’t happen anywhere else.
    You just have to play it well, and not wait your degree to give the life you want for you.
    Social skills rule nowadays, and if applied correctly in the college settings you have a life of wealth ahead of you. Just don’t put any weight on the degree, put it on the surroundings.

  11. Intangible values do have almost the same properties as tanglible values – the main property being “different for each individual”. The final advice – to weigh benefits and sacrifice – is sound for me.
    I’d like to add that with the idea of “money” around, it is possible to stick a price tag on absolutely everything. This, of course, will probably not be shared by many others, but it makes it a lot easier to get your own ideas and ideals straight – for me, at least.

  12. Intangible matters because the world is less and less tangible. Robots and software are replacing and will replace so much of the tangible value-generation previously made by humans, that humans can become of value only by providing those things that machines cant do.
    In other words, feelings, social status, art, design etc.
    The most successful people will be the ones that can combine these qualities to tangible assets, leading to the cliched example of Apple and Steve Jobs.
    But one thing will not leave you astray, and that is coding. Learn to code.

    1. Very few people get paid well for soft skills outside of sales.
      Steve jobs was a terrific salesman. I don’t know why people assume he knew something spectacular about computers.

      1. Steve Jobs was maybe a bad example, but Apple as a whole is a good example of combining tangible logical skills to design and aesthetics.
        The point I was trying to make is that neither hard or soft skills don’t matter individually anymore, but combining those traits are essential.

        1. Did he have any direction in the creation of the concept? I find it hard to believe anyone would give a shit about him if all he was, was a salesman.

        2. I don’t know the full details, but no he didn’t make the original Mac or iPhone, he was the project manager with smarter guys than himself. He sold, marketed and approved of design.

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