February 28, 2006

A Look at Brand Loyalty

It's one thing to have preferences, and quite another to show loyalty to a brand over all others - regardless of price, features (in most cases) or how long it takes to acquire the product. And at times, it's not clear where the said brand "earned" the customer loyalty - was it through a past positive experience, or through successful advertising and celebrity endorsement? How do we form brand loyalties, and stick to our guns when generic or alternative offerings may perform adequately?

I've often told my wife that "in our house, we don't purchase generics", or "we don't shop at CostCo". Sure, we probably would save a few bucks if I wasn't such an elitist twit, but given that's not going to change, it's interesting to see how we let brands express who we are. I have a favorite brand for almost everything - it's ridiculous. Some of the most obvious brand loyalties are very common. For jeans, I prefer Levis, and simply won't purchase any other brand. I prefer Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi... but somewhere along the way, I also decided that Cascade was my preferred dish detergent, Cheer is the laundry detergent, and when given my druthers, I'd bring home Coast bath soap. I don't get it. But if given a shopping list that said simply "laundry detergent, dish soap and bath soap", that's what I would come home with 9 out of 10 times, unless of course a competitor was offering a mean deal where I could buy one get one free... and to pick it up, I'd much rather go to Safeway than Albertson's.

In technology, Apple has been my brand for as long as I can seem to recall. It was a shock to me to enter college and realize that 9 out of 10 computers ran Windows, and not the other way around. This year, I became visibly upset when a co-worker of mine purchased some off-brand MP3 player, and not an iPod, which to me was a completely obvious choice. I even offered to help her trade it in... and she now knows better than to bring it up. When I was younger, I wouldn't purchase any running shoes unless they were from Nike, and to this day I don't like buying clothes from anywhere except Macy's - or Men's Wearhouse if I need to get dressed up. The worst thing you can do to my budget is leave me alone for 30 minutes in Macy's - because I'm sure I can find an Alfani brand something that I just don't happen to have that shade of already.

On the Web, brand is somewhat blurred. I don't visit MSNBC - period, because of that MS in the front. Microsoft may as well stand for Multiple Sclerosis for as much as I want to do with it. I don't visit MSN, and won't ever get a Hotmail account. I used to be the same way about Yahoo! - and for years avoided getting a Yahoo! account because it was 1) started by Stanford students, and 2) the generic link aggregation site that everybody and their dog had a logo for on their cheesy Web site. While I have preferred sites and plenty of bookmarks, articles are not more reputable because of their brand - they simply may be written more clearly or with an angle I like over another.

If I align myself with a brand that I take pride in, I want people to know that I've done so, as that brand represents a choice I've made. On my car, I have three logo stickers for the A's, Apple and TiVo. I will actively market those brands because I believe in what they do. I can talk to anybody who asks about those brands and what they stand for. But, somehow, I don't think you'll see logos for Cascade and Coast going up soon. That's probably another discussion for another post.

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