Let’s slip into something comfortable. Once upon a time, if you were in the market for a good shoe, you went to the local shoe store and bought the best quality for the best value. It didn’t matter who made the shoe, as long as it was reliable. These days, you go to a specific store at the mall, maybe the Nike or Adidas store, or a website such as Zappos.com for your favorite shoes. You buy the brand, not the product.
Companies can’t survive in any industry by selling lame products. People will buy brands instead. Because people can trust them. They’ve proven their quality, value, and reliability.
At times, it seems like our favorite brands are selling the same thing. Same quality, same features, same purpose. Just different packaging. They’re selling something more than the product itself. They’re selling the intangible idea of the product and what it means to you, the consumer.
So in the sense that (almost) all products are equal, why do we choose one brand over the other?
“Big Gulps, huh? Alright, well see ya later.”
You walk into a convenience store. You’re craving some sort of dark carbonated sugar bomb. You grab the biggest cup you can find and scan the soda flavors. Coke products and Pepsi products line the drink dispenser. Dr. Pepper vs. Pibb Xtra. Barq’s vs. Mug Root Beer. Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi. Which do you choose?
It’s nice to think that we make the choice based on taste alone, but many of us go beyond taste to help us decide on which product we want 30 ounces of.
I polled five people in the office today on their preference for Coke or Pepsi. Two said Coke. One said Pepsi. One said it depends, and one said it made no difference.
The Brand Loyalist
Let’s consider the person who chose Pepsi. He chose it, he said, because he grew up with it. He chose Pepsi The Brand, not Pepsi The Product. This is a perfect example of brand loyalty.
When he was a child, through repetition, Pepsi was chosen for him, and now as an adult, he chooses Pepsi because it’s a choice that’s been made over and over in his life. He even admitted that Pepsi can be too sweet so sometimes he’ll have a Coke, but almost always he chooses Pepsi. He is loyal to it because it is a brand that has helped identify him, or his family, throughout life. His choice of the product had little to do with the product.
Since he chooses Pepsi over Coke, chances are he’d choose Mug Root Beer and Pibb Xtra over their competitors should he want something other than a cola. Why? Because Mug and Pibb Xtra are grouped in with other Pepsi products. It’s already been established that he prefers Pepsi, therefore he’s more likely to trust Pepsi products over Coke products when venturing into a new flavor of soda. Pepsi not only stands for itself. Pepsi stands for its other products. Selling one thing (the brand) is selling many other things (the products).
Go Ahead, Sway Me
For the one who said “it depends” in regards to Coke or Pepsi, it depends on the mood. And guess what? Moods swing. Moods are influenced. To say “it depends” means “I have no preference over one product or the other.” In the case of the guy who said “it makes no difference,” it’s the same thing. But if either one of them wants a soda from the fountain, they will have to make a choice, and therefore, their decision will not be based on the individual products. It will be based on brands.
Coke is the “classic.” Pepsi is the “next generation.” So, what do you want? The classic taste? Or the new taste sensation? That’s what the decision will really come down to – choosing between the ideas the companies say represent their product.
In front of the soda fountain, the “it depends” guy and the “it makes no difference” guy will be swayed at the moment by the bold red of Coke or the flashy blue of Pepsi. If the taste of the product didn’t matter before, the taste of the product won’t matter now. Whatever they end up deciding on, the choice will come down to Coke brand vs. Pepsi brand. If they’re in the mood for “old reliable,” they’ll take the Coke product. If they’re in the mood for something different, they’ll go with Pepsi.
Meanwhile, Back at the Shoe Store
Say you’re at Bob’s Discount Shoe Farm. You’ve picked out three products that you like because of their look, their feel, their price. You like them all. One is made by Nike, one by Adidas, and one by a No Name Brand. You throw away the No Name Brand. You don’t know anything about it. You don’t know if it is reliable. You don’t know what it says about you if you wear it.
You’re down to Nike and Adidas. At this point, one is not better than the other. And the choice you make will be the one you most want to identify with. Are you a sport-oriented Nike guy or an Adidas guy? Right now, you have to choose. And you will.