I have been thinking a lot about brands lately. I grew up poor, so brands didn’t mean a lot to me. I knew that Sony made better Walkmans than the no-name piece of crap I got from Target, but they were a lot more expensive. I knew that the generic cereal we had at my house didn’t taste as good as the real Frosted Flakes or Cap’n Crunch, but I didn’t get much say in the matter.
I started to think more about brands in my teenage years when I worked at Disneyland. Obviously Disney is nothing but brand. I learned that people will pay thousands of dollars to take a trip to So. Cal., put up with the complaining of their family, stand in lines on a hot day, and then happily fork over $40 for a t-shirt because it has Mickey’s face on it. As a teenager that grew up in Orange County, I was a little desensitized to the Disney brand, but I started to get it. They weren’t buying a t-shirt, they were buying something to remind them of their day. I was with Disney in the early days of the Disney Dollars, which to this day I think is the most brilliant scheme in history. They simply printed their own money, and people would buy this currency, and take it home where it has no value. They would actually pay $10 for a fake $10 bill. You have to love the margins on that.
A few years later, I had a child. Suddenly a new set of brands were thrown at me, and I was much more brand conscious. I purchased Dreft laundry soap because they advertised in baby magazines and had a baby on the box. Beachnut became a frequented brand, along with esoteric brands like Emmaljunga strollers. I was in a new world of consumerism, and brands were the only roadmaps I had. Michaels pediatrician found a lot of humor in my selection of laundry soap and bottled water (yes, I purchased Beachnut bottled water for him) and told me that regular, unscented Tide would be fine and that a baby can drink the same bottled water as the rest of us. It wasn’t only baby items that took on brand awareness, but other indirect items as well. I went from driving a small sports car to getting a very large Audi. It was big and safe. Having a child was my big step in brand awareness.
My recent interest in brands I think comes from simply spending more money, and wanting things of higher quality. I wouldn’t say I shop a lot. I shop less now than a few years ago, and being in a small town without a lot of stores has a way of slowing your spending. I’m no longer prone to the shopping addiction that an Ikea brings out in people. But, I do notice my brand awareness increasing.
Last year I decided that I needed a new watch. My beat up Fossil, which I got on eBay for $12, was getting a bit worn. USWeb has a client that sells pretty high end watches like Breitling watches, but I thought that dropping a few thousand dollars on a watch was a bit irresponsible. But they offered up a free watch. I never ended up getting the watch (not sure what happened there), so I decided to look into the watch market a bit. In the short time I spend online one day, I was able to become a watch expert. I know what a complications watch is, and a bunch of other terms for things I didn’t know had names. I decided on Bulova. I picked one up on ebay for under $200. I did some asking around and found that 9 out of 10 people I asked put Bulova right up with Breitling when it came to brand. They also believed that the price was comparable, when in fact it was about 5% of the price. I ended up pretty happy with the Bulova. The weight feels like it’s an expensive watch, the glass is cut in a way to make reading the watch easy with no glare, and the features were easy to figure out. I get a lot of complements on it, which is amazing considering the low cost. I’m now pretty stuck on the Bulova brand, and I simply don’t see the attraction to the Breitlings.
Another brand issue I have come across recently is airlines. America West was client for a while, but decided to not renew for a third year after their merger with US Airway. America West was the first airline I flew intentionally. I was a very price conscious traveler and used Expedia or Orbitz to book travel. But after flying an airline regularly, I started to see the advantages to being a frequent flyer, and I got very used to first class. But flying first class on United really changed my mind. I knew that America West was a budget airline, and that it was just a couple steps above Southwest, which I have come to hate. But I didn’t really notice the difference until I flew first class on United. Now my view on airline brands has been changed. I now fly united almost exclusively, and it’s hard to imagine me switching away.
In looking for a new baseball bat for Michael, I started by brands. He currently uses a DiMarini bat, which has been great for him. He needs something a bit longer for more reach this year. So, I started on the DeMarini site. But I found the length/weight ratios to be a little less impressive than what I was hopping for. So I started to ask around. Shaun recommended a Lousville Slugger TPX bat. I figured that was because he is from Kentucky. In my mind I put Lousville Sluggers as the top brand in wooden bats because they make the major league bats. But I didn’t consider them the leader in aluminum kids bats. I thought the technology had outpaced them. But looking at their site, I found that the Lousville Slugger TPX bat in the length he needed weighed less than his current bat. My outlook on the brand has been altered a bit.
While brands like Apple, Pixar and BMW are of course cemented in my mind to equal quality, I’m a little amazed how new brand exposure really make up the way I think about things. What brands do you believe in? I would love to get feedback on this one.