Do Name Brands Matter?

Is it my imagination or are brands not nearly as big a deal today as they were thirty years ago? When I was growing up, there were endless discussions of Coke versus Pepsi, McDonalds versus Burger King, and Haagen Dazs versus Ben and Jerry’s. Over the past few years, however, I think that debates of that nature have all but disappeared.

Now, the issue seems to be not what is best, but what is both acceptable and affordable. As my wife pointed out today, her purchasing decisions are not brand driven as much as they are performance driven. I agree completely.

If a brand is good, it falls into the category of “brands that I will buy.” If a brand does not measure up, at least somewhat consistently, it falls into the category of “brands that I won’t buy.” After I filter out the brands that I won’t buy, my purchasing decisions are then motivated almost solely by price.

I think part of the reason that things have changed is that quality control has improved among all brands. As a result, there really is little difference among most brands. Sometimes the packaging on a generic product might be inferior to the packaging on a name-brand product, but usually the packaging deficiency does not make that much of a difference. Indeed, sometimes a generic product can be an improvement on a name-brand, especially where opinions can be subjective. My elder son, for example, will not eat Honey Nut Cheerios, but he will eat the Publix version by the box.

It took me a long time to get to the point where I recognized that brand name products are not necessarily better products. As a child, the pantry in my home was full of name brand products so that is what I expected as an adult. Tollhouse cookies could not taste as good, or so I believed, unless they were made with Nestle’s Tollhouse Morsels. After years of trying to convince me otherwise, my wife finally did a blind taste test and I found that I could not tell the difference among five brands of chocolate morsels. From that experience, it was not difficult for me to overcome my childhood prejudices, and I did so very quickly.

Interestingly enough, I have slowly begun to see a slight resurgence in brand loyalty over the past several months as some entrepreneurial minded business owners begin to develop their small brands on via social media. Big City Coffee, for example, has a very active Facebook community which I believe to be very much loyal to Big City Coffee’s coffee. Among relatively small groups, such personal interaction with a consumer base may go a long way towards re-instilling a brand loyalty but it remains to be seen how that will work with a larger consumer base.

Are you loyal to any brands? Do you find that you have become less brand-loyal and more value-oriented during the current economic downturn? Are there any status-brands that you still buy just so that you can be seen buying them? Are there any brands that you really believe are consistently better than their competitors?

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17 Responses to Do Name Brands Matter?

  1. People are more receptive to trying generic everything now, if the price is low enough and the product appears ok, but we are suspicious of a product’s origin.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    Are you loyal to any brands?

    Yes, but only a few.

    Do you find that you have become less brand-loyal and more value-oriented during the current economic downturn?

    No. I am just as value-oriented now as I was before.

    Are there any status-brands that you still buy just so that you can be seen buying them?

    No. I don’t care what other people think of my purchases.

    Are there any brands that you really believe are consistently better than their competitors?

    Yes, but they are not always the name-brands. We find that a lot of store brands are better than the name brand versions.

    Like you, we weed out the brands we won’t buy, then make the decision based on price.

  3. Monkey Mama says:

    Never been a fan of brands. I’d almost say we stay away from them.

    In my circles, brands are as important as ever. Starbucks, iPods Coach, and BMWs come to mind. I think honestly our instinctive reaction is to stay away from these kinds of brands, because the masses tend to be sucked in by over-priced name brands. Even good brands like Toyota – I see very frugal people very sucked in by the brand. Which means they turn their blinders on too much better values.

    We have always been very value oriented. Pricey brands are rarely value oriented, so that is why we find we rarely buy them. The economy hasn’t changed our buying habits.

  4. bb says:

    Traditional business brands are already established. The latest branding battlefield is in technology: Google vs. Microsoft, Apple vs. Microsoft, Nintendo vs. Microsoft, Facebook vs MySpace, etc…

  5. fern says:

    I think the recession has definitely reduced brand loyalty for many people out of necessity. Brand loyalty is a luxury and speaks more to the imagination of marketers than any actual benefit.

  6. Interesting article. Brand is not important, but, as you say, performance is, and performance can mean:
    – actual performance (esp cleaning products)
    – freshness (sometimes with packaging)
    – all-natural, hormone-free (esp with dairy products)
    – PRICE! I will not pay double for something that is marginally better.

    Most house brands have upped their game and are now producing high-quality products. Brands that have been leveraging the cachet associated with their product without an actual performance or value advantage are going to lose out.

  7. I find brand loyalty to be pointless much of the time. Many generics and store brands are nothing more than a repackaging of the same products one finds in name brand packages. There are very few name brand products that are not made and resold in different packaging. Knowing this and identifying what name brand products are being resold with other names lets one maintain “brand” loyalty by purchasing a less expensive “brand”.

  8. Ann says:

    I tend to question brands for brand sake and look for ingredients and quality… and where something is made. (I happen to know someone in quality control at a major drug company and what I’ve learned from him through conversations scares the heck out of me when it comes to offshore production and that has carried over into other products.)

    That being said, if I do note a difference in taste and prefer the brand’s, I’ll pay the extra.

    Never have been one to buy or have something to impress the neighbors. LOL When it comes to clothes, I tend to look at how well it’s made and the materials they’re made from. I look for a car that’s reliable and will last a long time. I generally pick a few items when I shop and check all the label info for “comparable” products when I’m shopping. If all else is the same, I’ll purchase one of each and do a taste test.

    Interesting article.

  9. Every time I go on a business trip to Asia, I enjoy buying some of the knock off stuff, especially the handbags for the wife.

    Name brands matter more in Asia and overseas, than here in the US I feel.

    Some do have the quality advantage though.

    For luxury watches, it helps to have a rare luxury brand watch model which holds it’s value in the future. You’re actually making money, not wasting!

    Best, FS

  10. spicoli says:

    I tend to be loyal to brands that are consistently superior to but comparably priced to competing brands. For example, I always choose Papa John’s when ordering pizza because it is so much better than Dominoes or Pizza Hut (in my opinion).

  11. Bob Farmer says:

    I like to think that I look for quality regardless of brand but the truth is that most of us probably are biased by our own egos. I know that there are high quality guitars made by other companies but I probably will buy another Fender.

  12. Stanley L says:

    One thing to be wary of with regards to brand names vs generics: they may have the same ingredients/components and be made in the same assembly line, but that doesn’t mean they’re identical. Sometimes the generics have less rigorous quality controls, resulting in higher failure or defect rates. Only way to know this is by comparing notes with other people.

  13. persephone says:

    Brands only matter to me to the extent that they help me to identify good experiences from bad experiences. Without brands, it would be hard to track experiences with quality.

  14. Matt says:

    i know i cant always buy a product just because its cheeper, but i will try the store brand at least once to see if it measures up to a name brand.

  15. EF Cussins says:

    I see several generic brands that are actually name brands with a different label.

    We usually migrate to the generic brands. However, there are things like cake mix, and certain baking goods that we stick with the name brand. The reason being the difference in quality.

  16. For food and fashion, you’re right – name brands matter less and less because the cost of creating effective knock offs is very low as is the barrier to market. The consumer can benefit by off-brand food and fashion that has essentially the same taste and ingredients.

    Where the value/price arguments break down is when you get into higher ticket, longer term durable goods. I work for global technology company that has a HUGE brand value. We have worked to build that by not only creating quality products, but by developing an excellent support model. We make more money in support contracts than on products alone. These people represent our brand to our customers. They are highly paid and highly skilled.

    Brands create value and are able to charge a premium by offering the customer something they can’t get by buying an off brand.

    Apple does it by focusing on design, user experience, stability, and performance. You can’t buy a junky Mac. They are all top-of-the-line machines.

    Toyota and Honda did it with quality of their cars, in a time when the Big 3 were consciously ignoring quality. You saw how customers ran for the doors when they were unsure of GM/Chrysler’s future… Customers want a brand they can trust.

    Brand image remains one of the most important parts of American commerce, and I am definitely loyal to companies and don’t mind paying a premium for products that are superior to their generic counterparts.

  17. One more small comment on this.. regarding homogenization of brands.

    A while ago, I made a decision that whenever I go on vacation, I want to avoid eating at “chain” restaurants whenever possible. This has proved very hard to do! Chain restaurants, casual dining, and fast food have taken over American dining.

    I live in an up-and-coming growth suburb of Dallas. In the last 2 years we’ve gone from having 1 McDonalds and a few mom-and-pop places to adding a Taco Bell, Chick-fil-a, Cristina’s, Quiznos, Panda Express, Jack-in-the-Box, Whataburger, Sonic, and Jamba Juice — all withing 1/2 mile of each other.

    The scary thing is that we’re keeping them all squarely in business! While one of the local diners has been able to remain open, all of the others have closed.

    We seem to gravitate toward food that is predictable; we know how it tastes and we make decisions based on that fact alone. We never experiment or go out on a limb. I even find myself always ordering the SAME item at each place.

    Something weird is definitely happening!

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