Can a brand be strong if it doesn’t have the “best” products?

I’m a Mac. My friend Chris is a PC. I love my Apple products. Chris loves his PC branded products.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 6.10.56 PMRecently Chris has become an ardent fan of Samsung’s smart phones and tablets. While we agree that both Apple and Samsung are strong brands, the merits of our favourite brand’s products have recently been the basis of a high-spirited debate.

Be it resolved that Apple’s iPhone and iPad are better than Samsung’s smart phone and tablet products.

I am for this. Chris is against. Who’s right? Paradoxically, we both are.

“This paradox stems from the word ‘best’: best for whom, and at what?”[1]

Chris is a “Techie.” He works in technology and has a computer science degree. He’s a serious, no-nonsense, kind of guy.   His perspective of Apple products is filtered through his “I am a PC” lens. Because Apple products don’t allow for the customization and adaptation he requires he doesn’t believe they deliver the compelling value he seeks. His view of Apple products is that they are not for “techies” like him.

For Chris, Samsung products are “best”:

  • The technology is powerful and fits his needs
  • The interface is user-friendly and customizable
  • The operating system permits adaptation and, in his view, is sufficiently seamless and secure
  • The product-line design is visually appealing and provides choice in product form and size

For me, Apple products offer exactly the right level of performance and emotional appeal. I am not a “Techie”. My Apple products are my technology “power suit”. They are easy to use, look great, and project the right image for every occasion.

For me, Apple products are best:

  • The technology is powerful and fits my needs
  • The interface is easy-to-use and intuitive
  • The operating system is proprietary, seamless, and secure across the product line (Including iTunes)
  • The product-line design is visually stunning and tactilely pleasing

Can Chris and I find common ground?

The answer is most likely no, or at least, not until we realize the inherent paradox in the meaning of the word “best”: best for whom, and at what?

Samsung is a strong brand. It makes the “best” products for people like Chris—products capable of delivering the benefits he is seeking given his needs as a “techie”. They just don’t do it for me.

Apple is a strong brand. It makes the “best” products for people like me—products capable of delivering the benefits I am seeking given my “non-techie” needs. They just don’t do it for Chris.

Chris and I will continue to playfully debate the merits of our favourite brand’s products. But, neither of us will ever win.

That’s because in broad product-markets customers do not have homogenous needs and do not desire the same benefits. It’s only within more narrow submarkets that you can find customers who have more homogenous needs and who desire comparable benefits.

I’m a Mac and Chris is a PC. And we’re both right.

[1] Kapferer, Jean-Noel, Chapter 2, “Strategic implications of branding” The New Strategic Brand Management: Advanced Insights and Strategic Thinking 5th Edition, London, United Kingdom: Kogan Paige Limited, 2012. Print.

Chris – This is for you 🙂

About ashleykonson

STRATEGY CONSULTING | EXECUTIVE COACHING | CORPORATE TRAINING | KEYNOTE SPEAKING | Ashley Konson is the Managing Partner of Global Brand Leaders Inc., a new kind of brand consulting company dedicated to making brands and their teams leaders across the globe. He is a Brand Leader, Business Consultant and Award-Winning Educator, and a recognized thought leader and fervent advocate of the premise that strong brands and businesses achieve and sustain their market positions because they are strong Inside out™.
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12 Responses to Can a brand be strong if it doesn’t have the “best” products?

  1. Richard Broad says:

    I have had this argument of “BEST” for years as one product reaches the top of the tree there is always another trying to beat it, even from the same producer.
    It is all relative, I have recommended products and brands for years in presentations but I never propose one to be the best I am always looking for the best.
    I look to find the best but I have not found it yet, so I ask the question will there be or is there a best product?
    Tomorrow there will be another to beat it. I have sat on many judging panels and always marvel at the differences in opinion, as a brand manager I am always looking for the best and have built a reputation on quality. If I recommend a product it is always my opinion and my opinion may not be as others, as the saying goes one mans poison is another mans…,,
    So the phrase best value comes into play, weighing price with quality.
    Working with top end products was a joy but always at a cost. Low end volume products are the “best” because they are known and affordable offering value.
    I will never have the answer but this kept me in work for years.

  2. Korah Abraham says:

    Consumers are not a homogeneous group. They have different expectations, aspirations, identities and definitions of what constitute value. That is why marketers try to segment the market into homogeneous groups. A product can be called “the best “if it achieves a perfect score (or at least a near perfect score) in meeting all these diverse needs within the homogeneous segment of customers at which it is targeted. The critical qualifier here is “within the segment at which it is targeted”. What’s good for the goose need not be good for the gander!! A product that is adjudged to be the best within a segment need not be the best for consumers outside this segment.

    A product that is best for all segments has not been invented so far. And thank God for that, because, if there was a product like that, we marketers would have been out of jobs!!

    What further complicates the issue is the fact that all these needs are not always tangible. Unlike the mobile phones or pharmaceuticals industry where technical and scientific differentiation is possible, in the FMCG industry, like for example the soap or soft drink industry, the differentiation are often intangible. How otherwise, do you explain Coke fanatics clashing with die hard Pepsi loyalists? There might be a taste preference, but the real contention goes beyond just taste. Double blind studies have shown that there are quite a big chunk of Coke fanatics and Pepsi loyalists who could not correctly identify which is which, when it was offered to them in these blind studies. And unlike tangible product differentials, intangible attributes are difficult to copy and these are the sort of barriers which a good marketer tries to build for his brand.

  3. Gagan says:

    Brand is perceived value in the mind of its consumer, and in case it is not able to deliver the perceived value i.e. the best product, (for which it was preferred over other maker of same product) it will over a period of time will finish. That is why in product life cycle, when a product comes to a plateau, rejuvenating and revitalizing of Brand is required. Brand Managers, product developer, researchers put in extra efforts to make the Brand relevant. This is only because Brand like Johnson and Johnson, Kimberley-Clark, Ford, Nestle etc. are still strong brand even after century whereas some even people do not recall in the same product category. These Brands do constant innovations and develop products, do advertising, packaging as per prevailing time, and even looking to future demand.

    Therefore, Ashley, I strongly believe, if Brand is not able to deliver best product, it will not longer remain a Brand and will become maker of just a product and not the differentiator

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Gagan, I understand the point that you are making. However, every broad produce-market comprises customers who have different needs and therefore desire different products, value and benefits. What’s “best” for one consumer is not necessarily best for another. That’s the point I make in the article.

  4. David C says:

    From the perspective of a sales rep where through our references, product features, etc, we often say we have the ‘Best’ Product on the market. That doesn’t necessarily translate into more sales. As a vendor, we can list our reasons we think we’re best but at the end of the day, it’s up to the buyer’s criteria and hopefully we have demonstrated how we best meet that criteria.

    For any product/brand on the market I would have to say it comes down to the buyer. Mac vs PC is almost religious these days (says a single male with 3 Mac, 2 iPads, iPhone, AppleTV and 3 iPods). I’ve obviously drank the Koolaid. Do I talk to friends with Android devices or Windows Mobile devices and look with envy at things they can do. Yes. Do I think certain aspects of these devices are better than an iPhone or iPad. Definitely. Will I trade. No.

    Apple have succeeded in constantly re-inventing themselves since the introduction of the original Mac computer in the 80s. One of the previous comments referred to brands like Nestle and how they’ve maintained a brand presence. You’ll see this from Apple in years to come. A classic example of a failed Brand, which is supported by comments above is Blackberry/RIM. Eventually they failed to have a leading product and relied on their brand and the tenets of Blackberry (reliability/security/etc). Their products began to lag in the market, people started looking elsewhere and now they are in resuscitation mode, trying to revive not only the Brand (renamed themselves) and the the product.

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello David, my thanks of taking the time to read and comment on my post. Your views as a sales professional are most welcome and demonstrate a strong grasp of the importance of understanding the buyer’s decision criteria if your are to be successful in making the sale. And happy to hear that you, like me, are a Mac. Cheers! 🙂

  5. Ed Roach says:

    I think it’s tough to compare Apple and Samsung on the desk top computer level since Samsung is strictly hardware where an Apple desk top is hardware and an operating system. Samsung needs Windows to complete their experience. Your friend is really more in love with Microsoft than Samsung. On the devices front you again have Samsung with open source android and Apple with their own. Its never oranges and oranges to compare Apple with almost anything. With devices it would be more fair to compare Apple with Blackberry.

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Ed, my thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. The point of my post is that every broad product-market: computers, mobile communication devices etc.– is comprised of consumers with heterogeneous needs, seeking heterogeneous benefits. It’s also comprised of more narrow product-markets with consumers with more homogenous needs seeking more similar benefits. I’m a Mac. My friend Chris is a PC. Basic market segmentation.

  6. Ashley, as you and I have discussed in the past and has been highlighted here one of the key elements of brand equity is perceived quality by the target group. The emphasis has to be on perceived as opposed to real. For example when I worked on Black Velvet Canadian Whisky we built the brand in Eastern and Central Europe into a major whisky brand by positioning it to the emerging middle class in those markets as an aspirational but affordable luxury. They didn’t have the income level to buy Chivas Regal or other super/ultra premium whiskies but they aspired to be seen as “westernized” hence our success.

    As the saying goes there are horses for courses and what may be seen as the best brand by one group may not be the same in another. As you point out in your initial post you and Chris approach your brands from different perspectives and for each of you different parts of the brand resonate. I see you as someone who has Apple because you want the “status” of having the “right” computer for your image whereas Chris is seeking the right technical solution for his work. One introspective and one extrovert.

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