Long time readers that have forgotten to unsubscribe would know that I have a certain unhealthy fetish for Cap’n Crunch cereal — enough so that I’d find numerous attempt to work the cereal into various post on a “personal finance” blog (and even taken screencaps of said cereal when it appears on TV).
Although I love to crunch away in the morning, afternoon, and evening… my love and loyalty for Cap’n Crunch came into an abrupt halt back in 2005, when I switched brand (gasp) and tried another cheaper alternative.
Was I crazy that fateful night in Wal-Mart? Did my years of loyalty vanish due to competitive pricing? Yes to the first and double-oh-yes to the second.
My post detailing the switch can be a bit exaggerating (and lame); but at the end, I bought Cap’n Crunch for years because I thought it was the only choice available — a pretty silly mindset for an easily reproduced preprocessed food such as cereal — but that’s the power of marketing, and the power of a brand.
Being a savvy consumer is about going beyond such mindsets, to be able to distinguish between hype and value, and be able to get the most out of your purchasing dollars. Here are some things a consumer should always keep in mind:
- Everyone will always have a favorite brand.
Apple products lover. Starbucks addicts. Crunch Berries enthusiasts. Name the company or brand, and you’ll have a following. There is nothing wrong with having a preferred brand for certain products, but if you always limit your choices to the tried-and-true, you may be doing yourself a disservice to discovering, cheaper, or even better alternatives.
- Not all brands are created equal.
The big names do well because they deliver great products at consistent quality. You generally know what to expect when you buy a Honda and the shipping time is fairly consistent when you order a book from Amazon. That’s the problem with trying something different, you might end up with a crappy result. But with the help of the Internet and a little comparative shopping, a savvy consumer can always find actual differences between choices. And it’s not always about the cheaper but just-as-good choices too, sometimes, you’ll simply find better stuff for higher prices.
- Understand the marketing and identity shaped behind a brand.
Marketers poke brains to find image and terms you can relate to. Apple iPod commercials are hip and cool. AARP TV spots are slow and soft spoken. If you’ve ever seen the other side of the fence, you’ll see that the companies may label you as “easy going,” “price conscious,” “value oriented,” “image conscious,” “early adopter,” and “trend follower.” You may think you want or need a certain widget and you may think you have the best widget for your needs, but understand that there are other forces at work, constantly influencing your purchasing decisions. Being able to see through the layers and truly differentiate products is the hallmark of a savvy consumer. And of course, the Internet made all of this much easier. Search “### review” or “### sucks” to get opinions that can help you narrow your choices.
- Challenge these identity and make them earn and keep your loyalty.
Dell may have treated you right for years. Fidelity may have never screwed you over. If you deal with a company for years because you trust them, make them constantly earn and keep your business — especially if they screw up. This isn’t about being a hard-ass customer, it’s about reminding the companies that there are always other alternatives out there. Any businesses worth their salt knows this, and any company that’s respectable would want to take that extra small step to help win you over or keep your business. In a world where different choices are clicks away, there is nothing wrong with expecting companies to fight over each other for your business.
There is nothing wrong with having a preferred brand for certain products. It’s okay to trust a big brand over some unknown generic, but you should always challenge these notions and thoughts.
No one sane needs to research intensively over a breakfast cereal, but just because your car has treated you right for years doesn’t mean there aren’t better rides out there. Just because your financial institution fits your current need doesn’t mean there aren’t more personalized banking solutions out there.
At the end, we’re the driving force behind the share prices, the earning reports, and the executive compensations. Never stop challenging them to earn and keep your loyalty.