One of the most important tenants of capitalism, at least when proponents are asked about its merits, is that very principle; merit. Capitalism, ideally, is a meritocracy. Business owners with the best products and the best ideas make the most money, the best employees are hired by them, and the rest of us merely buy the products of their genius in the free market.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work in an ideal world. Best product gets the most money. It’s that how the free market “decides” what it likes? Of course, making good products is expensive and time consuming. It’s also one of many ways to convince fickle consumers that your product has value. A quick list of others include;
- Advertising (and various subgroups therein)
- Product packaging (and various subgroups therein)
- Positive association (with well-liked public events, for example)
Here’s a quick tip for all you aspiring marketers out there; people are stupid. They’ll buy products for a million and one reasons, and it’s entirely possible that none of those reasons include any variant on the words ‘need’ or ‘good’. People will buy one product over a similar product simply because they like the way that the box looks at the store. God damn.
Here’s a neat hack: You can include lots of products under one name and logo. That way, instead of having to market each product individually, you can heavily market your brand and only slightly market your products. This is called a ‘brand’.
Brands have lots of features built in that are great for business owners but bad for consumers. For instance, brands have a way of playing on ancient psychological flaws in the human mind. Brands allow consumers to skip the uncomfortable step of thinking about which product can best fulfil their needs, and simply buy the one that has the familiar picture on it. Many consumers see their brand as a kind of “club” or “tribe”, and competing brands as competing clubs or tribes. These customers are show undesirable behaviors in relation to their favorite brands. Some of these include;
- Blindness to shortcomings of products from their favorite brand
- Blindness to benefits offered by products from competing brands
- Extreme reluctance to try products from competing brands, regardless of benefits offered
- Extreme reluctance to even acknowledge benefits of products from competing brands
- Delusions resulting in perceived emotional bonds between the customer and their favorite brand/s
- Hostility toward competing brands and fans thereof
In marketing circles, this unnatural and unhealthy devotion to a brand is referred to as ‘brand loyalty – it is a highly desired trait in customers from the point of view of the marketer. Anyone else would call it what it actually is; tribalism. Humans have a predisposition to want to belong to groups, to favor those inside their group, and show hostility toward those outside the group (the “other”). Once tribalism sets in, it stops being about buying quality products, and starts being about protecting your group.
Brands are a natural part of capitalism, and will form around something as simple as a company name. If Dwayne’s Mattress Co. makes quality sleep accessories, then consumers will associate that name with quality. The problem begins when Dwayne takes advantage of people’s tribalistic natures to further his own business. He knows that people will more likely buy his product based on his brand and not the quality of his products, so he puts less effort into research and development, and more into marketing his brand.
That is the point at which capitalism turns sour; when looking good is more important than being good, because people are more likely to buy based on good branding rather than superior quality. It’s a rotten game, but every company must play. If they don’t, then they lose sales and market share to those who do.
It’s easy to think that branding doesn’t work on you, that you’re a rational person who won’t fall for such cheap tricks, but we are all susceptible to some degree. These days, smartphones are a big deal, and most people are very particular on the brand they choose – be it manufacturer (Samsung, Oppo, LG) or operating systems (Android, iOS). If most people were to think hard about why they continually make the choices that they make, they’d see that brands played a big part.
Ever heard someone say that they’d never consider buying an iPhone or Xbox or Toyota? That’s brand marketing. Apple no longer needs to work hard to make the best smartphones because they have loyal customers who will hand their money over in exchange for mediocre products. The better product no longer wins out, it’s the most popular brand, which may or may not have been built by making great products.
This happens in politics, too. Even more so than it does in consumer brands. Voters choose their favorite political brands and rarely vote any other way. Facts alone don’t change minds in politics. Instead of becoming educated on what or who they’re voting for, people vote based on how they feel about the available candidates or parties, which makes branding, sadly, very important in politics.
That we live in a world where the most sales are won by those, not with the best products, but the biggest marketing budgets, and politicians get into power by running more ads than the other guys, is a very depressing thought indeed. We could all work together to create a world where substance is more important than appearance, but looking around, how likely do you think that is?
At least we could make more people aware of the phenomenon. Share this article and let’s see how much awareness we can get out there.