The importance of brand

Fleur Doidge
12 July, 2008
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Brand, you know, is an inexact science but a powerful phenomenon nonetheless. Manufacturers of the electronic gadgets we know and love, often for years or even decades, have put a lot of thought into the way their toys and tools are perceived by the public, by thee and me.

Most of us know that the majority of household consumer electronics as well as business technology these days is made in China and a few other Asian nations. Few of us are aware, though, that actually just about all computers — and in fact most information and communications hardware — is not only made in China but actually made by the same half a dozen or so factory facilities in China.

That includes hardware made for Apple — although Apple may have done more than the average computer maker to differentiate its product (and it shows).

You may never have heard that, and that’s understandable, because these processing plants and the companies that own them — the owners of even more obscure names internationally — don’t deal directly with consumers and so have no need to market to them directly, in magazines or newspapers or TV or on billboards or even the internet.

Perhaps name brands don’t actually care whether you, the end-user, know about their assembly lines and manufacturing facilities in China or not. That would be understandable — because wouldn’t that detract from the overall impression of unique, individual, competitively differentiated innovation?

That notion of individuation, of differentiation, goes to the very heart of what it means to have or display a particular brand, which is no more than a stamp of approval saying “this is our product; it differs from other products in some really good and important ways”.

It’s like brands have their own personality. Yet human beings are rarely as different from each other as they like to believe — might not the same be true of human beings’ favourite creations? Might not the machine in truth be made in our own image?

It’s no accident PCs in particular are often referred to as “clones”.

Brand manufacturers can and do assure their customers that, yes, just like people, PCs have individual, distinct “personalities” and are qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from other brands in demonstrable ways. And they are not lying — products can be made different through different chassis, varying specs and by changing the exterior look and feel.

In the Chinese manufacturing facilities, each manufacturer — with the well-known, more expensive brands often cheek-by-jowl with white box or no-name marques — orders its own hardware created and delivered to its own specifications. Later on in the manufacturing process, different brands may use different quality control procedures, rating systems and so on to further enhance variation.

Yet what I’m driving at is that, despite the actual differences, when it comes down to it most computers and associated IT equipment is much less different than their makers would have you believe. And that impression is created and sustained almost entirely by marketing, advertising and branding without which the household names of IT — Dell, Toshiba, HP, Lenovo and all the rest — would be almost entirely much the same to thee and me.

The next question becomes, then, for this writer: How much further can Apple go — and would it be prepared to go there — to distinguish itself even more from the competition?

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