Monday, June 06, 2011

Strong Brands and Great Brands Aren't Always the Same Thing

Courtesy Apple Corporation ®

I was asked this recently: "What are the brands you most admire? And why?"

I always have a ready answer: "Why Apple®, of course. They are one of the most respected, consistent, and integrated brands out there."

But, I found it tough to go beyond that. I find it hard to think of other companies that have brands that stand out like that in my mind. Perhaps the Apple brand stands out for me because of personal experience.

Other companies that I've had personal experience with have strong brands — highly recognizable, big market share, and visually consistent. But they often fall short of experiential integration. What I mean is that the visual cues are strong, but the experience is not what the brand promises.

A case in point, is my experience with Sears®. I like Sears. I shop a lot at Sears. And to some degree my shopping experience with Sears has been consistent. But, with the purchase of a few major appliances, and one garden tool, my expectations were not fully met. Not terrible. Just not consistent with the brand promise of good quality.

You see, I've grown accustomed to the idea of Sears Craftsman™ quality. But I had to return my electric weeder after less than a year of use. It just stopped working properly. Now, that's not a big deal with me. I trust the Sears brand. They will make it right. Unfortunately, my experience with trying to get it replaced or repaired was a frustrating process — not in keeping with what I expect from the Sears brand. After finding out they don't repair electric weeders, they sent me to replace it with a comparable model. And then I was told they don't do replacements unless I bought an extra warranty.

Wait a minute. I have a one year warranty. True. But they can't help me. Huh? Well, it took about 3 hours or so, but the manager eventually replaced my weeder, and I bought a 3-year warranty on the new model. Not terrible, just not consistent with my expectations. I thought they stood behind their own products. Buying a warranty is like bribing someone to back their own products when their promise isn't enough.

Again, I like Sears. Don't get me wrong. I still shop there. And I still like the quality of some of their products. But what I think about the quality is diminished because of my experience.

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