A couple of stories I read recently got me thinking about brand loyalty and perception. The first, which appeared in overclockers.com, revolved around a prankster in the US who posted a tall tale on the website claiming he had ripped the insides out of an Apple G5 case and installed a PC motherboard. He detailed each step of the process, complete with pictures, just in case anybody else receiving a G5 as a gift wanted to follow his lead.
The response was nothing short of frightening. Andy (his surname was never revealed, almost certainly for fear that some members of the Mac community might try to locate him and carry out their threats) claimed his inbox was swamped with 1300 messages within two days. Some said his actions had made them feel sick, others that the news had made them cry and most that he must be stupid, really stupid. More irate messengers made death threats and one imaginative member of the disgruntled masses suggested he should be “hung by the testicles and lit on fire”.
Andy has since used the same website to explain that the whole thing had been a hoax he played on a Mac-loving friend after receiving a free G5 shell. Whatever your take on this series of events (I’m sure plenty of people reading this would have agreed wholeheartedly with the hanging sentiment) it served to further prove something everybody in the IT industry and many outside of it already knew — an Apple user is an Apple lover even if, as we have seen in Australia, the vendor’s track record for maintaining stock levels leaves a lot to be desired.
So just what is it about Apple that transforms it from being just another brand name to a warm and fuzzy global community? Whatever the answer is — style, innovation and a sense of exclusivity or otherness spring immediately to mind — you can bet that Ziggy Switkowski would pay through the nose to get the same response from his Telstra customers. The Australian reported last week that the telco was preparing to axe its latest advertising strategy because it was “fragmented and forgotten in the marketplace despite the estimated $500 million a year it spends on branding”.
Which does to some extent prove one thing about customer perception — you can throw all the money in the world at building brand loyalty but it won’t make much difference unless you can keep most of your customers happy most of the time. This is a task that gets more difficult as an organisation grows because systems become more complex (Telstra has 17 advertising agencies covering its vast array of product lines and business divisions according to The Australian) and knockers (whether they be politicians, journalists or unhappy customers) are always going to scrutinise the operations of a multi-million dollar corporation because the business decisions it takes affect its huge base of customers.
Certain members of the channel community — software developers and whitebox manufacturers, for example — also work to establish a sense of brand loyalty. Most of you, however, make a living from selling the products of other companies and are primarily concerned with stocking those brands you believe have established a good reputation among customers. But the issue of branding goes deeper than that because the name and reputation of your business precedes you on most deals you attempt to close. News of a job well done travels slowly but examples of incompetency spread like wildfire. Building a reputable brand takes a long time and the job of upholding it is never finished.
In an attempt to enhance the perception of our brand, ARN is launching a notice board service. If your company has an event in the pipeline — running a road show, holding a conference or simply hosting drinks for your business partners — turn to Out & About for details.
Brian Corrigan is Editor of ARN. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org