Feb 15, 2005

shopping heuristics

I've been thinking about branding a lot lately. I'm actually a big fan of brands. Some people view branding as a nasty word in the vein of 'commercialism' or 'status'. But I view it as a simple shopping heuristic. If I need socks it's going to take some data to convince me not to buy a brand I know and trust.

When I was working out of Taipei I remember vividly needing to buy some presents for friends. At the time there was no branding in that city that I knew. The odd exception was Shakey's pizza and TGIF. 2 week old pizza was not going to cut it for my girlfriend. Not only did I not know where to shop since I knew no shop brands but even when I ventured in I didn't know what to buy. It was a frustrating experience and my gifts frankly sucked. So from this viewpoint brands are beneficial to me because they allow me to shop more efficiently.

The one clear exception to this is when the heuristic breaks down. And for me this has been happening a lot lately. It seems brand after brand I rely on no longer lives up to my expectations of what their products should deliver. Two examples. Kenneth Cole shoes franky suck and Banana Republic has horrificly cheaply made clothing. This was not always the case but now I just won't buy their products. I feel screwed. Interestingly enough the B.R. brand has gone through some radical shifts over time. When they first started out, if you recall, they sold outback clothing - khaki vests and crap. Literally clothing from a banana republic. I don't quite recall when they upgrade it to be Gap's top brand for sophisticated urban yuppie clothing.

So in order to actually buy clothing and shoes I needed to find some new brands. And what I found interesting is how many of the brands I associated as being brands my dad would like are, in fact, incredibly well built products. Take for example Allen Edmonds. That name just reeks of 'dad' to me. Crap styles and probably crap quality. But the fact is Allen Edmonds is one of the best made shoes around and also one of the most expensive. I nearly keeled over when I looked at the prices. But that really is a failure of A.E. to explain to me what their brand is. Another is Hickey Freeman which to me was synonymous with bad suits. But in reality they probably made the best off the shelf suits available. Better construction, classic designs, and again outrageous prices. So now I'm wiping the slate clean on most brands until I get some more data.

My recent favorite is Brooks Brothers which makes some of the best shirts I've ever seen. Again fuddy duddy-wear but for work this is the kind of crap that keeps my clothing choices on the low-down which is good. The shirts actually have buttons that don't fall off after a few wears. They actually come in slim sizes unlike the tent like waist sizing that comes in larger shirts from Banana Republic. Their non-iron line actually stays freakishly uncrumpled even at the end of a day of slouching. And again the shirts are damn pricey. But given that these seem like they will last forever and aren't too trendy, I say why not? It's funny that a few years ago I believe B.B. had their own problems with quality issues. Suits were no longer in fashion at work and they tried to become a trendy brand with more casual clothing. I imagine their core set of customer were just as unhappy as I was with Mr. Republic.

No comments: