When you buy a product or service how much of your purchasing decision is influenced by brand? And how much of that influence is because of that brand’s size?
I’ve taken a hard look at my purchasing habits and love to talk about brands w/ my friends. My eyes were opened as to how easily swayed I was by big names and the perceived strengths of a brand. How much did and does brand really mean to me? Well, I own a Sony TV even after they put rootkits on my cd’s … twice … and had a bunch of exploding batteries. I own a Microsoft Xbox and Xbox 360 even though they over heat and shut down (the red rings existed on the original Xbox too). I own two … yes two, Chevy vehicles (Corvette runs in the bloodlines, man, I’m tellin’ you!!!) So these and others were pointed out to me by people who call themselves my friends in about as brutal a way as they possibly could, you know what I mean if you’ve ever taken a friend clothes shopping.
With every effort not to sound egotistical, I consider myself an intelligent buyer, I make what I like to believe are intelligent well informed buying decisions (thank you Google!!) in my personal life, but more so in my professional life. I get paid to make intelligent decisions about vendors and products that get brought into our environment, not to mention I have to live with them while they are here, so I tend to take my professional recommendations very seriously. I research, test, research some more, and especially considering I’m suggesting that my salary, bonus or both be spent on said purchase I tend to be really rigorous.
A little background into my brand history, I purchased, ran, and actually liked IBM’s OS/2, I bought a Panasonic DVD-RAM drive. I own the Sega Dreamcast which was arguably a better machine than the Sony Playstation 2, not only that, Sega was a household name when it came to video games.
I can go on, remember the Apple Newton? Yup, I had one. How about Psion!? Had one of those too (Series 5mx). All of the above, on their own merits, were technically superior to their competition, they had a great brand name behind them and yet…they all got destroyed in the marketplace. The one that surprised me the most was Sega, do you remember all those commercials that screamed SEGA! at the end? They got it, they knew brand was key, then they blew it, I’ll save that one for another blog :). Meanwhile upstarts like Microsoft, Palm, Plextor and Sony went on to dominate their respective markets.
Why was that (aside from the fact that I owned one)?
And what does all this have to do with storage, you are probably asking yourselves. Well… how do you purchase storage products? Does brand play a part in your decision, or do you buy based strictly on technical specifications?
Another, even harder question, how do you sell an unknown brand to your supervisor? While you may be comfortable with buying from a relatively unheard-of brand, how does the person signing the check feel about it? Do you feel comfortable putting your reputation on the line, based on someone else’s reputation or lack thereof?
Take a look at the examples I mentioned above (Apple, IBM, Psion, Sony, Panasonic, and Sega) and how they all failed. They were the number one or two brand names, everyone knew who they were (Psion mostly in Europe), and yet their products failed miserably. Can we be so sure that the adage “you can’t get fired for buying IBM” is true?
I’ve heard comments like: “My boss never lets me buy the incumbent, because the number two player will work harder for our business,” or “I want one number to call, one throat to choke, buy all our stuff from one place whether it’s the best of breed or not, they didn’t get to be number one by accident”.
Personally speaking, brand still plays a role in my purchasing decision. I’m not nearly as obdurate (great SAT word submission) about brand as I used to be though. I do make a pointed effort to do research into what is available. I lean on my peers, I try to make it out to trade shows that are geared to the specific segment I’m looking at. I know that keeping up with all the new companies is pretty much a full time job on it’s own, but I do try to make that job a part of my job. With storage exploding the way it has been in the last few years it has become even more difficult to keep track of all the companies offering storage products and solutions, but equally important as they include more features in their products.
Currently we are evaluating vendors for multiple storage related projects. Whether or not all the projects will get funded is another issue, but the fact is, whittleing the field down is difficult when management doesn’t have a tight a grasp on the players. Gartner, Gomez, IDC and others do a decent job of providing executive level synopsis of who the vendors are and what segment and sub-segments they target, but that doesn’t go far enough to help me when I have to sell an unknown vendor in a market space that hasn’t even been fully fleshed out yet, much less reached any sort of maturity. I have to educate on not only the product but the vendor as well. Sometimes it is a fight there is no way to win.
Some will raise arguments about trust between upper management and their workforce, but we all know they only trust consultants ;-). I’ll elaborate more about the specific issues I faced with the various projects in a future post, but remember brand and perception are inexorably tied. Our industry depends heavily on perception. If you don’t believe me, throw this statement out to 3 different execs: (*I know I’m starting a bar fight somewhere*) “hard drives are a more reliable, cost effective solution than tape as a backup medium, fact or perception?”
I think a reference to The Matrix Reloaded (the second one) when Neo talked with the architect is a great mnemonic (pun intended), or maybe example is a better word. Either way the basic point is that everything is about choice, and convincing Neo to choose 23 people and making a new Zion is like choosing the incumbent instead of Trinity, the upstart vendor.