Of Brands And Brawn

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Oct - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2006
Of Brands And Brawn
"Let me just Xerox my passport, then we can leave!"
"Dammit, my new  Discman  skips at the tiniest jerk!"
"I'm fed up of  Googling, I can't find anything!"

Every italicised word in the sentences above is a technology misnomer (an incorrect usage of a word). Xerox, once, was the biggest  photocopier  brand; and since photocopy  wasn't as convenient as saying Xerox, it stuck. The Discman was Sony's invention, but the name stuck for every "portable CD player". Google, or Googling, as we all know, has become synonymous with searching the Net. Recently, Google objected to the use of their name as a verb, but most people will probably continue to use the phrase out of print.

Anyway, I'm not here to tell you about misnomers, or generalized technology trademarks. If you're interested in such things, you should visithttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_generic_and_genericized_trademarks for a nice big list. The point is that, such terms became popular because of a brand, generally the biggest (or the pioneers) in that field. And that is the power of…

What I'm here to talk about is the difference between a great product, and great marketing. Most of us wear blinders when we go out to buy something-we just opt for what's most popular. At Digit, we try and provide you with the market reality, and test everything we can-even previously unheard-of brands. But we can't test everything, and we only exist in the technology domain; what about everything else?

It's All Good
Before I go any further, I'd like to make sure that manufacturers and big brand executives don't show up at my office, with straws, to drink my freshly shed blood! I'm not here to say that the biggest brands make sub-standard products, because that would just be stupid!

Almost every product, from the most expensive graphics card to the really, really cheap pen drives that are jumping across the border from China, have something about them that makes them a worthy buy-if it's not a good feature set, it's an unbeatable price. But needs differ, and there is enough of a choice of products for every need-all thanks to competition, which makes brands come up with better products at better price points. Some brands will sacrifice certain features, if they feel that the majority of buyers do not need it, and drop prices; others might pack a device to the brim with features, which many of us might never need, and charge a premium for it. The point is that we need to understand the difference between...

"I Need" and "I Want"
I have a particularly peculiar predicament. (Try repeating that really fast!) I am constantly torn between advising people to buy what's good, or buy what's popular. Sometimes, what's good can actually be bad! Let me give you an example to explain further:

A friend of the female persuasion wanted to buy an MP3 player. She wanted something cool and easy to use… something that could hold her entire 4 GB song collection and some videos/movies, and that offered decent battery life. Now I happen to know that this damsel in distress has a really slow computer, with USB 1.1 connectors, so if I suggested an iPod, she'd be cursing me every time she wanted to transfer music to her player. I'm sure you'll agree that Apple's pushing of QuickTime as the only way to transfer music to and from your iPod is irritating.

So I suggested a Creative Zen Vision:M. It's got a nice 262K colour screen, which makes the iPod's 65K screen look pale. She bought one, and was thrilled…for exactly four days and five hours. She went to one of her socialite gatherings, where all her colleagues were showing off their new iPod Video players. Exactly 12 minutes after she walked into the party, I got a call from her. She was disappointed with me, and refused to take my calls for five days! If only she'd asked me what was a good buy to show off with, instead of asking me for an MP3 player with good video support and decent battery life-how was I to know that her biggest need was that the gadget...

"If only my friend had asked me for a good buy to show off with instead of a good MP3 Player!"

Should Be Popular
I made up for my folly. After spending half-an-hour with her husband, listing the feature-set of the Vision:M, he was only too happy to take that dreadful Zen Vision:M off his wife's hands, in exchange for buying her an iPod Video. Now, he's happily pretending to be a techie at work, citing the superior features of his Vision:M, while she's been forgiven by her friends, and has happily joined the legions of the iPeople!

I learnt the hard way that most people just do not want to start trends, they'd rather follow existing ones. Only a handful few are happy to buy a device that is powerful, has great features, is easy to use and is good looking. They'd rather show off with something that everyone expects them to buy, or, more importantly, something that everyone else aspires to buy.

Of course, what's popular isn't always bad, and as the next example will show you, sometimes...

It Just Doesn't Make Sense!
When I decided I needed a new phone, not only did I know what I would buy, but I also knew what I wouldn't. I knew the functionality I needed: basically a good GPRS phone with a great camera and music capabilities. If I was to go only by the advertisements on TV, I would have ended up with a Sony Ericsson W800i Walkman phone. Instead, I went out and bought the Sony Ericsson K750i... The price difference, then, between the two was about Rs 5,000. There is no hardware difference between the two models, the W800i just ships with a 512 MB memory card, as opposed to 64 MB with the K750i, and the W800i has a hands-free cable that allows you to connect any pair of headphones to it. Apart from this, they are identical-and honestly, I prefer the K750i's colour and sliding lens cover.

Even today, the W800i is available for about Rs 15,000, about Rs 4,000 more than the K750i. For the difference, you can buy a 2 GB memory card and the W800i's hands-free connector-and if you really want, you can flash your K750i with the W800i's firmware. You'll still end up saving about Rs. 2000!
Thankfully, buyers seem to have seen this very obvious flaw in product positioning and pricing, and the K750i seems to have become the popular choice. However, I wonder how many people went out and bought the W800i, based solely on the TV ads, instead of checking specifications and reading reviews? And remember, this was not two competing brands, just two models of the same brand-no wonder people are so confused.

Another bad thing that marketing does, is cause...

I can't count the number of people who think Windows Media Center PCs are the best thing since the invention of denim!
"Wow, I want one! I want to be able to pause TV and skip past ads!", seems to be the popular desire. And, sadly, a lot of people think that this cannot be done unless they buy a Media Center PC. We can thank Microsoft's big ad budgets for that!

What people don't realise is that this little peripheral called a TV tuner card has been around for ages, and has allowed us to do all the same things, and more. And you don't need to go out and buy a new PC or laptop; your existing hardware will do just fine! In fact, most mid- to high-end TV tuner cards come bundled with software that will let you do a lot more than what Media Center can do-such as edit the videos you've saved using the bundled editing software. You still get a remote, a programming guide, the ability to "pause live TV", record while you're out, fast forward ads when watching recorded material, burn DVDs, etc.
At least we can thank Microsoft for popularising the usefulness of TV tuners! Which brings me to the end of this...

The point is simple. Assess your needs and look around at options before you buy, and don't let things such as the popularity of a product sway your buying decision. This is especially true for personal devices, which need to be… well… personal; they should give you everything you need, and not just be eye-candy for your friends.

My friend, the iPerson I mentioned earlier, tells me that she still hasn't been able to transfer any video to her iPod-QuickTime and USB 1.1 are killing her joy. She also moved her music collection from her PC to the iPod, and now cannot transfer it to her laptop! She can thank Apple's paranoia of piracy for that! Needless to say, I have started avoiding her calls… thank God she doesn't read Digit!


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