I recently had an experience staying in a $68 a night hotel that was remarkable. I was helping my son move and I just need a place to crash for the night. The cheapest hotel in the area was a brand I had never heard of but, it had decent reviews, so I booked it. I didn’t expect much but what I experienced was amazing. The staff was friendly. The lobby was open and airy. The room was clean and spacious. The $68 rate even included a hot breakfast. I was blown away by the value.
This experience made me think about how brands affect our buying decisions. When I travel on business, I mostly stay in big brand hotels. I try to find the best rates but I also want a hotel that is going to be clean and safe. I don’t want to risk having a bad night in a terrible hotel. There is comfort in choosing a big brand but this method isn’t foolproof. Like most business travelers, I can tell you countless stories of bad hotels with rude staffs, dirty rooms, and terrible conditions. It turns out that the name on the outside of the hotel doesn’t always guarantee the quality inside.
So, why do we tend to choose known brands over lesser known brands in our buying decisions? I think there are three main reasons:
Comfort and speed. We’re busy. When making purchasing decisions, we don’t want to spend a lot of time looking at all the various options and information available to us. We recall past purchases and recent advertisements to identify the best choice. Big brands are comfortable because they are known to us. We have heard of them or have had past experiences with them. For speed, we choose the known over the unknown.
Identification. Brands affect our identity. Often times, we choose brands that we want to be associated with. Driving a Ford pickup, wearing Levi jeans, or owning a Gucci purse all say something about us. We will also choose brands that are accepted in our peer groups. A serious weightlifter, for example, wouldn’t show up at the gym in Polo sneakers. We choose brands for identification.
Risk. Often times the risk of a poor purchasing decision outweighs the potential benefits. We choose the big brand because we think it is a safer choice. When you see the McDonald’s sign when pulling off the highway looking for a meal, you know what to expect. You might skip a restaurant called Big Jim’s Burger Joint because you have no idea what it will be like. What if the food is bad or you get sick? Even though Big Jim probably makes a better burger than McDonald’s, the risk outweighs the potential benefits.
The problem with choosing big brands is that we miss out on the opportunity to explore something that is unknown. We miss out on an experience that is either simply amazing or so bad that you will be telling stories to your friends for years. Choosing big brands is often the safe choice but it’s also the most boring and unremarkable one. And who wants to live a boring and unremarkable life?
If you want to break free of the comfort of big brands but are afraid, here three things you can do to help make the shift:
Listen to what others saying. With Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon, and most websites, you can explore what others are saying about unknown or lesser known brands you are considering. Listening to others can help reduce the anxiety of your decision. There is comfort in knowing others have gone before you.
Use time as an advantage. The higher the price of a buying decision, the more risk is associated with it. However, these decisions typically take longer, allowing more time to research the best solution. Take the time to do your homework. Look for all the alternatives both known and lesser known. Evaluate them all. Your best solution may not be the big brand. If a decision is for a lower priced service or product, take a chance on the lesser known brand since the risk is low. You may be amazed at your experience.
Look beyond price. Often times, lesser known brands offer more features and benefits than the big brands. I was once asked by a potential customer why he should buy from my company versus one of my largest competitors. My answer was simple, we ship in 24 hours. The big brands all had lead times of 6-8 weeks. The customer switched because speed was important to him.
The small business advantage. Many times, the lesser known brand is a small business working hard to earn your money. Instead of spending time in corporate meetings, small business leaders spend time with customers learning what they like and dislike. They are constantly adjusting their business model to please customers and attract more business. To them, it is personal. Show them some love and give them your business. You may become a lifelong customer.
Breaking away from big brands means departing your comfort zone and choosing an unpredictable outcome. Most likely the experience will be positive especially if you have the time to research the best solution. Regardless, it gives you the chance to explore something that is unknown. So, step away from the boring and predictable and enjoy the experience!
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost