Monday, November 03, 2008

Marketing: Brand vs. Value

The presidential election now upon us offers an interesting contrast in marketing approaches. One candidate is all about brand, image, and soaring rhetoric that appeals to the heart. The other is (significantly) less flashy but appeals to our more practical side. He's the candidate of rational, "value" buyers who carefully consider the offerings then choose the one that offers the greatest benefit for the lowest price—an appeal to the brain.

From a product standpoint, Obama is like the iPod. Never mind that there are lots of MP3 players that offer matching or even superior functionality, at a lower price, without the limitation of compatibility only with a closed network—the iPod is cool! So much so that "iPod" has become to "MP3 player" what "Kleenex" is to "tissue."

McCain on the other hand is the "off-brand" that peels buyers away from the big name through an appeal to value. A classic example is Dell Computer. When the company first got started, IBM was the premier, established brand in PCs. But Dell eventually wiped them out of the market with a better product, lower price, and direct appeal that bypassed traditional channels.

There's no question that McCain represents the better "value" in this election: lower taxes, smaller government, free trade, free market healthcare reform, and on foreign policy comparison. But on brand, Obama kicks. He's the candidate of hope and change, of mega-crowds, a uniter-not-a-divider (wait, wasn't that...ah, never mind). McCain, in contrast, appears to many people that he really is your father's Oldsmobile. Or worse, your grandfather's. And his choice of a running mate who, fairly or not, comes off as not exactly Mensa material has arguably hurt McCain more than Obama's past connections have impacted his image.

Sometime late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning (barring any hanging chads), we'll know: are the majority of us brand buyers or value shoppers?


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