What does a jar of tomato sauce have in common with a new car? Well, I drive a Toyota and I like Catelli Fine Herbs, but before I fully answer the question, and before you start guessing, let me recount a short anecdote.
A drummer friend of mine always used to equip his drum kit with Zildjian cymbals. For many years I knew him as a Zildjian guy, but one day he got a new job working for a company that supplied Sabian cymbals and allowed employees occasional discount purchases. One by one, over time, his old cymbals cracked and broke (as all cymbals do), and I watched the slow conversion that took place as shiny new Sabians claimed the spots of their old rivals on his kit. He didn’t seem to mind.
Some time later, he began working for a different employer; the balance between the two cymbal brands was made finally made equal again, and not long after, wouldn’t you know it, he found himself cymbal shopping. He eventually settled on a Zildjian and a return to normality. When I asked what he thought about going back to the brand he used to play with, he simply told me that his old job had provided a nice opportunity to try something different that he may not otherwise have tried.
So what does all this have to do with cars and sauce? What trait do these two things share? They are both subject to a phenomenon that I like to refer to as brand comfort, which occurs when a consumer sticks to a brand that he or she is satisfied with due to having had prior experience with it.
There are lots of brand names out there. Oftentimes many for the same type of product. Some are relatively equivalent in quality, some are not, but the fact remains that there is always a degree of risk involved—however small it might be—when we decide to “switch it up” and buy something we’re unfamiliar with. Much of the time a strongly influential factor is price. No one wants to spend money on something if they’re not sure that it’s as good as what they’re used to. It sounds silly to talk of risk and price in regards to buying something like a new kind of tomato sauce, but the risk is there nonetheless. The few dollars spent might be negligible, but you may still wind up serving your in-laws a pasta dish that falls flat in the flavour department.
A car is definitely not something for which you want to experience buyer’s remorse. Of course, things can always be done to reduce the risk such as reading reviews, researching, test driving, etc., but the possibility of dissatisfaction cannot be eliminated completely. Many people remain loyal to specific vehicle manufacturers for as long as they hold a license to drive, although I have seen people take the leap and buy something different.
Unfortunately, the risks are necessary. Using a product that you have already deemed good quality may be easier than trying to find its equivalent elsewhere in the market, but trying a new brand—even if it takes an incentive to do so—can build experience and knowledge in the buyer. I am not a businessman, but to me it seems that it’s partially our duty as consumers to purchase with diversity in order to prevent any single company from dominating too strongly. Perhaps in the future you’ll see me driving to the store in my Honda to buy some Ragu.