Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Branding Story

If you build a better mousetrap will the world make a beaten path to your door?  No, but a few engineers might show up.


Branding and Goalie Gloves

On Sundays, I play goalie on a geriatric soccer team.  Last Sunday my gloves ripped.  The most important piece of equipment for a goalie is gloves.  I needed new goalie gloves and I needed them before the next game.

Within a five mile radius, we’ve got a couple of Academy Sports, a Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Sports Authority, and several other stores that carry goalie gloves.  I picked Soccer City, a local soccer specialty store. 

When I walked in the store I was greeted by “Soccer Ali,” the owner.  I told Ali that I need a pair of size 11 keeper gloves.  He started pulling gloves from behind the counter.  The first pair he handed me was a brand I never heard of, but the latex was thick and it was the right kind of latex (the most important part of a goalie glove is the latex). 

The glove had side vents along the fingers.  Finger vents may not matter in Europe and other cold weather locations.  In Texas, where we occasionally play 90+ degree weather, finger vents are a nice feature.

There are two types of wrist bands on goalie gloves.  One is split, making it easier to get the gloves on or off, with a Velcro wrap.  The other consists of an elastic band with a Velcro wrap.  The elastic band makes the gloves harder to get on or off, but reduces the possibility the gloves will rip.  The pros prefer the split, but they’re provided with a new pair every game.  Since I pay for mine, I try to get several seasons out of a pair of gloves.

The bottom line was that I liked the gloves and probably would have purchased them without further consideration if they cost more.  Cost more?  Yes, they were too affordable.  It made me suspicious.  I expected to pay about 50% more.

Ali handed me a pair of Adidas Predator gloves, which are the standard in goalie gloves.  I tried them on and pointed at the pair I just tried on, commenting, “Those are better gloves.”

“Exactly,” said Ali.  “These kids come in and all they want is a brand name, but a real goalie can tell what’s important and these are much better.  The latex is thicker.  They are much better.”

Clearly, Ali was in sales mode.  However, he was right that the first pair was better.  I picked up the Uhlsport gloves, which were also good but lacked the finger vents and had the split wrist band.  My last pair that just ripped was Uhlsport.

Ali asked if I wanted to try Reusch, adding that they weren’t as good as Uhlsport.  I shook my head as I considered the Uhlsport and the first pair.  “Try these this time,” said Ali pointing to the first pair.  “If you don’t like them, you can buy Uhlsport next time.”

I bought the first pair.  Having bought them, I still can’t tell you the brand.


Lessons

There are several lessons about branding in this story. 

1.    Brand is more important to people who lack a basis for comparison.  Ali mentioned how kids preferred Adidas despite being inferior and more expensive than that gloves I bought.

2.   The most important brand decision was the first, selecting Soccer City.  Where I bought ultimately influenced what I bought.

3.   Brand doesn’t matter with a good salesperson.  Ali probably could have swayed me to buy any brand he carried.  I previously bought Uhlsport gloves because one of his salespeople recommended them.

4.    Like brand, price can be a signal of quality.  Because they were so affordable, I was suspicious of the first pair of gloves I tried, though they were clearly better quality than more expensive gloves.

5.    When buyers focus on the specifications, the importance of brands lessens.  If a knowledgeable buyer wants a brand, it’s not because of the brand.  It’s because of the specs.  Think of selling to engineers who had time to conduct research over the Internet.  I know.  It’s not a pleasant thought.


©2014 Matt Michel

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