At the Intel Developer Forum this week I saw a number of interesting products and product concepts from a wide range of manufacturers.
As I looked over many of these products, some from known brands and some from more obscure brands, which are known as white labeled laptops, I started thinking about how important the role of the brand is as it relates to consumer purchasing decisions.
Currently my consumer research focus is North America, so I can’t speak for the other regions, but in the west consumers resonate with brands.
I saw many very thin and very light notebooks called UltraBooks from Acer, Asus, Toshiba and a slew of others.
Many of the UltraBook designs that I saw were poorly attempting to look like the MacBook AIR. One from Asus came incredibly close. However it was that product that got me thinking about the role of brand.
My thesis, which is and has been evolving, is that Apple’s brand is a major factor in the overall appeal of their products. This is something that can not be created or duplicated overnight by competitors.
Of course Apple makes great products but these products fall under a very distinguishable and relatable brand.
I see a lot of interesting UltraBook designs coming from manufacturers. Intel wants to get these prices down so the lure of one of these products over the MacBook Air would be price.
But here is the problem. A growing number of American purchasers don’t want cheap. Our research is showing that the value and premium segment of the market is growing at an alarming rate. And, with that segment, brand matters.
In the US and perhaps even in growing segments all over the globe, the strength of the Apple brand is unparalleled in computing currently. That causes real problems for companies like Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba etc who don’t have nearly the brand strength as Apple.
I view what is happening in personal electronics similar to what has been happening with fashion. People make brand or style centric decisions based on what they feel reflect them as a person. Again in this reality brand is very important.
Never before did this hit me with such truth than when I was doing consumer market research for a PC OEM who was struggling in the consumer segment.
My goal of the research was to explore the role of design with the younger more influential early adopter audience. The issue of design as a personal statement hit home when I showed the current non-Apple notebook design to a college student and asked for his thoughts. Calmly and quickly he said to me “I wouldn’t be seen in public with that notebook.”
Consumers in the west are now making conscious decisions about the tech products they buy and how carrying that brand around is a part of their self-image. Because of that, brand matters.
The Apple brand is just one part of a fast and deep collection of competitive advantages.
We will be doing more research on this subject soon, but I have a hunch that if you stuck any of the current UltraBooks next to the MacBook Air and asked which product would these customers would buy, a very large group of them would choose the Air and the Apple brand would play a role in that decision.
Many could argue that price matters. To this I would agree however I don’t believe that in the US, where PC’s are a mature market, that price is the only factor in that decision. Even if UltraBooks come in at $200 or more less than the MacBook Air, I don’t believe in any way that threatens Apple’s growth going forward.