One of my favorite classes at Miami University was a Marketing class about branding taught by Professor McCarthy. During my semester in that class I sat in the front row and soaked up as much of the information as possible because I found the subject matter fascinating. I remember thinking that there were people out there who received paychecks not because they did anything, but because they “managed a brand.” As the class went on I learned the hard work that people put in to manage a brand and how important it was to protect your brand’s equity.
This class prepared me well for my first job out of college at the World Wide Leader of Cheap Chic where we had a training class all about “managing your brand.” In that class you learned not to talk about your night of drinking on the elevator because it would negatively affect how people viewed you. The basic concepts learned in my training class made sense to me just like my class at Miami , but Brand Managers in general have a whole emperor without clothes feeling about it.
This all leads into what I think is the perfect example of the power of a brand and one that I think is blog worthy.
Last Thursday I brought a case of Northern Light beer for my softball team to enjoy. The main reason I bought the beer was because I knew the team enjoyed light beers and it was the cheapest beer at the liquor store coming in at the friendly price of $9.99. For the most part people drank the beer and got ready for softball without any commotion. However, there were a few people that brought into question the quality of the beer and proposed coming up with a team beer. The suggestions for the team beer were Bud Light, PBR, Miller Light, Coors Light or Michelob Golden Light. One person brought up that Miller Light and that email was quickly answered by someone else who thought that Miller Light was below-average (not the word he used) and that we should go with PBR. Anyway, there was a lot of emails back in forth without a consensus reached on the team beer.
My point in this argument was that there is no difference between Northern Light, Bud Light, Miller Light, etc. I have done a blind taste test before with light beers and the odds of me picking which beer went with which can were about as good as the odds of me picking the next lottery winner out of a phone book. In my mind the only difference between the beers I have *mentioned is marketing. There is a reason why people in Milwaukee like Miller Light and people in St. Louis like Bud Light and it doesn’t have anything to do with taste. There is also a reason why Bud Light is $16 a case while Northern Light is $10 a case and that reason is TV ad campaigns like the “Drinkability” one with the cute brunette girl with a slightly weird nose.
*There is of course a difference between distinct beers like Guinness and beers like Natural Light. My point is just on the basic low-end light beers that you find at gas stations.
I would have never imagined there the perceived quality difference between light beers would be so huge that it would cause such an uproar among my softball friends. I would have never imagined the power of branding would be so crystal clear. I guess I should have paid more attention in my Branding class, because it is apparent to me that a company’s brand equity might be the most powerful thing they have going.