Brand Disloyalty

One of the easiest ways to separate consumers from their money is to encourage them to become loyal to brands.

I know it's often easier and more comfortable to stay loyal to the brands and products we buy. Even the word loyal has so many positive connotations that we can sometimes fool ourselves into feeling good about our loyalty to certain products.

But here's the problem: the companies that manufacture the products that you loyally buy don't really care about you or your loyalty. They are interested in your loyalty only to the extent that it causes you to make habit-based decisions to buy their products. And it's these habituated purchasing decisions that leave us open to exploitation by the consumer products industry.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, exploits my readers. So today I'm introducing a new phrase that describes a state of mind you can use to protect yourself when shopping.

That phrase is brand disloyalty.

Today's post is about changing your mindset when you shop for food and other consumer products. Forget brand loyalty forever, dear readers. From now on, brand disloyalty will help you find better products, better prices and better values in all your purchases.

A case study: Tide
I'll start by sharing an example from my life where I could have used some extra brand disloyalty. I spent the first ten years of my adulthood as a mindless loyalist to Tide Detergent. My Mom bought Tide all her life, therefore I bought Tide too. I didn't even think about it.

Consumer products companies love mindlessly loyal consumers like this. And I remained mindlessly loyal to Tide until one day when I looked up and down the detergent aisle and discovered that Tide cost nearly twice as much as the other brands in the store.

Look, Tide is a good brand. And I'll bet that at one point it was priced at just a small premium to other detergents--otherwise, my mother, who grew up in the teeth of the Great Depression, never would have bought it in the first place. But I paid a price for a product that was well in excess of market value, thanks to years of habitual and passive buying decisions.

The holy grail
Habitual and passive. That kind of consumer is the holy grail to consumer products companies, because they know that once we settle on a brand, we are highly likely to keep buying it, no matter what. And the more habitual and passive we are, the more they can raise prices, put in stealth price hikes and even roll out new brand extensions that they know we'll buy, all the while increasing their sales and profits at our expense.

Back to my Tide example. At some point during my Tide-buying days, some mid-level marketing executive at P&G put in a price hike that pushed the price premium for Tide past the point of reasonable and into the territory of not worth it. But thanks to my mindless brand loyalty, I never noticed.

I'll concede that some brands are truly superior and worth a premium price. And I'm not saying you can't buy brands. I'm saying don't let yourself become a passive consumer who makes habitual purchases. Stay disloyal, and be ready to dump any brand the moment it becomes not worth it.

Decision time
There's one common objection I get when I encourage consumers to question their habitual buying decisions. It runs along the lines of "I don't have enough time as it is, and you're saying that now I have to agonize over every brand of every product I buy?"

There's no need to agonize. And I don't want you to evaluate every product you buy each week--unless you enjoy all-day trips to the grocery store. Just look carefully at one or two of the products you typically buy. See what other brands are nearby and compare prices. Have a quick look at the generic or store-brand versions. You might find a superior product for less money, or you might find an equivalent product for a lot less money.

Brand disloyalty can also you help you outside the grocery store. Try using it when shopping for clothes, electronics and other household items. And applying brand disloyalty to big-ticket purchases--things like cars, furniture and appliances--can drive massive savings back into your pocket.

You'll find a brand disloyalty mindset quickly become instinctive, leading you to make timely brand switching decisions that will help you make the most of the money you spend.

Power to the people
Ironically, if enough consumers adopt brand disloyalty and punish companies when they raise prices beyond the value of their products, the makers of branded products will have no choice but to respond by lowering their prices. This means you should be able to go right back to your old brands--with extra money in the bank to show for it!

Brand disloyalty is all about seeing what's really happening with the products you buy--recognizing avoidable cost stacks, recognizing stealth price hikes when they happen and recognizing opportunities to get better value from competing products. It takes only a few moments of thought and an occasional questioning of your buying habits to permanently protect you from exploitation.

Let's put mindless brand loyalty to death once and for all and adopt a mindset of brand disloyalty. Companies will respond to consumers once we stop being mindlessly loyal to their brands.

I'd like to thank Kris at Cheap Healthy Good for initially prompting me to think about the issues surrounding brand loyalty.

Related Posts:
Just Say No to Overpriced Boxed Cereal
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
Applying the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It

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Rich and Col said...

Dan - this is a really excellent post, and I agree it will help decision-making over-all. Although I try to stay out of the supermarket as much as I can, I'll be thinking along these lines whenever I instinctively reach for my "usual" .. it'd better have something more going for it than history!

Amanda @ Mrs.W's Kitchen said...

Who doesn't love an all-day grocery trip? Oh, the aisles... the lovely produce...

Okay. You're definitely right about the idea of brand disloyalty. Most people don't arrive at that until they are forced to--either for financial reasons or they find they're allergic to something or have a dietary issue.

I'm occasionally a loyal customer. It depends on the product. Face lotion or some such thing is a biggie for me--I'm sensitive, so when I find something that works, I stick to it. Until they change the formula, anyway.

The brands we become loyal to are the ones that are usually cheaper anyway. For example, a particular brand of individually-wrapped prunes were a good value at my local mega-mart. That is, when you used their coupon found inside. Then they stopped providing the coupon. Then the price started sneaking upward. And I stopped buying.

Great post.

Daniel said...

Hi Rich and Col, thanks for the positive vibes, glad you found it helpful.

Hi Amanda: it sounds like you are already a successful brand disloyalist. Good for you!


The Diva on a Diet said...

Post like this are so important because it often the case that many of us shop on auto-pilot. We do what we're used to doing ... and its worth the effort to stop and make a considered decision/purchase.

As always, well done, Dan!

Melissa said...

Good subject.

I'm loyal to certain things when I shop and they all lie in the dry goods/cleaning items (or whatever the heck you call it) - paper towels (Viva), toilet paper (Cottonelle), dishwashing tablets (Cascade complete) - because I have found that these truly do serve their purpose better. The paper is thicker, the dishes have no streaks, etc.

For food, I'm always willing to try new things and I don't believe store brands are any lower in quality the majority of the time... but then again, I don't buy much packaged or canned food anyway.

The one place I need to rethink this is electronics. We're loyal to Sony. $2500 later... but hey, we know the stuff will last 10 years. There's that. *Sigh*

Daniel said...

Diva, thanks for reading. The great thing about a using pause/consider mindset is that it really doesn't take that long and it can result in years of savings.

Melissa: You raise an interesting point on electronics. A big capital purchase like that can be risky if you go with a no-name or unfamiliar brand. Is it smarter to get a stereo made by XYZ company for $2000, rather than a $2500 stereo from Sony or another trusted brand?

It's only smarter if the XYZ brand doesn't break in year two. And of course you won't know that until after you make the purchase. I didn't really address that situation in the article, and I think that this might be an instance where it pays (within reason of course--not if the Sony product is 6x the price obviously) to stick with a brand you know and really trust.

Thanks for your comments!


Mumses said...

for most products, from Tide to expensive electronics, try reading Consumer Reports either online or magazine. They'll tell you which products are reliable and priced best. You don't have to guess.

Unknown said...

I agree only to the point where you said "thoughtful brand disloyalty". There is absolutely nothing wrong with being loyal to any brand as long as you are able to do it in a thoughtful manner. I'm all for being loyal to a brand that is produced in a sustainable and ethical way with regard for it's customers and the peoe who make the product and the resources it's made from. Loyalty to brands doing a good job is vital if the others are going to change. Good post though and point well made ( in the last paragraph :) )

Anonymous said...

I was super loyal to my favorite facial scrub until I forgot it packing for vacation, and had to scramble at the local Target for a replacement. Enter the store brand, and I'm hooked. Cheaper and better. Some things (band-aids, girl monthly products) are Always worth the sale price on the name brand if you plan ahead (and still worth it in a girl emergency). Sometimes food wise it seems like I'm spending for the adventerous items that make the inexpensive nonbranded stuff taste special