What’s in a Brand?

Yesterday, after playing a game of Squash with my uncle, I hopped into the nearest electronics store in search of three things.

  • An external hard drive with FireWire.
  • An USB to PS/2 adapter.
  • A PCMCIA (aka “CardBus”) wireless card.

I walked to a sales representative and first asked for the hard drive. He walked me over to a shelf and showed me the few remaining items in stock. None had FireWire capability, and they were sold out of enclosures so I couldn’t make my own external drive by purchasing an internal one.

Next, I asked about the USB to PS/2 adapters they had. We walked to another shelf, he showed me the only item of the sort they carry and then apologized for the lack of options when I balked at the ridiculously exorbitant price. ($25.99 for a simple cable adapter is silly.) Thanks, but no thanks, I said, I’ll check online.

Finally, I asked about WiFi cards. This time, we headed over to several shelves packed to the brim with different options. The cards I was interested in were the so-called CardBus cards that fit into a PCMCIA slot on laptops. There were an abundance of different cards, each with similar capabilities. There were NetGear cards, LinkSys cards, D-Link cards and more.

As we approached, the salesman picked up a LinkSys card and handed the box to me. I took it and started reading the feature set.

  • Wireless PCMCIA CardBus ethernet adapter.
  • Supports 801.11b/g (“up to 54 Mbps!”).
  • WEP and WPA-enabled.
  • Runs on Windows 2000, XP, ME, and 98SE.
  • Price: > $70.00.

Anything cheaper? I asked. The salesman turned to the shelf, picked up a D-Link card and handed it to me. I read the feature set of the D-Link card.

  • Wireless PCMCIA CardBus ethernet adapter.
  • Supports 801.11b/g (“up to 54 Mbps!”).
  • WEP and WPA-enabled.
  • Runs on Windows 2000, XP, ME, and 98SE.
  • Price: < $60.00.

What’s the difference between this one and that one? I asked him.

The LinkSys is the better brand, the salesperson told me.

Better brand? There I was in the store, holding a box in my left hand and a box in my right. Inside each was a little piece of hardware, each of which claimed to perform the same exact function in the same exact way. Both boxes were the same shape and the same weight. One box was a light blue with a white logo while the other a dark blue with a yellow logo.

What do you mean a ‘better brand’? I asked.

It, um, works better. Sometimes you have connectivity issues with the cheaper one, the salesperson stumbled.

They both do the same thing, though, I insisted, reading off the identical feature sets of both boxes.

But the better brand works better.

Why?

At this point, the salesperson started rephrasing and recycling his previous statements that the better brand meant better reliability. It was a matter of trust; if I had not been tech-savvy, I would probably have paid for the supposed extra reliability of the more expensive card. Since I have no fears on the matter, I did not need to trust the card or the manufacturer—I already trusted myself to get it to work.

So what’s in a brand name? Perceived quality. The keyword here is the former, perceieved. As it turns out I purchased the less expensive card and had no problems whatsoever.

2 replies on “What’s in a Brand?”

  1. Fun to read. BTW, you may have paid less, but your choice was based on Perceived quality nonetheless. Won’t you agree?
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