The danger of blind brand loyalty

It's time for us as consumers to get our priorities straight.

Blind Brand Loyalty

Ah, the start of a new year. A fresh calendar and fresh goals. So many things to look forward to. Oh -- and then there's the déjà vu.

Here in the land o' mobile tech hardware, the déjà vu seems to get more extreme with each passing January. I'm not even talking about the increasingly incremental nature of year-to-year device refreshes, which -- let's face it -- are far less exciting than they once were. (Thinner! "Faster"! Even more pixels! Hooray?) I'm talking about the predictable way some subsets of users always react to those launches.

You know the types of reactions I mean -- the emotionally charged love-fests for certain manufacturers or brands and the products they produce. The predetermined idea that something has to be the best simply because Company X made it (despite the fact that the person shouting said view has yet to actually use said product or spend any meaningful amount of time with the alternatives).

It's a weird sort of unconditional marriage to a company that sells stuff -- a blind brand loyalty and puzzling sense of pride toward a style of cellular telephone product. And you know what? It's not doing anyone any good. Well, except for the manufacturers.

Blind brand loyalty is nothing new, of course; you can see it in everything from shoes and clothes to soda and even toothpaste. In the mobile tech realm, though, man -- is it fierce. And it's filled with the kind of passion you'd expect to see between two humans, not a person and a giant corporate entity.

As we gear up for the start of 2016's first smartphone silly-season, with numerous overlapping Life-Changing Innovations™ scheduled to launch in the weeks ahead, it's important to remember that it never serves us well as consumers to "join teams" and act as cheerleaders for specific companies. In fact, such a mindset -- beneficial as it is for those companies -- actively works against our own best interests.

Think about it: If you're so passionate about Company X that you know its upcoming phone is the best before even seeing it, you've just thrown away all of the benefits that come with an open market and the effects of competition. Even if you've determined you like Google services and prefer Android (and there's an argument to be made that even that is something you should re-evaluate with some regularity), Android itself has an ever-expanding array of manufacturers and options. And now more than ever, that competition is causing astonishingly good devices to pop up from unexpected players -- and at insanely low prices.

Being unconditionally married to a manufacturer is essentially saying, "Eh, whatever. Doesn't matter what anyone else does. I'm committed" -- committed to, it's worth repeating, a corporation that sells us products. It's blindly tying yourself to one company's vision for what you need and what you should pay instead of evaluating all of the choices and making your own educated decision. It's building a wall and creating a virtual monopoly within your own mind, in other words -- something that's counterintuitive in every logical way.

Look at most lists of the best Android phones you can buy, and you'll see that the brands behind the most highly recommended devices of any moment are in a constant state of flux. That's the real take-home message here: The company that creates something spectacular one year isn't automatically or necessarily going to create the most exceptional thing the next.

We had a fantastic demonstration of this phenomenon with Motorola in 2015. The company had produced exceptional phones the previous two years -- phones I both recommended and purchased myself. And crucially, it had successfully committed to upgrading its phones quickly and reliably, to a degree never before maintained outside of Google's own Nexus line. Motorola was on a roll and was building a powerful reputation as the Android manufacturer that did things right.

Then, last year, things changed. Motorola created a so-so phone that in many ways felt like a step backwards from its predecessor. But more significant than that, it broke its promise of ongoing upgrades for some of its high-profile devices -- abandoning U.S. models of its 2014 flagship along with its eight-month-old Moto E phone. The failure was particularly poignant since reliable ongoing upgrades were a key part of the company's message and selling strategy. It was then made even worse by the company's baffling lack of communication about its about-face -- the lack of any attempt to make things right or even just offer an upfront explanation to the loyal customers it pledged to support and then coldly left behind.

And yet, while the rational among us were calling Motorola out for this failure and holding it accountable for its actions, some folks were actually defending the company -- pushing back against the fact-driven criticism and attempting to rationalize its blatant promise-breaking while the manufacturer itself sat silent. (I won't provide a link as I don't want to point fingers at random people, but such statements are pretty easy to find if you look in the right forums or social media threads.)

Make no mistake about it: That level of faith and devotion is a major win from any company's perspective. No matter who it is or what it's selling, that's exactly the sort of emotion-charged bond a manufacturer wants shoppers to develop with its products. And it's no surprise: As we saw in this admittedly extreme case, such a bond ultimately prioritizes the manufacturer's interests over the consumer's and takes away the need for the company to actively earn your buying dollars.

Look -- there's nothing wrong with having preferences and knowing what you like. I'd just urge you to avoid letting yourself get into a silly "my team!" mentality with mobile devices and to remember that these are corporations, not sport franchises or families. It's not our role to be unconditional supporters, much as the manufacturers may want us to do so.

So when the time comes to make your next device purchase, I challenge you this: Open your eyes and see which company's product and overall strategy is best suited to meeting your needs at that particular moment in time. Treat each individual device as a product to be evaluated, not a symbol of who you are or a connection to some sort of team-like concept. More than anything, remain loyal to your own personal interests as a consumer above everything else.

That, my friends, is the secret to getting what's truly best for you -- time and time again.

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