I read a book recently about the history of the Danish audio and video company Bang & Olufsen in which a company spokesperson said that their basic philosophy can be summarised as: “A product is a product but a customer is a person.”
It’s an interesting statement and goes to the heart of what sales is all about, but this B&O philosophy grates with most of what we know about mass-produced global products and services. B&O are positioned as the opposite of mass production. They focus on innovation, using natural materials with genuine craftsmanship and attention to detail, and none of this comes cheap.
This made me think a little about B&O as a brand. They have developed a fantastic lifestyle image – consumers identify with their products and appreciate the quality. A customer entering a B&O store is not looking for the lowest price headphones or home audio system on the market – he is looking for quality combined with design and style.
So a company like B&O could really be thought of more as a lifestyle company than a product one. You would have to be a real B&O fan to be able to name several of their products, but even the most casual knowledge of the B&O brand means that you know the technical performance of any of their products will be perfect and will be combined with style.
Apple is another good example of the same phenomenon. They produce highly functional products featuring beautiful design, including a wide range of computers. But a regular PC based on Windows can be bought for a fraction of the price and will be just as functional in terms of what you need a computer to do – so the difference can only be explained by this development of the brand as part of a lifestyle choice.
So in a world of commoditization, is it better for consumers to explore products that offer greater personalization and value to them, even if that choice is more expensive?
And what I would really like to ask and explore here is whether the customer service experience is similarly different – is there a marked difference in service when we are talking about lifestyle brands? Not just for B&O or Apple, but for any brand where a more functional choice can easily be found. Please do comment with your ideas.
Photo by Jimmy Baikovicious licensed under Creative Commons