5 Questions to Ask About Our Favorite Brands

March 18, 2022 — Jt Spratley

Branding, marketing, and good business practices are complex in a world where social media is so connected to consumerism. For example, I've heard arguments against primarily supporting black-owned businesses. They're crap reasons but reasons nonetheless. I'll probably discuss it soon.

Search engine optimization (SEO), including that elusive Google algorithm we love and dread all at once, has a massive effect on what we see online and when. Many times, all it takes is clever usage of a particular keyphrase. Companies capitalize on this with marketing pages specifically targeted at certain keyphrases. Some create SEO content to increase the probability that you'll go to their website. But you have to realize that a landing page with images of third party awards for being excellent at something doesn't mean anything. This is especially true in affiliate marketing where a list of "top 20 product/service X" could simply be in order of who offered the most kick-back money for referrals. Or during controversial times such as Gay Pride month where companies add rainbows to their logo on social media accounts, but have claims of being homophobic throughout GlassDoor reviews. Something to think about.

You might be wondering why it matters. Some prioritize price, availability, and whether it accomplishes the task, which is fair. But when you want a product that serves as an extension of you, or when you simply want a sense that your money is contributing to a greater good, you have to start with what a company truly stands for (and against).

Below are some questions we should ask about our preferred brands more often.

1. Do They Support Causes I Support?

Knowing what initiatives and practices a brand supports helps you better understand where your money goes. Does your favorite brand support slave labor? Employing illegal immigrants? Do they support individual internet privacy over financial gain? Did they send millions of dollars to support a horrible presidential candidate? Where do they donate percentages of income?

How do you find out? Just search the web. Social media platforms, different search engines, and small phpBB forums can have valuable information not often discussed.

I support Combat Flip Flops because they’re a Veteran owned business that donates to war recovery initiatives. Part of why I stopped wearing Adidas was it was started by Nazi’s. I don’t hold that against the brand because organizations (like people) evolve. That would be like hating the American flag because it was made at a time when Black Americans were considered inferior. The other part is because I wanted something more exclusive. So far I’ve found African owned Blairisms and quite a few others.

2. What is Their History?

This follows my comment about Adidas and the American flag. It probably shouldn’t be a show-stopper but how a brand dealt with past incidents says something about the company. Some debate whether Nike backing Colin Kaperneck in 2018 was purely a marketing move. I think it was. Regardless, they did it and didn’t try to hide it. When Apple refused to give the FBI backdoor access to an iPhone for an investigation, that meant something to loyal customers and privacy-conscious people worldwide.

3. What is it Like to Work for Them?

An internal perspective on #2, what practices do they encourage (and discourage) in their work environments? Are employees worked to the bone only to be fired for nonsense before bashing the company on GlassDoor.com? Do employees seem to stay long-term and eager to talk about their work culture? Are any of these trends related to a specific department or time-frame? Some workplaces are more susceptible to disgruntled employees which often leads to poor customer service.

By the way...

4. How is their Customer Service?

How do they handle [tactful and sensible] complaints? How hard is it to get a response via email, phone, or social media? Is the user experience (UX) for finding contact options on their website time-consuming? If it’s a huge PIA to get help on a product or service, including open source projects to a point, you might want to look for alternatives. One exception would probably be if you never plan to contact them for assistance.

For software, I search alternativeto.net. For everything else, there’s ShoppeBlack, weBuyBlack, and VeteranOwnedBusiness.com. There are plenty of directories tracking "ethnicity" and "minority"-owned businesses. You just have to take the time to look.

In case you’ve somehow never heard the phrase before:

Customer service is everyone’s job.

If you’re acting or speaking on behalf of the company, you’re representing them – for better or worse. We should always keep that in mind when helping customers.

5. How Does their Pricing Compare to their Quality (Value)?

Pricing can be affected by a long list of factors. The obvious ones are marketing, shipping, matching competition, target audience, return on investment (ROI) from expenses to create services. At the end of the day, we generally care most about whether we're getting our money's worth. Am I getting the best bang for my buck?

A few years ago I found a bamboo phone dock made in the Philippines (Loud Basstard), but the shipping costs were twice as much as the product itself. And now the company doesn't seem to exist anymore. But some pinays and pinoys may be able to justify supporting one of their own. But why pay $100 for just having basketball shoes when a ~$60 pair feels and works just as well? If the answer isn’t related to anything I listed above, just social proof or urgent availability, you should search for better options for your money.

Asking questions like these should force some personal development and help you better understand things. Have fun.

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