Of Fans and Brands

jmsb@johnsanfilippo.com

www.johnsanfilippo.com

This past weekend, I went to Target to buy a new fan for the house. For the size I wanted, Target offered two options: a Honeywell fan for $15, or a Vornado fan for $45. Which brand did I want?

First I considered the two names just on their own merits. Honeywell as a name for a fan says absolutely nothing to me. What’s a Honeywell? A hole where bees hang out? Even with no prior knowledge of Honeywell as a company, it’s pretty clear that this is a case of a brand being foolishly extended into the home fan market. In other words, it’s obvious that whatever the company does, it doesn’t make most of its money selling fans.

But what about Vornado? Now that’s a name for a fan! Clearly this name combines the words vortex and tornado. I’ll be perfectly honest here. I’m not really sure what a vortex is. I do know that every time I see this word, it always seems to be mentioned in conjunction with some sort of spiraling motion. And everyone knows what a tornado is.

A fan that can turn my living room into a spiraling tornado? That’s exactly the kind of fan I was looking for. One point for Vornado.

Of course, I wanted to look beyond the names themselves to the brands they actually represent.

What do I know about Honeywell? Right or wrong, my belief is that Honeywell is like a GE or a Westinghouse; they make a lot of different things for a lot of different industries, both large and small. How big a role does the fan business play in Honeywell’s bottom line? Probably not very big. Or put another way, I doubt very much that Honeywell puts a lot of effort into producing a top-notch fan. When I consider the probable margin on a $15 fan, I have to wonder why a company the size of Honeywell even bothers.

What do I know about Vornado? Absolutely nothing! So I turned the box over to see what I could learn. As best I can tell from the packaging – which admittedly may not tell the whole story, but nevertheless tells a great brand story – Vornado is a small company in Kansas that specializes in (you guessed it) fans. It only makes sense that a company that specializes in fans would make a better fan. One more point for Vornado.

What about price, though? Is a Vornado fan really worth three times as much as a Honeywell fan? I think that in the age of Walmart, people have been conditioned to reach for the cheapest item… I take that back. What I really think is that in the age of Walmart, many marketers believe that people have been conditioned to reach for the cheapest item. Clearly this is not the case – at least not universally.

Consider the Lexus brand. Is a Lexus really that much better than a Toyota? I honestly don’t know. However, by branding its luxury line differently and adding several thousand dollars to the price tag, Toyota has convinced me to believe that a Lexus is significantly better than a garden-variety Toyota. A certain segment of the consumersphere will always be willing to pay a premium price for a premium brand.

This isn’t anything new or shocking. Even Ray Zalinsky knew that the public would be willing to pay a premium price for a supposedly premium brake pad. That’s why he was so anxious to get his greedy, little hands on the Callahan Auto brand.

In short, as a brand for home fans, Vornado scored a third and final point over Honeywell, based in no small part on its higher price.

By now, it should be pretty clear that I ended up choosing Vornado over Honeywell. But here’s one thing I bet you didn’t guess: So impressed was I with the Vornado brand, I also bought a smaller $15 Vornado in addition to the $45 model.

I went to Target in search of a fan on which I could have spent $15. Thanks to better branding, I instead purchased two fans for a total spend of $60. I think there’s a branding lesson in there somewhere.

That is all.


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