Will Strauss looks at the perennial debate of which is best: the brand name product or a cheaper alternative.

I was stuck in the middle of an interesting little debate this week about buying brand name technology.

A post facility boss* has just bought shared storage technology for group editing from a virtually unknown manufacturer. He believes that, when working in native resolution, it is both cheaper and more versatile than the popular brand name product.

The post boss said:

  • “[The big brand] storage is not the right answer for high demand [projects like this]. It is not only the fact that terabyte per terabyte it is much more expensive than [other] solutions, but you get on top a triple whammy effect as you also have to pay extra for support and extra seats.”

His argument is that by paying less for shared storage - a technology deployment that his clients won't see - he can, on one hand, give better discounts and, on the other, increase his profitability because his spend is reduced.

However, a representative of the manufacturer of the well-known brand* that makes the shared storage technology of choice in the industry had this to say.

  • “It's always the week that you are maxed out with productions, when deadlines are approaching and the storage is under the most stress that problems will arise. Imagine buying a car from multiple vendors and after 2000 miles you find out the engine and gearbox don't work properly when the car is fully loaded. Whose fault is it? Unfortunately the risk is yours. [Our system] was launched two years ago. One of its main benefits is that it's not just a kit of parts, you know you can bet your business on its certified performance. [We are] the only vendor to actually test and certify our storage products with multi-stream editing applications. And because [our product] is an integrated hardware and software solution with a one stop shop for support, there is no finger pointing between multiple vendors when things go wrong. There's a lot of value in being able to sleep at night.”

While this conversation was about the difference between spending thousands of pounds, roughly speaking, it could also apply to the cornflakes in your weekly shop or the PC in a production office.

Simple economics

Some economists believe that brand names give manufacturers too much power to control prices.

Benjamin Klein, economics professor at the University of California, says:

  • "By relying on brand names and the company reputations associated with them, consumers can make reasonable purchases without searching or investigating products each time they buy. The problem, as these economists see it, is that this consumer reliance gives companies with established brand names "market power" over the price they can charge. Brand names lead consumers to make what these economists consider to be artificial distinctions between different products.

But, equally, to ensure the quality of the products they buy, consumers are often right to rely not just on industry or government standards, but also on brand names.

Now personally - being northern and bit miserly - I will always consider the non-brand name when purchasing something I know a lot about, such as beer or mobile phones, because I have enough facts to make a value judgement.

When it comes to products I'm not so clued up on, the brand name wins every time as I put trust in a make that I know well, one that has a reputation to maintain and will, in my mind, therefore do a good job.

Making decisions

When it comes to shared storage technology for editing, however, I hope that people don't have the same approach as me when I'm doing my weekly shop.

As technology, especially storage, continues to improve and come down in price, arming yourself with all the facts before making a purchase is vital. If the client doesn't care, the decision should be made on a ‘horses for courses' level.

But to make that choice accurately requires research, information and both sides of the argument. It also requires context. What is the goal of the project? What problem are we trying to solve?

One consultant suggests that buyers need to identify the problem and the solution up front and then go off to the manufacturer or person selling the technology. He says:

  • “They need to understand what they're trying to do and not just say sell me some of your kit, but solve my problem. There are so many circumstances where the manufacturer is in the dark about what the customer wants to do because the customer doesn't know what he wants to do or how he is going to pay for it in terms of return on investment.”

A rough guide

It may well be that the brand name offers what you want when you take your personal circumstances into account. But, equally, there is no reason to ignore another product just because you don't currently know anything about the company's background. You can always find out.

This would be my process.

  1. Decide exactly what I want to achieve.

  2. Define my ROI.

  3. Tell people what those goals are.

  4. Listen to what my options are.

  5. Research those options.

  6. Get more than one quote.

  7. Consider the add-ons, peripherals and extras.

  8. Line-up and compare all the facts.

  9. Make a decision.

  10. Make a purchase.

Basically, do your reseach. Otherwise, by simply opting for the brand name you may be agreeing to a dance with the devil (of marketing). While, alternatively, going for the cheap option could be a false economy.

Got an opinion on purchasing? Have your say below.

*I've dropped the names of the companies involved in order to make the conversation generic, but you'll probably be able to work out who I am talking about - especially if you read page 11 of Broadcast this week.