Note to service people everywhere: When I ask for a Coke please don’t give me a Pepsi instead. At least don’t give me a Pepsi without asking me first if it’s okay…because it isn’t. Pepsi is vastly inferior.
Like Kleenex, Xerox and iPod, Coke’s brand name has become the colloquial name for the category. Coke stands for cola…even though in my case I wanted an actual Coca-Cola soda and not simply a cola. Even though the other brands listed have very specific product differences that are distinctly different from the competition as the taste of Coke is from Pepsi.
From an awareness perspective it is all well and good that Coke has the share of mind that makes it synonymous with the category, but it is still irritating for a consumer like me, and it is worse because as the brand represents the category it stops representing the brand.
That is the challenge facing the iPod.
There is one portable MP3 player on the market today. The iPod is that one product as much because it is excellent as the whole system the Apple built to support it is excellent (good design, good iPod product, good music download system, good bundling, good song library, etc and so on). Whereas in the early days when the iPod hadn’t yet clearly trounced its competitors, portable music players were called by their actual names, now everything is called an iPod. Whether it is or not.
Not that most people have anything but an iPod, mind.
But what happens when a competitor comes out with a product and music delivery system that reached performance parity (or near parity) and offers a cost discount?
Will there be enough differentiation in the category between iPod and the competitors for consumers to actively disdain a product that isn’t a real iPod, or will it be as interchangeable to most people as Coke is for Pepsi? Because if that happen, Apple is in trouble…Apple lives and thrives because of its branding and its mystique.
Apple is hipster, cool, intelligently designed and kind of smug about it.
If the name iPod begins to represent the category and not the product, Apple loses that because its brand has been co-opted. I am not one to count out Steve Jobs and Lee Clow, but storm clouds are on the horizon if they can’t keep iPod owners smugly condescending toward other MP3 players.