A DEERE JOHN LETTER
Whether there’s snow on the ground or not, once March hits, I can’t help but start thinking about four of my favorite outdoor activities: mowing, trout fishing, camping, and grilling. While there are plenty of branding issues to discuss when it comes to fishing and grilling, this time I want to focus on mowers… specifically, my John Deere mower.
The house we moved into a number of years ago has a big backyard, at least bigger than any other backyard we’ve had, and it definitely warranted a riding mower. So I took a trip to my local Home Depot and reviewed my options. (Interestingly, I received no assistance from the staff there but that’s fodder for another blog post about OEMs and their sales channel relationships). Among the variety of mowers, the creme de la creme seemed to be the John Deere. At least that was my perception at the time.
Since 1971, their advertising had told me “Nothing Runs Like A Deere.” Some farmers I knew lived, breathed, and bled green. And I knew I’d get the coveted and exclusive John Deere hat with my purchase. “Certainly, a Deere would cut better,” I told myself. “And surely it will be more durable,” I surmised.
But the bottom line for me at the time was this: Was it all worth it? Was the brand equity John Deere had established in my mind worth the premium price I would pay for it? After all, comparing apples to apples (cutting swath and horsepower), the Deere was asking for about 30- to 60% more of my money compared to other brands. That was up to 60% more for basically their reputation and the promise that their product would deliver considerably more satisfaction (again, up to 60%) than competing brands.
I decided the “Deere” WOULD be worth it, so I bought it and happily brought it home.
Now, I had only experienced mowing with three other brands over the course of my life. Growing up we had a cheap little MTD rider we used to cut weeds at the cabin in the summers. We never had a problem with it until someone drove over a pipe with the blade engaged (NOT recommended, by the way). We had a Snapper that I used at home and for my lawn mowing business when I was in junior high. That mower lasted about 20 years. And my wife and I bought a Toro when we first got married. It was basically problem-free for 19 years until the John Deere took its place.
As for my premium-branded John Deere? Nothing but problems since the day I bought it. Now, if I give them the benefit of the doubt and just assume I bought a lemon, then their brand will probably go untarnished, and people will continue paying a premium price for their products. But if millions of consumers have the same problems I’ve had (into the shop at LEAST six times since I’ve owned it), then it WILL catch up with them.
In all of this, two principles stand out:
1 – If you want to establish a preferred brand, be sure to differentiate and then consistently market over a long period of time. Believe me, it works. Familiarity (through marketing) breeds trust, and trust provides an opportunity to command a premium price.
2 – If your product doesn’t match up with the promises of your brand, it’s only a matter of time before you’re competing where very few want to compete… Price.