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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Brand Loyalty And How It Affects Your Internet Life
July 20th, 1999

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon on the Internet in the last couple of years. It is how people advocate their browser and e-mail application vigorously. Why? Both are daily companions. They are the backbone of your Internet presence, and anything you do online is somewhat related to them. Therefore, you attach yourself to your choice, and anyone who dares to say anything against them will hear your two cents about it.

I have witnessed this in newsgroups, mailing lists and other types of forums on the Internet. So many people take sides, and the browser war is a typical example of this. The core Netscape users just cannot stand Internet Explorer, and IE users say it is superior to Communicator. While in reality, both products are equal and the race is close.

Then why do people take sides? Why do they stick with a browser and defend it to the end? Why do I say that Claris Emailer is simply better than others and that I prefer Netscape Communicator to Internet Explorer?

To find out, I discussed (with Kyle D'Addario who is BA in Psychology from State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also a staff member here at The Mac Observer. I asked him why people stick to Internet software.

"I think a rebellious person, in the situation of the browser wars, will go with Communicator simply because IE is representing Big Brother", D'Addario says. He explains very well how anti-Microsoft users will avoid Internet Explorer at any price and cherish its most powerful competitor.

What about the fact that once you stored all your bookmarks and contacts in your favorite software, you have to continue working with it? "I think that type of brand devotion will develop in either direction once the person gets knee deep in the product.", adds D'Addario. Therefore, it would not matter much if it were IE or Communicator. Once you got used to one, it is simpler to stick with it and deal with your daily work than to bother switching.

However, what does make the difference between two browsers, six e-mail applications, and so on when they are similar? To this, D'Addario says "This, I think, is a brand loyalty type thing. I wish I could pull up some principle to base that on, but it is more a hunch than anything else. I personally do not like Microsoft thus, I use Communicator. I have justified my choice in a dozen different ways. So, is there more than just features? Certainly. When you look at the two big browsers, there _really_ isn't much difference. What one killer feature does one have over the other that would cause people to want to use it? I am not sure." I think he is right on the money.

What about the few bugs you find in your favorite app? Are you going to ditch it and shop for a better one, or will you overlook its flaws? Apparently, the latter wins. I can testify from my own experience, because a few glitches in Communicator did not make me consider Internet Explorer as a valuable alternative. Kyle D'Addario agrees with me - to a certain extent - when he says "Even if they are seeing problems, and they don't like the product, they fool themselves into thinking those problems are not a big deal"

Yes, the name of your favorite Internet software matters as much (if not more) than its features and interface. There is brand loyalty behind all of this, and you can easily notice this if you stumble on a forum where there is a debate to find out which browser is the best. You will see that the feature arguments are rather weak and that there must be more somewhere.

If you dare to contradict me, then tell me why you like your Macintosh over any Wintel PC!

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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