On Brand Loyalty

13th of February, 2011 ·  4 Comments

There are four brands I have ‘loyalty’ to: Apple, Camelbak, Mag Instruments, and Moleskine. They make vastly different products, but I’m loyal to them for pretty much the same reasons.



These days, in countries you can read this, you’ve pretty much got to have a cell phone. I believe Apple’s iPhone is the best. I look to how other phones copied the iPhone to find out what the best is.

Other phones have email, a browser, a music player, and other apps. But every other phone I’ve played with merely checked those off a list. They didn’t develop those features with care and craft. And I’m not just talking about visual effects. I’m talking about things behaving the way you intuit they should. Stuff not being frustrating to use.

The iPhone is a phone I, my 59-year-old dad, and 9-year-old daughter all use and enjoy. Is there another anything on earth that can boast the same? (Yes: forks.)

Then there’s Macs. Computers which get out of the way to let you get your work done. Buying a cheap Windows box is a false economy. A new 21.5-inch iMac is $1,200. HP’s 21.5-inch is $650. The iMac comes with iLife for listening to and making music, for organizing and using photos, and for making movies using footage shot on your iPhone or cheap point and shoot or even your expensive HD camera. But the HP comes with useless pre-installed garbage, requires anti-virus software, and if I wanted to make a movie on any Windows box, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

So you can save $550 or more going with an HP instead of a Mac, but I see it as throwing away $650 on a computer you can do little more than check your email with.

Of course, Apple’s gotten it wrong in the past. The Mighty Mouse is their worst product in recent memory. The iPod Hi-Fi is another contender, but mostly on price. But when you compare Apple products to the competition, in terms of build quality, usability, value, and yes, even cost, it’s pretty clear that I don’t have brand loyalty so much as a desire for a certain level of quality and usefulness. Like, any usefulness at all.



Camelbak makes products you drink water out of. Seems kind of silly. We’ve been drinking water out of things for a million years.

I have three Camelbak products: the Better Bottle, a sort of everyday use bottle; the Podium Ice, an insulated bicycling water bottle; and a M.U.L.E., a backpack for hiking and biking which holds 3L in a bladder with a straw attached to one strap. I will focus on the Better Bottle, since it’s the one with the most competition.

You can get similar bottles for cheaper. In some cases, a lot cheaper. But what Camelback really makes is something sturdy and durable, and something which gets out of the way.

The Better Bottle is a study in making the good choice the easy choice. Good: drinking water. Easy: rather than unscrew the lid of your Kleen Canteen, drink, and rescrew the lid back on, you just drink out of the self-sealing bite-valve at the top. You don’t even have to tip your head back. And the lid has a sort of finger-handle that’s far more comfortable than it has any right to be.

Again, it’s a product that gets out of its own way (and you can get ’em in Kleen Canteen style stainless steel).

So is it brand loyalty? Or have they just not screwed up? I think they hit the nail on the head with their bite valve, they protect it aggressively, and there isn’t another way to do it as good. Their competition has to approach their bottles differently. And in this case, different is less good.


mag instruments

You’ve probably got one or two Maglites laying around. Maybe your dad’s got one. I have one. It’s sitting on my work bench. I’ve had it for over a decade. Over the course of this decade, it’s gotten scratched, dented, scraped, dropped, submerged in water, and used as a hammer once. I still trust it to turn on when the other lights go out. The on/off button is satisfying to push.

You can get other flashlights that are cheaper. You can get a flashlight with 90 LEDs in it’s head. You can get a small aluminum flashlight that takes three AAA batteries, has 12 LEDs, but they’ll break inside a year. You can’t trust them to turn on when you must see what you’re doing.

What did Mag Instruments do differently than everybody else? They made a badass flashlight that feels good in your hand, will last longer than some of our children, and you can place more trust in a Maglite than you can in your wife that it’ll turn on when you need it to. And nobody else in the world has such a great on/off button.

If only they made a headlight.



I’ve already written about this before, so I’ll cover it very quickly here.

The paper feels and looks great. The pages are stitched, not stapled, so the books can withstand an amazing amount of abuse. They’ve all got a little pocket in the back for additional lists, business cards, stamps, or nude photos. (Great idea. I’m gonna follow up on that one later.)

They come in different styles (hardsoft, and cardboard covers), different paper styles (blank, grid, or lined), and different sizes (too many to name). When you’re using the right pen, it’s an absolute joy to write on the paper. And the paper is now available for your printer in 8½ x 11.

I’ve tried so so many notebooks over the years. I’ve even made my own, hoping to get it right. It took Moleskine at the local Barnes and Noble to end my search.

So they’ve got a huge variety, something to fit everyone, but what they really did right was make books out of the perfect paper. That, and make them affordable. Anybody else could have done it, but they didn’t. Moleskine did. So again, it’s not that I’ll only buy Moleskine because they’re Moleskine. I buy them because I know what I’m getting is absolutely perfect. And every other notebook simply isn’t.


and so

Each company makes products that fit my requirements. It could have been somebody else, and maybe some day it will be:

  • Google’s making an OS
  • Another sporting goods company may some day make a better bottle
  • I’m shocked there isn’t a flashlight people are willing to stop me in the street to tell me about yet
  • Some day, I might try a Field Notes notebook and find it’s awesome.

It hasn’t happened yet. So for now, I go where I know the quality is.

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