If branding is about making you feel good about paying more for a product or service than you need to (and this seems a fair description of luxury brands), then what are budget brands?
I suggest they are those that make you feel good about paying less than you need to. There has to be some emotional engagement – and usually some form of relationship too. Let's try it out. Here are my top budget brands:
- The BBC. There's some public criticism of and much political pressure on the licence fee, but £139.50 for a year (or 39p a day) has to be good value. The most talked about programme of the week (excepting ITV's X Factor) was BBC Four's biopic of Enid Blyton, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. That's on a 'free' channel – if you have Freeview or Freesat. BBC iPlayer is also very popular if you miss a programme first time round. I subscribed to all Sky channels until a year ago, but the quality of BBC Four in particular has made me feel good about my budget move. But you can opt for an even cheaper relationship with the BBC – BBC radio and websites are free to all. It's quality public service broadcasting – and yet I still feel I have a personal relationship with the organisation.
- Google. When did you last pay Google any money? Unless you're an advertiser, the answer will be never. Yet we rely on Google for search, and probably for email, RSS, browsing and 'cloud computing' apps too. Why does this make Google a brand? The constant innovation is extraordinary, and it defies the expectations of a free business model. These expectations mean I feel like grumbling too – why no Google toolbar (and so Google Sidewiki) in Googe's Chrome browser? Come on Google – could do better!
- Wetherspoons. The national pub chain is certainly a brand – and they provoke a love-hate reaction because of their size and ubiquity. What effect is Wetherspoons having on back street boozers? Well, the traditional local will have to improve if it's to compete with a good range of real ale served at bargain prices – and with cheap food available all day. In reality, I suspect Wetherspoons is more of a threat to high street burger 'restaurants' and over-priced coffee chains because of its food offering, than to good local pubs. There's free Wi-Fi too. Chairman Tim Martin can be irritating, but the company's staff training and publications elevate it to budget brand status.
- First Direct. We love to hate banks. But it's possible to enjoy free banking if you keep within limits and this bank has excellent telephone and online customer service. I've been a customer for almost 20 years.
- Skoda. No joke. My trusty VW Passat was written off in a no-blame accident and I now drive a secondand Skoda Octavia Estate. It's a lot of car for the money, the annual road tax is just £120, I get almost 60mpg – but yet the acceleration and handling reminds me of the Mark II Golf GTi I owned in the early 1990s. It's fun to espouse an anti-brand brand and I have a good relationship with a local dealer.
I admire the public relations efforts of all of these, too. (Except in the case of Skoda, it's the ads we remember and the good PR is all delivered through a relationship with a local dealer. But that counts.)
Which other brands were in the frame? Amazon and eBay of course (but I felt that my relationship with them was more limited); Ikea (good prices and products, but I dislike the retail experience); Travelodge (needs to offer free Wi-Fi to make me consider an upgrade); Oxfam (a beacon of anti-consumption shopping on every high street); WordPress – great free service, but I don't feel any emotional attachment; Majestic Wine Warehouse: only counts as a budget experience if you like to drink better wine cheaply.