Friday, November 13, 2009

Beauty and the Geeks

I never thought I'd watch this TV show, but my daughter is increasingly controlling what appears in the lounge room, at least until 9:30 p.m. As it turns out, I've been suckered in over the weeks, more by the geeks than the beauties because of their amusing propensity to intellectualise the tabloid goings-on during the show.

The closest I have come to this experience in real life was trying to put a home theatre system together at a reasonable price. Not for me the superficial beauty of pre-packaged systems offered by the high street retailers. No sir! Instead I delved deeply into the geek-driven feedback channels on the web - looking for reviews and advice on the performance of various components that make up home theatre - even HDMI cables!

And yes. If I charged out the hours spent making sense of these reviews and recommendations, it would have been much cheaper to just go out and buy a top-of-the-range system and throw some money for good measure at optimising the acoustics of the house itself (as it turns out, this would have been money well spent and contributed to a more harmonious relationship with wife and neighbours).

How does this relate to marketing and branding? Very simple. I could have bought on reputation at the superficial level. Perhaps buy a Sony, Samsung, Yamaha or other 'big name' system. But instead, I went in search of that elusive creature described as 'best of breed', component by component. In this Dark Zone emerge reputations built on the word of niche retailers, eminent bloggers etc. Let me tell you - it's an extremely scary place to go. Just as you get the torch working, the answer slips out of site because some other opinion casts its shadow.

The world of audiophiles is one of geeks. Ears insulated against extraneous sounds during the day so they can come out at night and listen to the fine balance of tweeters, mid-range, woofers, sub-woofers, cross-overs, gold plugs, valves, transistors, di-polars and rears... the list goes on. And I am being very superficial. Within each of those terms are a bunch of sub-terms underpinned by jargon. Scarily, brands you've never heard of start to illuminate the darkness and confuse your thinking. Dollars mount up and ride off to hitherto unknown destinations via the web and side streets you never thought you'd visit.

This is territory the big brands cannot own. Their systems are necessarily compromised by price and packaging to suit interior decor more than audiophiles. As I progressed towards the right answers for my home and budget, I was often tempted to just go down to the high street and buy the bundle. But I perservered and the journey was rewarding. Not only did I end up with an excellent set-up within my budget, but I also learned much about how consumers use the internet to research products and how they are influenced.

You should try it sometime - perhaps starting with something easier like a bicycle!

Incidentally, I think the geeks in Beauty and the Geek are inexorably being dragged down to the beauties' level - at least those geeks who are left in the show.

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