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OPINION: The Choice is Yours. Or is it?

There are times my choices are limited, if or when they exist at all. There are times when all I can purchase is that which my suppliers are willing to offer. There are times when my insistence on quality as defined by a branded part is ignored.

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Babcox Contributing Editor Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider's Automotive Service in Simi Valley, Calif.

One of the greatest fears most writers share, especially “serious” writers, is relevancy: Is what we have to say going to be meaningful to the people with whom we are trying so hard to communicate?

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Obviously, we think what we have to say is important, otherwise we wouldn’t try. Or, at least you hope that’s the way things work at this end of the keyboard. But, there is an inescapable insecurity that every writer knows the minute the “send” button is pushed and your document is no longer yours.

If you are serious about what you have to say, you know that a part of your soul, a piece of your very essence, travels with every manuscript that is sent. And that is enough to make you contemplate every word just to make sure the margin for misunderstanding or misinterpretation has been minimized, if not eliminated altogether. As a writer, you have to because you never quite know what’s going on at the other end of that manuscript. You never quite know what is going on in the mind of the reader.

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A great example of this would be branding and the importance of creating, supporting and maintaining strong brand identities. I think it’s important. And because I think it’s important I’ve been writing to manufacturers and members of the distribution community about it for the better part of 25 years. But it’s not always that easy trying to figure out how that message is being received.

If the quality of that message or its effectiveness is to be measured by what we’ve witnessed over those 25 years, I’m not sure I would be willing to judge, our efforts or my efforts, as being successful. We’ve watched, helplessly, as many of the brands we’ve all grown up with, have become corrupted, minimalized.

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We’ve watched their strengths erode, and confidence, both theirs and ours, evaporate.

We’ve been told that branded products are too expensive, that the difference isn’t always justified because too much of that difference is spent delivering and reinforcing a strong brand presence and top-of-mind awareness, and not on the products themselves.

And yet, a recently released AASA field study exploring the preferences of service professionals like me, taken from three different regions of the country and involving both technicians and owners, clearly demonstrates that no one who is serious about their profession or their customers was willing to take a chance on products that didn’t have a strong brand identity.

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Why isn’t that demonstrated as clearly in the field as it is on the pages of the study? I think I may have an answer and the answer is choice. There are times the opportunity to exercise that preference, a strong brand preference, is taken out of my hands.

There are times my choices are limited, if or when they exist at all. There are times when all I can purchase is that which my suppliers are willing to offer. There are times when my insistence on quality as defined by a branded part is ignored.

There are times when my definition of quality, a definition based upon brand experience and performance, is discarded — and, the words “just as good as” are suddenly used to describe a part or a particular company with no history and no lineage.

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There are times, like yesterday, as I was desperately trying to find a new radiator for a customer’s vehicle, that no one had a radiator I would install. So, I went online only to find that each call took me right back to the same 800 number, the same Web page, the same unknown company and the same unfamiliar brand.

This may be the greatest of all times in an industry filled with more choices than we’ve ever known before. But more choices don’t always translate to better choices any more than more words equal a better manuscript. Sometimes, the best choice is a familiar choice — an old friend you’ve known and who knows you. Someone or something that doesn’t need a lot of rhetoric to let you know who they are or what they are all about. Someone with whom you share a common history, a history that speaks for itself, clearly and without misunderstanding or the fear of misinterpretation.

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Without old friends like these, shop owners like me may find themselves crippled by what seems like too many choices, so many, it feels like there aren’t any choices at all. At least, not the right ones.

If you allow your brand to become corrupted, your message to become vague, ambiguous, misunderstood or misinterpreted, the people with whom you are trying so hard to communicate may not understand what you mean or have to say until it’s too late and no one really cares but you.

If you fail to recognize the importance of what your brand is, has accomplished, or can become, you just may find yourself dealing with the consequence of another kind of choice. One you may not appreciate at all.
 
* This column originally appeard in Counterman magazine.

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