Hidden value

Are brands known as “the best” because of their attention to detail?

As mentioned last week, there’s a massive amount of detail in the everyday products we use. Based on the large number of details we can appreciate, I’d like to expand the idea out to products containing details we can’t appreciate - or can’t appreciate as details in & of themselves, but when added together they produce a higher quality end product. If this phenomenon exists, we’d expect to see certain types of products with clear market winners, but no one would be able to point to why other than that this particular manufacturer is somehow intangibly “the best.” As a result some brand names would command much higher prices and in some cases be household names. The true value of these products would be entirely in details that the normal user can’t really appreciate, but the customer experience would be far better.

Let’s talk about motorcycle helmets. You can get motorcycle helmets for anywhere from $50 to $1000, but only a few brands make helmets above $400 or so (including Shoei, Arai, Schuberth, etc). There are a few safety certifications that helmets can receive, but you can get a helmet for $150 that meets either Snell or ECE 22.05 (generally recognized as: the “good” standards, it supposedly being possible to certify a paint can with DOT; roughly equivalent in terms of safety, so you don’t really have to get both). What causes someone to spend so much more on a helmet? There are different styles, but thinking of a standard full-face helmet, why would I buy a $500 Shoei over a $150 HJC? The answer here is that the Shoei is smaller. Since it’s smaller, it’s lighter and catches less wind. Since it catches less wind, it’s quieter. Since it’s lighter, it’s more comfortable to wear over a long period. In short, the experience of using the Shoei helmet is better. In order to make the helmet smaller while still meeting the same safety standards, Shoei probably would have had to design a better impact-absorbing material for the inside of the helmet. They probably also modified the material the hard shell is made of, possibly coating it with something else to cause it to absorb more impact as well. They definitely had to re-shape the helmet. All to create something that’s just slightly smaller than the competition. The combination of all of these tiny details that we don’t think about resulted in a better consumer experience overall.

Let’s talk about solid state drives. Solid state drives are the new standard for computer storage. They’re very fast at random reads and writes, making them much better for the types of workloads a computer handles in the modern day. Recently they have become far more reliable than spinning disks as well. This is in part due to overprovisioning. When an SSD is manufactured, it’s got much more storage available inside of it than it says. It will have 7-10% more storage available. It uses this to replace blocks when they go bad, leading to a longer-lived and more reliable device. In the storage world there is no better brand reputation to have than reliability. Manufacturers are aware of this and charge accordingly. Additionally, all drives contain controllers - small internal computers that manage the storage and actually perform the reads and writes. The firmware on these controllers, like any software, can be of differing quality, resulting in a faster or slower end product. This is another detail you don’t notice that results in a better overall consumer experience.

I am sure there are more categories of things that have quite a lot of thought put into them resulting in a better consumer experience, but I think I’ve supported this enough to show the phenomenon exists. Do you have examples of things you just won’t buy off-brand? Why not? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.