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Commodity, Schmodity: The Need For Differentiation

If the ubiquitous Sharpie can stand out in its market, then audio professionals and companies most certainly can in theirs.

More and more, I hear professional audio product categories referred to as “commodities”:

“Wire is a commodity.” 
“Connectors are commodities.” 
“Small mixers are commodities.” 
“(Insert component here) is a commodity!”

The point seems to be that there’s little distinction between certain types of products.

Or, perhaps more accurately, that these products are being purchased based more upon price because performance is perceived to be similar, if not the same. Is this really true? I tend to think not.

A favorite analogy of my “anti-commodity” philosophy is the ubiquitous Sharpie, or “fine-point permanent marker” as it’s called in non-brand-specific terminology. Several companies make fine-point permanent markers.

Do these other markets write as well as a Sharpie? Do they hang from a lanyard as well as a Sharpie? Do they slip out of a sweaty hand less often than a Sharpie? And do they sign T-shirts as well as a Sharpie? 

I don’t have answers since I’ve never used anything but Sharpie (and, for the record, haven’t ever signed a T-shirt). But if anything should be a commodity, one would think it would be a fine-point permanent marker.

Whether due to brand recognition or a true difference in performance (or a combination thereof), the Sharpie is the predominant choice when it comes to fine-point permanent markers.

And what of gaff tape? Surely since its something unceremoniously thrown away after one use, gaff tape must be a commodity! Well, isn’t it? Somehow I think the folks at Permacel would beg to differ.

So how is it that a fine-point permanent marker or gaff tape isn’t a commodity, yet some in our industry have come to think just the opposite of small mixers?

You’ve probably heard something like this: “Our customers don’t buy mixers based on quality anymore. They’re just looking for the cheapest one. They’ve become a commodity.” 

I repeat – is this really true?

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