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Commodities

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Commodities

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I have realised that I talk a lot about commodities, and particularly about the concept of commodity IT. But I’m starting to wonder if that is quite the right term, or if it underplays the connection that people have with the technology that they use.

A pure commodity is something that is generally under processed and distinctly interchangeable. Wheat, crude oil, water…

But as consumers, we are often confronted with either branded commodities (petrol, sugar…) or branded goods (a car, a smartphone). There is a big difference in those things from pure commodities, and an immense amount of money and energy goes into making consumers create emotional connection to those products.

If you think about your favourite brand of branded commodity, why do you buy that one over others? Why do you buy Kelloggs over own-brand? Why do you buy Shell over BP? Now in some cases there might be a complicated logical back story about technical supremacy (is there really any difference in the stuff that comes out of petrol pumps?) – but ultimately the reasons why we do are because we are creatures of habit.

When it comes to branded goods, there well might be some tangible product differentiation between them. That further reinforces brand loyalty – why some choose or desire Audi, say, over Seat, even though both cars are manufactured by the same company. Yes, the commodity element gets you from A to B, but it’s the brand that makes you happy (or at least that’s the belief so much of our commercial world has been built up to support).

When you look at something like a smartphone, again undoubtedly a mass-produced commoditized product, there is even further “functional” differentiation. The difference between iOS or Android, or even different flavours of Android from manufacturers trying to make their product stand out from others.

All of this reminds me a little of buying new shoes. I bought a lovely pair of boots just before Christmas, but the first few times I wore them they killed my feet. Blood everywhere. It was horrific.

And so I went back to my comfortable, but tatty and wearing through on the soles pair of shoes. That was easier. That was less painful.

There is very little in the technology world that is a pure, pure commodity. We have brand loyalty. Technologists have brand loyalty. And then there are bits of function that we love, or have learned to love, that make the prospect of something new (even if it does achieve exactly the same end) daunting and painful like a new pair of tight-fitting shoes.

Network people choose Cisco over Juniper. Mac fans choose Apple over Windows. Most businesses have chosen Office over Google and so most office workers are familiar with the Redmond products.

None of these brand loyalties are insurmountable. But it brings home the necessity for managing any such change in a way that acknowledges the strong emotional ties that many have built up with heavily-invested brands. Technology is rarely a pure commodity, even if the logical minds of technologist (sometimes the most brand-partisan people you could wish to meet) might think otherwise.

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