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On Perception & Reality

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I couldn’t keep myself from chuckling when I came across this very entertaining article in Adweek. The thrust of it: bad news for major brands! Why?  Because store brands bested most of their national brand counterparts in a Consumer Reports blind taste test. On the surface it’s pretty devastating stuff. However I’ll tell you how much panic the report caused at Oscar Meyer, Campbell’s and Tropicana: little to none.

Certainly in a parallel universe where the highest quality and/or best tasting products always win out, the findings would be worth worrying about. In that universe, our perfectly rational duplicates drive Tuckers, watch movies on Betamax and eat McDonald’s Arch Deluxe Meals. Here in our own universe, however, people are irrational. Brands rule and leading brand managers know that there are far worse things for your business than losing to a private label peanut butter in a blind taste test.

Not that product quality is totally irrelevant, mind you. It’s that reasonable quality and a strong brand will beat a top-quality product with a weak brand any day of the week. Products that make it into the public’s imagination first, which have the best story to tell and can generate and sustain the most consumer excitement will always win in the end.

That’s a truth that’s well understood among savvy marketers. Which makes me wonder why it is that this article should appear, of all places, in Adweek. Articles touting the would-you-believe-it findings churned out by Consumer Reports are everyday fare in major daily newspapers and on the evening news. But Adweek?

I suppose the reason has to do with that old tried-and-truism, that it’s the simplest lessons that are the hardest to learn. Consumers rarely make rational choices. The assumption that they usually do is a big reason why Harvard and Yale MBA’s are forever focus-grouping their way to products like New Coke.

The bitter truth is that in the world of commerce, reality is not reality. Perception is reality. Marketers who truly understand that, who “get” that brand development is every bit as important as product development, are the ones who will be the best positioned to compete in the 21st Century economy.

America’s Choice, Food Lion and Publix Premium may make great products, but it’s going to take a lot more than a taste test or two if they want to catch up with Oscar Meyer, Campbell’s and Tropicana. The owners of those Cadillac names understand that, and unless they make some sort of catastrophic mistake with their brands, none of them ever will.

Comments(1)

  • Marti
    October 14, 2010, 1:26 pm  Reply

    “Perception is reality” – that’s one of my favorite truisms. Great read, Jim!

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