Branding with vinegar or without?

February 5, 2009 § 1 Comment

I’ve been meaning to mention a book that I really enjoyed: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. It examines some of the quirks in our buying behaviors and some of the types of judgments we make based on perceptions and preconceptions. This is an area where a brand’s mystique or prestige can have a big influence. There is a fun case study in the book where they went to a pub and offered a taste test of two different beers, but (warning: spoiler ahead) they were really the same beer with one of the glasses having a few drops of vinegar added – when people were told about the vinegar before tasting almost all of the participants preferred the untainted beer, however when the next group of participants had their turn they tasted the beers first, gave their opinions, and only then were told about the vinegar. Amazingly most of them preferred the vinegar laced beer. The only difference in the taste experience was the knowledge of the addition and the preconceptions most people have about the taste of vinegar.

What if we take this idea and move it to a different scenario: Imagine a handbag on the shelf at some big-box retailer, and then place the handbag with a new label in a high-prestige high-fashion boutique…. For many, the two bags represent completely different experiences – experiences which are governed by perceptions, peer influence, and aspirational values, rather than objective measures such as qualities of materials or workmanship.

What I find interesting is that I think the disruptive and democratizing influence of the Internet is encouraging a higher degree of authenticity in branding. Consider in my handbag example. Suppose some less than starry-eyed consumer notes that the big-box bag and the high-fashion bag are in fact identical in every way except label. The outraged consumer decides to write a blog post and publish pictures exposing the situation – the word spreads as readers of the blog mention it to their friends and link to the article from their own blogs and emails – maybe a consumer reporter picks up the story and investigates – Suddenly the high-fashion brand’s reputation appears tarnished, perhaps the big-box retailer’s cachet is slightly improved (less likely), but no matter what a pressure is applied to the brand-conscious high-fashion company to make sure that the next bag they produce exceeds the big-box bag by some measure that is meaningful to the brand cachet of the firm, be it quality, or cost of materials, or design, or originality, etc. It is a pressure toward authenticity, specifically an authenticity to the expectation promoted by the brand itself. Authenticity to the brand promise.

I think the concept of considering a brand as not a label, but an agreement between producer and consumer, a settlement between promoted values and actual experiences, is not only empowering, but is essential to the successful practice of branding in the Internet age.

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§ One Response to Branding with vinegar or without?

  • brand4profit says:

    Creating brands worth evangelizing about is often misunderstood. The connection between the core values – the soul of the company and the soul of the customer – is why customers evangelize. They have found a temple of core value at which to worship. It’s mythic. It’s epic. The brand becomes icon because it connects to the subconscious yearnings of the customer, imprinting on the brain. The pictured emotional experience becomes a conduit through which the customer can again be touched by those core values.

    Those pictures and emotions then become language in the brain of the customer. And it’s the language of evangelism.

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