• About Tom Dougherty

    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

    Tom also regularly speaks at conferences as a keynote and break-out speaker. To find out more on inviting him to your speaking engagement and view a video of him speaking, click here.

    You can also reach him via email attomd@stealingshare.com.

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Preference. It’s amazingly flawed.

Why your preference is misguided

Preference in blindfolded tests
Blindfolds often reveal truths

A Bud Lite drinker once told me that Miller or Coors “would not cross these lips unless they were cold, blue and dead.” He had unshakable preference. I asked him why he hated the other lagers so much and he said “they taste like raccoon urine.”

I asked a large assembly of bankers once if they felt like they were much affected by brand in their preferences. About two-third raised their hands to let me know that brand had no influence on their purchase decisions. Budweiser preferenceI then asked a few of the brand deniers what brand of mayonnaise they had in the refrigerator. To a person, they all responded, “Well, Hellman’s of course.” By a show of hands, almost three-quarters of the group who said they were not influenced by brands admitted that they too had Hellman’s mayonnaise in their fridge. So much for brand having no influence on decisions.

For those of you who are thinking that Hellman’s just tastes better, I have a few facts to share with you that might just surprise you.

Remember the Bud Lite drinker I mentioned earlier. In blind taste tests with hundreds of subjects, beyond the normal distribution of randomness, no one, NO ONE could tell the difference between Bud Lite and its light beer competitors. But it gets worse.

Preference is not a reliable barometer of goodness.Preferences

If you are over the age of 71, in blind taste tests (blindfolded), you can’t tell the difference in taste between Coca-cola and…  7-Up. (Read my article on what happened to 7 Up here) That’s right. They taste the same to you. This is not because human taste buds die at age 71, the age is simply a dividing line between those that grew up on soft drinks and those that did not.

Preference in sodaAs most of you reading this are under the age of 71, I challenge you to do this. Buy either Coke or Pepsi (I don’t care which one but they must not be a diet version) and a non-diet can or bottle of 7-Up.  Have your significant other blindfold you and pour some of each into identical glasses. Then take the blind taste test. Will you be able to tell the difference? Probably. But, you will be shocked at how similar they taste. If it weren’t for a hint of lemon/lime scent from the 7-Up, you would find them identical. The reason is that the predominant flavor exciter is sugar.

I share all this with you because none of us do blind taste tests to choose the things we prefer. Have you ever made two batches of potato salad, one with Hellman’s mayo and another with the store brand? Have you ever compared the side-by-side results of two batches of laundry cleaned with your preferred laundry soap and that of a competitor? I think you get my point. If things that seem so different as Coke and 7-up can be confused, imaging how much of our lives are directed from perceived differences that have nothing to do with rational reasons.

Preference is confusing
Brand prejudice is a reasonable thing

Purchase decisions, ALL PURCHASE decisions are emotional decisions. We perceive the differences that we anticipate and we reinforce our past decisions with over stated differences and inflated preference memories.

This is not a damnation of human behavior. Brand loyalty is a needed and necessary means of simplifying our lives. We place trust in our preferences because it allows us to live in the crowded and loud world we find ourselves in today. Having to make a continual series of rational choices would be exhausting to us. Prejudice, in terms of making sense of our consumer world, is not only a good thing but it is a necessary thing.

So I leave you with one more example. Can you imagine your misfortune to be a child of a brand strategist like myself? When my kids were young, I blindfolded the lot of them and gave them a choice of Nestle’s Quick in whole milk and the same whole milk with confectioner’s sugar. Sure enough, my hapless guinea pigs could not tell the difference.

(Read an article on motivations and brand preference here)

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