One of the benefits of being a professor at Kellogg is that you get to participate in student events. Recently the Brew n Q club invited me to join them for a beer tasting. I shared some thoughts on branding in the beer industry to kick things off, then we sampled the beer. The event was an entertaining reminder of the power of brands.
The first tasting featured three mainstream brands: Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite.
Prior to the tasting, the group strongly favored Coors Light; 52% indicated that was their favorite. Bud Light was a distant second with just 26% of the vote, and Miller Lite came in third with 24%.
After the tasting, however, things changed. Few people could tell the difference between the beverages; only about 20% of the panel could correctly identify which was which. The favorite beer was Miller Lite, with top scores from 43% of the panelists.
The second round featured some additional beers, including value brands Keystone Light, Busch Light and Miller High Life Light. Curiously, after having just realized that they actually preferred Miller Lite on an unbranded basis, Coors Light remained the clear favorite in the pre-tasting poll. It captured 46% of the vote.
This second tasting was even more confusing for people. Nobody was able to correctly identify the six options, and every beer received at least 10% of the vote. Bud Light was the favorite but not by much.
The event demonstrated why branding is so important.
First, branding can provide differentiation even when products are virtually identical. The Kellogg panel strongly supported Coors Light despite the fact that most people couldn’t tell one beer from the next.
Second, branding can override product inferiority. The panel continued to state a preference for Coors Light despite the fact the product itself wasn’t better. If anything, people preferred the taste of other brands.
Third, brand preference can endure even in the face of conflicting information. The panel didn’t score Coors Light well on an unbranded basis, but supported the brand despite this evidence.
Brands are important for every business, and they are a primary success driver for many. Creating sustainable differentiation is hard. A strong brand is one way to make it happen.