Call it a trade bias, but I’m always curious to know what people around me think about brands, products and ad campaigns. So when I recently found myself in the grocery store with my boyfriend and picked up a milk carton, I asked him: “So, did you notice the new packaging for Natrel? What do you think of it? What does it communicate?” “I don’t like it…” he responds, “but it doesn’t matter, anyway” he adds quickly, blocking my next set of questions, “because we never buy Natrel, we buy Lactancia”.

Now, I’m not the type to inventory our fridge every week, but I look in it often enough to be able to tell you with absolute certainty that we do NOT always buy Lactancia, and if I were to look in my fridge right now, there would be 50% chance that the carton would say “Natrel” rather than anything else.

Was he pretending just to stop me from probing? Maybe there was some of that… But the truth lies in a much more widespread phenomenon, and one we come across very often in our line of work: the impression we have of our purchases and the products we consume, does not always reflect reality.

We see this often in focus groups: participants talk with full confidence about the brand of deli meat, yogurt, bread, etc. they buy, but when they start elaborating, we realize that they’re actually talking about a competitor.

Indeed, with more and more choice available, consumers tend to confuse brands, especially in low involvement categories or among brands with similar identities. When testing products or product lines, we will often stress the importance of the fit within the category, but if you want consumers to know they’re buying YOUR brand, it’s equally important to be distinctive enough in order to be easily differentiated from your competitors.