Does Quantitative Research Kill Brand Differentiation?

Bruce Tait writes about how “Marketing Science” (ie supposedly rock solid quantitative research) is undermining brands by fostering me-too strategies. The article refers to a number of studies showing a decline in brand differentiation, which forces brands to compete on price and promotions.

Thanks to Tallie Fishburne at Brand Camp

Thanks to Tallie Fishburne at Brand Camp

I’ve been in frustrating meetings where quantitative research has been rolled out to kill original and strongly differentiated propositions and to prop up ideas which common sense would tell us are exactly the same thing our competitors are doing. Tait explains why in his article:

If brands are to succeed they need to be based on differentiated, unfamiliar brand strategies. Unfortunately, these are the exact same ideas that people initially dislike. That’s why quantitative testing of alternative positioning ideas will likely systematically kill the more original ideas, and people will prefer the ones that are closest to what they already know.

The real gem in Tait’s article is his insight into why the  supposedly brilliant people in those meetings ignore common sense and logic while making their decisions:

Brand building is dangerous to your career if you don’t cover yourself with research
The market place is a complex and ever-changing environment. Things can go wrong. But if you do all the right testing beforehand and if you get a good test score, who could really blame you? Everyone involved in a failure can point at the test scores and ask, ‘Who could’ve known?’

Tait ends with a call to arms, for “a crusade to free marketers and brands from the tyranny of marketing science.” Count me in.

Note: Read the full text of Tait’s article here.


  1. Ashikur Rahman said

    Great one, Rey! Two thumbs up!! Good to see your blog growing again 🙂 Keep ’em coming!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this article. Necessity is a mother, and in this case necessity compels the invention of brands that are wildly differentiated. Natural selection applies at retail. In my 20 years of marketing, I can’t recall ever seeing quantitative research lead to the launch of anything wildly differentiated. The best clients know that research is really to help sell in ideas internally and not a valid predictor of what will actually sell best on the shelves.

  3. Reynold said

    @Anthony – Completely agree with you. There is constant internal pressure for “evidence”, even in cases where there’s plenty of existing information that supports an activity. The trouble is that quantitative tests usually don’t provide that evidence, for the reasons that Tait explains!

    Two other relevant points in Tait’s article:

    Any market researcher knows that there are many subjective decisions made in designing and interpreting quantitative research. Subjectivity enters quantitative research at any number of points: in the design of the research itself, in the wording of the questionnaire, and in the presentation of the results.

    Robert Chambers, the economist, said that, ‘Quantification brings credibility. But figures and tables can deceive, and numbers construct their own realities. What can be measured and manipulated is then not only seen as real, it comes to be seen as the only or the whole reality. Count numbers and only numbers count.’

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