Homogeneous Brands Cause Extreme Judgments of Products
Imagine you are at your neighborhood bicycle store, and find yourself looking at a new brand of bicycles. As you read about the brand, you see that they only make bikes. How would this perception affect your experience test-riding the bike, compared to if the brand makes a lot of other different products besides bikes. In other words, how does brand homogeneity (believing that most of a brand’s products are similar) influence people’s experience with the brand’s individual products?
(Edited by Odette Bruls)
In other words, how does brand homogeneity (believing that most of a brand’s products are similar) influence people’s experience with the brand’s individual products? We, Robert Smith, an Assistant Professor in the TiSEM Marketing Department, and Kevin Keller, a Professor at Dartmouth and one of the world’s leading experts on brands, teamed up to answer this question.
Brands are everywhere. Basically every product we buy has a brand name, and brands can be very helpful for customers as the try to figure out what products to buy. Some brands are homogeneous, where all of the products are very similar. An example of a homogeneous brand is Kettle chips, which exclusively makes flavorful, thick cut, potato chips. Heterogeneous brands are those with much more variety in their products, such as Philips, which sells everything from toothbrushes to MRI machines.
The major consequence of brand homogeneity is that it leads to stronger inferences. If all of a brand’s products seem similar, and you try a product and like it, you can be fairly sure you’ll like the brand’s other products and will have a positive, confident judgment of the brand overall. For more heterogeneous brands, those inferences are less strong and confident. Having a poor experience with a Philips toothbrush doesn't tell you too much about their TVs or MRI machines or the brand overall. We built on this research by exploring more subtle consequences of brand homogeneity.
Homogeneous Parts and Extreme Judgments
Our research shows that for a homogeneous brand, people also infer that all the parts of a product (e.g., the ingredients of an orange juice, or the features of a television) are similar in quality. This happens because people believe that whatever caused the brand’s products to be similar also caused all the parts within an individual product to be similar.
When the parts of a product seem similar in quality to a customer, there is a higher likelihood that customer will really love or hate the product. They will form more extreme judgments. Returning to the opening example of a brand that only makes bikes, let’s imagine you were looking at one of their bikes, and you decide that the bike’s brakes seem low-quality. Believing that all of the brand’s products are similar (because they’re all bikes) will make you more confident that all parts of this product are similar, so you’ll be more skeptical of the quality of the bike’s tires, suspension, and so on.
On the other hand, if you saw great brakes, you would have a strong positive opinion of the bike because you assume that its other parts are similarly good, and this assumption would color your experience as you test ride the bike. So for a homogeneous brand, your judgement is more likely to be either strongly positive or strongly negative. Opposite, if the identical bike instead came from a brand that also makes toothbrushes and MRI machines, you would be more likely to come to a more moderate judgment, based on our research findings.
The Implications of this Research
First, we should mention that we do not see incredibly large effects, and our studies involve experiences where the customer knows about the homogeneity of a brand (e.g., whether they make one type or many types of products), but does not know much about the quality.
Despite these limitations, these results do have some interesting implications for people who work in branding and product development. For example, when an automotive company has a defect such as with its brakes, they could emphasize their brand heterogeneity, and could thereby lessen the extent to which the faulty brakes carry implications for other parts of the car and the overall brand. And even a very heterogeneous brand like Philips can have some control of whether their brand seems homogeneous to customers (“all our products improve people’s health and well-being!”) or heterogeneous (“look at all this different stuff we make!”).
Most interestingly, these results also have implications for our understanding of the psychology of thinking about groups. Groups and categories are a fundamental feature of people’s thinking, and showing how perceptions about the homogeneity of a group or category affects judgments of category-members is an important contribution to this fundamental psychological area. We believe this is the first research to show how mere membership in a homogeneous group, such as a brand, affects experience-based judgments with individual group-members, such as products.