To blind or not to blind?


At Diagnostic Measurement Group, we like to shout loudly, whenever the spirit moves us, “Product performance is king!”  Then, we just roll with the awkward silence and stares that follow from non-marketers.  It’s because we believe deeply that a brand can compel consumers to trial, but ultimately, it is the product experience that determines repeat purchase and supports a sustainable business. 

Case in point:

A recent example from a sizeable mainstream brand showed the utility of having measured their product in both a branded and blind context among target consumers.  The marketing group believed that perceptions of their product had atrophied, which was confirmed in subsequent branded testing.  The first hypothesis was that the deterioration was linked to lower levels of advertising support.  But a blinded product evaluation showed that a deterioration in the taste of the product was the contributing driver.  The formulation, due to repeated cost-saving refinements, was the real problem, not the support level and steps were taken to improve it at a product development level.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we are cohesively bound in the belief that a brand, as defined by a collection of perceptions and attributes, strategically attached to a particular product or line of products, impacts consumer perceptions.  So can we agree that brand matters in the context of its abstract existence yet powerful impact?

So, with that, we have to ask the question, “When should brand matter and when do we want to focus on the dimensions of product performance, irrespective of branding?” Too often this question isn’t asked when designing research methodology meant to answer specific objectives, and the resulting data can be inconclusive at best or even misleading at worst.

When fine-tuning the experience consumers have with your product, it is critical to set-up your product research methodology intentionally in order to determine the right refinements to form and formulation that will result in a superior product experience.  We have to choose whether we expose consumers to our products, for the purposes of marketing research, in a branded or brand-blinded context (i.e., without supporting contextual communication).

Accordingly, we can boil-down the “to blind or not to blind question” via the following marketing questions and their respective research-design answer.

Q: How does my product perform in terms of physical sensory dimensions within its strategic context (i.e., category definition, brand positioning, product description, etc.)?

A: Branded testing


Q: How does my product perform in terms of physical sensory dimensions, without any additional context?

A: Blind testing


Q: What is the impact of brand on consumer’s experiences with my product?

A: Difference in the results between two independent product evaluations: branded test measures minus blinded test measures