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Why Brands Make Us Feel Better

I suffered from terrible allergies for most of my life. Through trial and error my doctors and I found a combination of medications that almost completely alleviated my symptoms.

Some of my prescriptions are now available as generics. They offer the same active ingredient for much less than the original brand. My doctors encourage me to buy the generic forms of prescriptions when available, but do they work as well as the original branded medication?

A study from the University of Cincinnati sought an answer to this question. Researchers gave participants with Parkinson’s disease two different experimental treatments. Subjects were told the medications were similar, but the first medication was more expensive. While the second medication was supposedly cheaper, it should produce the same results of the first medication.

The first “expensive” medication produced a remarkable 28% improvement in patient motor skills compared to the second “cheaper” medication. In reality, both medications were only saline solution and should not have produced any results. The positive outcomes experienced by the Parkinson’s patients had to do with the placebo effect, not the supposed experimental medication.

If neither treatment in the Parkinson’s experiment were actually a medicine, why would the more expensive medication produce a better result compared to the cheaper one? Because we expect higher-priced things to perform better, even when there is no evidence to support that belief.

In the experiment, patients were not shown a logo or given a brand name. They were merely told that one medication was more expensive than the other. The belief that price is an indication of quality affected the results of the experimental medication—even though it was a placebo.

Translation: Product presentation influences the perception of the product. Yes, product pricing affects the perception of value, but so does design aesthetic, packaging and customer experience. These elements together create an expectation of value in the customer’s mind.

It is important to remember that you are not only selling a product or service; you are selling an expectation. And every customer touch point should support the perceived value of your brand.

Expectations matter.


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