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Why Branding Matters — A New Year’s Eve Experiment

A few weeks back, a group of us decided we would do something a little different to celebrate New Years Eve. We decided to conduct an experiment. To be precise, we decided to conduct a blind champagne taste test.

So, as the evening turned to dusk, we put the kids to bed and launched into one of the classiest New Years Eve experiments ever conducted. This is what we did.

Hypothesis

Our hypothesis was simple. The group was confident it was possible to determine the price of bubbly wine based on the appearance and taste of the wine alone. As such our hypothesis was that a bubbly wine's taste and appearance correlates to its recommended retail price (RRP).

We were also testing our ability to pick our favourite wines on taste and appearance alone. The hypothesis was that it was possible for us to pick our favourite wines by name based on how they looked and tasted.

Method

To begin, we had nine bottles of bubbly wine, seven participants, and one adjudicator, who was responsible for the administration of the experiment. The wines all had different RRPs ranging from $10 — $90.

The wines were allocated a number from one to nine and six of the nine were randomly chosen by the adjudicator. We did this to ensure reasoned deduction didn’t influence people’s scoring and to ensure we didn’t have to drink nine bottles of wine in one sitting…

The wines were served in flutes prepared by the adjudicator away from the tasting area. Participants were then asked to mark the wines taste out of 5, what they believed the wines RRP to be, and if they could, name the wine.

Each wine was presented within a 30min slot with an hour for dinner after the third glass.

Results

The results were interesting, to say the least.

The cheapest bottle opened was Nikau Point (RRP $14) and it rated the worst tasting at 2.5/5. People noticed the colour was a dark yellow and the bubbles were large.

The highest-ranking wines were the Deutz (RRP $19.99) and Nautilus (RRP $38.99), the third and fifth cheapest bottle of the group, both averaging 4.25/5.

The most expensive wine opened was the Veuve Clicquot (RRP $90), which scored 3.75/ 5. This put it in the middle of the group.

Key result: The taste and appearance scores didn’t correlate to RRP.

Secondary results: No one from the group picked their ‘favourite’ wine.

Conclusions

There was no real evidence that our group could determine the price of the wine based on taste and appearance alone. Other than the cheapest bottle opened (Nikau Point RRP $14), which received the lowest average score, the other five wines all received a range of scores that didn’t correlate to RRP.

We also demonstrated that, despite people’s assertions prior to starting, we clearly weren’t able to determine what the brand of the wine was on taste and appearance alone. I will discuss this in the next section.

As such, we disproved our hypothesis and concluded that the RRP of bubbles isn’t correlated to the taste and appearance of the wines we sampled.

Note: Our amateur pallets may not have understood what we should be appreciating in well crafted French champagne. The taste comments of the French champagnes all indicated dryness, tartness and, from my personal comments, ‘slight metallic’ tastes that were desirable to some but not others. A sommelier or more experienced wine drinker might do a better job matching taste and appearance to price.

Practically speaking, we also concluded that Deutz seems to be a good buy if you’re looking for a good tasting wine at a reasonable price.

Discussion

What this experiment potentially demonstrates is how important branding is to our perception of quality, and thus enjoyment, of bubbly wine. Remove the premium branding of Veuve Clicquot, a wine that many in the group said they ‘love’ and could ‘pick out’, and you get a wine that ranks mid-range in taste and appearance. The branding seems to bias our perception of the product’s quality and justifies why we pay so much for it. The opposite was true for the Deutz.

To further validate this point, imagine you were served Veuve Clicquot from the bottle at a party. Think how that would influence your feeling towards the wine before you’ve tasted it. Then imagine the same scenario but where you are served Obikwa (RRP $10) and think how different your feelings towards that wine would be. Finally, imagine the same scenario but with a brand you had never seen before. Think how that would influence your feeling towards the wine. Running such a mental exercise starts to intuitively give us a sense of a brands power on a products perception, even before it’s been tasted.

Unfortunately, from this experiment alone we can’t determine what the actual effect branding has on our taste. You would need to conduct a different experiment where the brand and RRP information is provided to the participants to determine this. I suspect in this experiment you would start to see a stronger correlation between taste and RRP.

In all, it’s not surprising that branding potentially plays such a vital part in the overall consumer experience of bubbly wine, nor is it surprising that RRP doesn’t guarantee the best tasting wine. If this weren’t true then you wouldn’t have companies spending such vast sums creating, managing and protecting their brands.

Final word

This experiment was great fun, and it was conducted with as much scientific vigour as you would expect from a group of thirty-somethings on New Years Eve. As such, we shouldn’t put too much reliance upon the results of this experiment alone. For these results to truly be reliable, this experiment needs to be replicated, potentially a few more times, at least. Oh dear!

About the author — Aidan Kenealy

www.aidankenealy.com

My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email aidan@hiov.co.nz

Professional startup advisor for founders of high growth startups. More details @ https://aidankenealy.com/

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