How to Blind-Taste and Blind-Test Brands

We talk often at Casual Kitchen how branding can fool consumers into believing certain products are "better" when they may not be. Which leads us to overpay for products that don't always deserve premium prices. Today I want to follow up on last week's post on branding, and share a technique consumers can use to protect themselves from all of the subversive and manipulative effects of branding.

That method is to blind-test products.

It's critical to understand that advertising, marketing and branding can influence us in extremely subtle ways. As we saw last week, even consumers who think they're immune to branding really aren't, no matter how much they'd like to think otherwise. And so a blind test--with no labels, no ads and no evidence whatsoever of branding--is the most impartial and empowering way for consumers to compare products.

Plus, they're fun. You can do blind tastings on nearly anything: wine, beer, soda, juices, condiments, salad dressings, breakfast cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, pasta, pasta sauce--you name it. You can also do blind tests on non-food items too: laundry and dish detergent, cleaning products, bathroom and personal care items, and so on. Practically anything can be blind tested. (Just remember, of course, that not everything should be blind tasted).

Why not get your family involved? Who would say no to a blind tasting of ice creams or dark chocolates? We did a blind dark chocolate tasting at Casual Kitchen recently, and not only was it a ton of fun, it yielded an incredibly surprising outcome (I'll reveal it next week--stay tuned!). A blind tasting can be part of a fun social event: Invite several friends or neighbors over for a blind tasting of wines, beers, coffees, teas, or other beverages. You can make the cost practically negligible by organizing it as a potluck tasting, with each guest bringing over their favorite brand. Prepare to be shocked by your results.

A few words on the process of executing a blind test:

Step 1: You must fully anonymize the products, for obvious reasons. Put all beverages, foods or products into unmarked glasses or containers so nobody has any clue which brand is which.

Keep in mind that with many food products, companies stamp their brand on the product itself, or give their product a certain look and feel that makes it easy to recognize. This is also part of the process of consumer manipulation--and it's designed to influence your choices. Remember, people will "try" to like the things they think they like, so unless the products are truly anonymized, you're going to lose most of the impartiality of your test. That means in some cases you may need to break up the product into smallish pieces so no one can identify the brand. Just do the best you can to make the test as brand-free and label-free as possible.

Step 2: Give each person a notecard and a pen, and have them write a short and specific description of what they liked or didn't like about each product. Then have each guest rank each of the products from best to worst.

Step 3: Tell your participants not to share their thoughts or preferences with each other during the test. This is another form of subtle influence that can cause consumers to adjust or adapt their choices, and you want to make sure you eliminate this factor from the test for maximum fairness and accuracy.

Finally, have everyone read off their results! Take special note of the surprises that your blind test turned up. Which high-end, high-cost products scored poorly, and which less-expensive products scored better than you expected?

Readers, now it's your turn! Try your own blind test and share your unusual or unexpected results in the comments!

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Anonymous said...

What is "force rank"? thx

Daniel said...

Thanks. "Force rank" just means rank--as in put them in an order from best to worst. I'll see if I can edit Step 2 to phrase it more cleanly.