Evaluation is over-rated. Brands largely compete in terms of mental and physical availability. See Sharp 2006, Corporate Member report 39. This isn’t to say that product features, and consumer evaluation, aren’t important – just that they operate within this ‘battle for attention’.
When a person goes to buy a brand, a huge part of the choice process, yet a part they hardly notice (they don’t even think of it as part of the choice decision), is the act of not considering most options. Evaluation occurs between a very limited number of brands, the ones that are noticed or recalled – which often can be a single brand.
So while positive features/perceptions do help a brand get chosen they do so after this massive culling of brands. Over time, however feature advantages can build salience, with time they assist in gaining mental and physical availability.
This means that product feature advantages, while important, are far less so than the business press makes out. This is especially true for established brands with significant market-based assets.
Another way of putting this, is that brands that are easier to buy for more people, get bought more. Which reminds me that reasons not to buy, can therefore be much more important (to sales) than reasons to buy. Generally marketers are quite sensitive to ‘reasons not to buy’, or at least to negative publicity. Yet it is not uncommon for marketers to spend much effort trying to communicate a “reason to buy” (“value proposition”, USP, differentiating factor etc) and yet be quite blasé about features that turn some consumers away.
For example, there are still many food products that contain Trans Fats when they don’t need to. In some countries they means they have to carry a small warning (like “contains hydrogenated fat”) – you’d think this would be enough to catch their markers attention and concern.
It’s very difficult to get consumers to notice your brand, when you succeed consumers reward you with a degree of loyalty (largely due to habit and inertia), but you can ruin this if they see a reason not to buy. Smart marketers should always be on the look out for such features. This is one of the reasons that differentiation needs to be approached with caution, being different while appealing to one group in the market can sometimes turn other consumers away.