Special Session Summary New Perspectives on Brand Differentiation

Alex Chernev, Duke University
Ziv Carmon, Duke University
[ to cite ]:
Alex Chernev and Ziv Carmon (1996) ,"Special Session Summary New Perspectives on Brand Differentiation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 394.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Page 394



Alex Chernev, Duke University

Ziv Carmon, Duke University

Decisions regarding a brand's positioning and differentiation are becoming increasingly important and complex in today's cluttered marketplace. This session focuses on recent studies that identify some innovative differentiation strategies and investigate their underlying rationales.

In the first paper, Carpenter, Lehmann, Nakamoto, and Walchli offer a new perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of being a pioneering brand, focusing on how competing brands can successfully differentiate themselves. In the second paper, Chernev examines how similarity can be used to enhance a brand's differentiated positioning in the marketplace. In the third paper, Ariely and Wallsten (1995) investigate dominance relationships between brands and their effect on brand differentiation.

Carpenter et al. examine the role of differentiation in strategic brand positioning. Specifically, their research explores the use of differentiation to successfully attack a market pioneer (Carpenter and Nakamoto 1989). They show that certain differentiation strategies can be easily imitated by the pioneer, leaving competitors without a sustainable advantage. They suggest that an attacker can use a pioneer's positioning to create a competitive advantage for itself by exploiting the pioneer's limited ability to extend its product line.

Chernev examines the effect of attribute similarity on brand differentiation and consumer choice. Building on the reason-based analysis approach (Shafir, Simonson and Tversky 1993) and the dominance search framework (Montgomery 1989), he proposes that consumers view common features as reasons for choosing the brand that is dominant on the most important attribute. Thus, when one of the attributes has primary importance, adding common features will benefit the brand with the best value on that attribute, increasing differentiation and leading to a divergence of brands' choice shares. The data supported the notion that in certain contexts similarity can increase brand differentiation.

Ariely and Wallsten present a theory of preference construction that addresses the issue of differentiation in multiattribute product space. In a series of three studies they investigate how dominance relations between attributes affect consumer preferences and brand choice. Based on the notion that information that helps differentiate among similar items receives greater attention, they propose an original explanation of the asymmetric dominance effect (Huber, Payne and Puto 1982). In particular, they suggest that the observed shifts in the choice shares can be attributed to the dominance relationships between brand attributes.

Ziv Carmon, the discussion leader, concluded the session by integrating the individual presentations into a more general framework, highlighting the role of similarity and dominance relations between the brands on consumer preferences. He noted that while these three papers adopt different approaches, they complement each other in providing a better understanding of the role of brand differentiation in consumer choice.


Ariely, Dan and Thomas S. Wallsten (1995), "Seeking Subjective Dominance in Multidimensional Space: An Explanation of the Asymmetric Dominance Effect," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 63 (3), 223-232.

Carpenter, Gregory S. and Kent Nakamoto (1989), "Consumer Preference Formation and Pioneering Advantage," Journal of Marketing Research, 26 (August), 285-298.

Huber, Joel, John W. Payne, and Christopher Puto (1982), "Adding Asymmetrically Dominated Alternatives: Violations of Regularity and the Similarity Hypotheses," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (June), 90-98.

Montgomery, Henry (1989), "From Cognition to Action: The Search for Dominance in Decision Making," in H. Montgomery and O. Svenson (Eds.), Process and Structure in Human Decision Making, John Wiley & Sons, 23-49.

Shafir, Eldar, Itamar Simonson, and Amos Tversky (1993), "Reason-Based Choice," Cognition, 49, 11-36.