Which Comes First, Product Knowledge Or Brand Knowledge?

ABSTRACT - This study examined the order of consumer’s knowledge formulation. The contents of knowledge can be categorized into product category knowledge and brand knowledge. Generally, the product category knowledge is thought to be formulated first, and then brand knowledge is formulated(Howard 1977). But this order of knowledge formulation has not been extensively explored yet.


Saeran Doh (2002) ,"Which Comes First, Product Knowledge Or Brand Knowledge?", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 231-233.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 231-233


Saeran Doh, S&R Global Consulting, Korea


This study examined the order of consumer’s knowledge formulation. The contents of knowledge can be categorized into product category knowledge and brand knowledge. Generally, the product category knowledge is thought to be formulated first, and then brand knowledge is formulated(Howard 1977). But this order of knowledge formulation has not been extensively explored yet.

It is probable that a consumer acquires concrete knowledge of a brand first, and then gradually formulates product category knowledge by adding knowledge of other brands. The order of consumer knowledge formulation is very important in that it determines the effectiveness of the marketers information provision order.

Based on the method of qualitative analysis, this paper investigates the order of consumer’s knowledge formulation. Which knowledge does a consumer formulate first, product category knowledge or brand knowledge?


Generally, the product category knowledge is thought to be formulated first, and then brand knowledge is formulated(Howard 1977). But this order of knowledge formulation has not been extensively explored yet. When marketers provide product information to their consumers they need to know which knowledge is needed most by the consumers. The formation of product category is an essential part of consumer behavior. Once a consumer places a new brand in its product category in his/her mind, he/she knows a lot about the brand because he/she assumes it is like other brands in that category (Howard 1989) .

Howard(1989) also stated consumers are always learning about and responding to a product category from the time when the brand is first introduced. The product life cycle is very useful as an organizing device to show the process by which both buyers and sellers exhibit their behavior in the market. The product life cycle suggests that a different strategy should be followed for a brand in a product category at each of the three stages .

The product life cycle (PLC) has 3 stages(Howard 1989) [Kotler & Armstrong (2001) developed 5 stages of PLC, product development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.] which are the Introduction, the Growth, and the Maturity stage. Problem solving patterns differ depending on the product life cycle. In the Introduction stage, most consumers are in the Extensive Problem Solving stage(EPS). The consumer meets not yet well-known product category which consists of unknown brands. In the Growth stage, in which most consumers are likely to be in the Limited Problem Solving stage(LPS), the consumer meets well known product category but he/she still confronts new brands. In the Maturity stage, which corresponds to the Routinized Problem Solving stage(RPS) of consumer decision making, the consumer chooses a brand from his/her evoked set. Howard(1989)states that the market is the place in which companies and consumers interact with each other. The above 3 patterns of problem solving tend to move from EPS to LPS, then to RPS, and this simplifying process is called the psychology of simplification. To simplify the problem solving patterns, attitude formulation is a prerequisite. As the relative preference for each brand is formulated, it leads to brand loyalty to a special brand in the evoked set.


A consumer’s perception of the product category changes over time. When the consumer buys some brand, he/she usually thinks in the general perspective of the product category, and then he/she expects general benefits of that category. The consumer evaluates each brand which constitutes the product category and then chooses the best brand which is thought to satisfy his/her needs most.

So my hypothesis is that

product category knowledge is formulated first, then brand knowledge is formulated later.


In November 2000 and in Spring 2001, at a national university in central Japan, about 70 marketing course students were given an assignment to write about their recent purchase process in detail. The instructor of this class gave the copy of Barbara Hayes-Roth’s decision making process episode(Hayes-Roth 1982) to his students for reference. The students were also instructed to write as precisely as possible about their decision making process. I read their reports and I picked out twenty reports written about the purchase of personal computers to see if the difference between the product category knowledge and brand knowledge was apparent. I tried to find out which knowledge was formulated first, brand knowledge or product category knowledge according to the Table 1’s indices(Doh 2001). And then, I asked one independent judge to judge so as to establish the reliability of this study.

I underlined each knowledge phrase of each subject’s report, and I asked the judge to do the judging task of whether the phrase is related to product category or brand knowledge. And then, as I read the judge’s results, I divided each of the written records into two parts, the first half and the second half of their purchase decision making. This was done by further breaking each half of the episode into smaller phases so that each phase describes only a single information processing task, and then judging whether the task was related to product category knowledge or brand knowledge. If the first or second half of the episodes consist of more than 50% of tasks which are related to product category knowledge then it is judged that the subject participated in product category knowledge formulation during his/her first or second half of the purchase process.


Since the method I used was a qualitative one and the sample size was twenty subjects, I conducted the sign test to see to what extent the result is generalizable. The result of the sign test is shown below.

1. The Result of the Sign Test

The sign test is to indicate if two conditions are different or not in the paired comparison. I marked signs(+,-,0) to a subject data as follows. If a subject’s process is judged as product category knowledge(P) was formulated during the first half of the process and if brand knowledge(B) is formulated in the bottom half of the process, then(+) sign is given to the subject. If brand knowledge was formulated first and then moved to product category knowledge later, then it is given (B)sign. If it is not judged which knowledge was formulated first or if it is tie then I gave the sign 0. As the table 2 shows, among 20 students there were 5(+)signs, 13(B)signs and 2 ties. Therefore, the result of the sign test for the judge’s data was significant at 10% (n=18, two tails test) by c2 test and it indicates that brand knowledge was formulated first.





2. The Episode Samples

I described the way two subjects purchased their computers as examples.

(1) Episode of Subject A

I read the computer magazine, but I could not understand well the contents of the book. I asked my brother who was familiar with computers. Also I was helped by my brother’s friend who knew very well about the computer. I began to realize that CPU is important for beginners

(2) Episode of Subject B

About three and a half years ago, I bought my first computer. I urgently needed one. I bought the brand used in my daughter’s school, Fujitsu, because I did not know about computers at all. But when I wanted my second computer last August I collected many pamphlets from Yodobashi Camera and Yamada-Denki, discounters of electronic appliances in Japan, and I examined carefully about the computers


Based on the analysis of the twenty students’ buying behavior, it can be concluded here that consumers formulate brand knowledge first, then later product category knowledge. Although the twenty subjects described here had different views and motives to purchase personal computers, their purchasing behavior showed similar information search patterns, i.e., initially the collection of brand information and then followed by the collection of product category information.

In the purchase of persona computers, consumers seem to formulate brand knowledge first and then they formulate product category knowledge. But before I generalize my finding in this study I need to increase the sample size. And in addition to personal computers, other products which are unfamiliar to most consumers should be used in the future research. As for the methodology, information monitoring might be useful in the future studies (Bettman 1979).

Although this study is just an exploratory one in investigating the time order of knowledge formulation, the problem I dealt with in this study is very important in that it helps marketers to understand what kind of knowledge consumers need before they make a purchase.


Bettman, James R. (1979), An Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Doh, Saeran (2001), "Knowledge, Cost, and Information Search," Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 4.

Hayes-Roth, Barbara (1982) ,"Opportunism in Consumer Behavior," in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol.9, ed. Andrew A. Mitchell (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Association for Consumer Research, p.132-135

Howard, John A. (1977), Consumer Behavior: Application of Theory, McGraw-Hill Series in Marketing.

Howard, John A. (1989), Consumer Behavior in Marketing Strategy, Prentice-Hall.

Kotler, Philip and Gary Armstrong (2001), Principle of Marketing, Ninth Edition, Prentice Hall.



Saeran Doh, S&amp R Global Consulting, Korea


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002

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