Ignoring Intrinsic Value: The Relative Evaluation Framework

Leveraging How Consumers Assess Options To Position Your Brand As A Benchmark 

Human decision-making is influenced by a myriad of factors ranging from personal preferences, and social influences, to situational dynamics and often made in comparison to available alternatives. This phenomenon is deeply rooted in the human cognitive process, as the brain tends to ignore the inherent value of any given choice, and evaluate options in relation to one another, creating a framework for relative judgment.  

The comparative nature of decision-making in the realm of consumer choices is underscored by the fact that people often rely on benchmarks or reference points when evaluating products. Whether consciously or subconsciously, individuals compare features, prices, and perceived benefits across different options. This approach not only simplifies the decision-making process but also serves as a psychological anchor, enabling individuals to derive a sense of quality and satisfaction by choosing a product that stands out in relation to its competitors.  

When working towards drawing consumers closer to your brand the understanding of their decision-making process is crucial for brand managers. Consider JD, a savvy brand manager, and how he can leverage Dan Ariely’s insight about the relative nature of consumer choices. How can he strive to craft compelling narratives that position his brand’s products favourably in comparison to others, guiding consumers toward choosing his brand? 

Create a Comparative Advantage: To showcase his brand effectively, JD needs to identify and emphasise what sets his products apart from the competition. Whether it’s superior quality, innovative features, competitive pricing, or a unique value proposition, emphasising these distinctive attributes creates a comparative advantage. For instance, if JD’s brand focuses on sustainable practices, he can highlight this aspect, positioning his products as environmentally conscious alternatives in comparison to competitors. 

Tailor Marketing Messages: Understanding that consumers decide on which brands to be loyal to by comparing those brands to each other allows JD to tailor his marketing messages to highlight his brand’s strengths in relation to competitors. For instance, if JD’s brand offers a faster or more user-friendly product, marketing campaigns can emphasise these aspects, illustrating how choosing his brand provides a superior experience compared to others in the market. 

Address Pain Points: Consumers often base decisions not only on a product’s positive attributes but also on the avoidance of potential negatives. JD can use this insight to identify common pain points associated with competitor products and address them in his marketing strategy. Whether it’s concerns about durability, customer service, or pricing, strategically positioning JD’s brand as a solution to these issues can be a powerful persuasive tool. 

Facilitate Social Proof and Testimonials: Consumers often seek reassurance from the experiences of others. JD can leverage this by incorporating social proof and testimonials into his marketing materials. Positive reviews and endorsements that emphasise the superiority of JD’s products in comparison to competitors provide consumers with real-world examples, building trust and confidence in the brand. 

For a more information, you can visit the page on Athenarium that discusses Ariely’s insights on habitual comparisons: Dan Ariely on Athenarium.  

Brands can find success by using comparative advertising that is not only subtle and humorous but also ethical in its approach. These campaigns effectively leveraged humour to entertain and engage audiences while subtly conveying a message about the superiority or unique features of their products or services compared to competitors:  

Avis vs. Hertz: Avis’s famous “We Try Harder” campaign is a classic example of an ethical and comparative approach. Acknowledging that they were the second-largest car rental company, Avis used the tagline “We’re Number Two. We Try Harder” to position themselves as a more customer-focused and diligent choice compared to Hertz. The campaign conveyed humility, honesty, and a commitment to customer service. 

Samsung vs. Apple: Samsung’s “Next Big Thing” campaign directly targeted Apple’s iPhone, poking fun at the perceived limitations of Apple devices while highlighting the features of Samsung’s smartphones. The campaign effectively tapped into the consumer’s tendency to compare products to position Samsung as an innovative and trendsetting alternative to Apple’s products. 

Burger King vs. McDonald’s: Burger King has leaned into the relative nature of consumer decision making by acknowledging that they are constantly being compared to McDonald’s so have employed various advertising campaigns to challenge their competitor. The “Whopper Detour” campaign, for example, encouraged customers to go to a McDonald’s location to unlock a special deal on the Burger King app, cleverly using humour and a competitive spirit to engage consumers and promote their own brand. 


“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely: This book, authored by Ariely himself, explores the irrational and predictable patterns that influence human decision-making. While not marketing-specific, the principles discussed in the book can be applied to understand consumer behaviour, helping marketers anticipate and leverage the biases that shape relative decision-making. 

“Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal: While not directly addressing relative decision-making, this book explores the psychology behind building products that become ingrained habits. Understanding the factors that lead to habitual consumer choices can be essential for marketers aiming to position their products favourably in a relative context. 

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell: How do we make choices without thinking? Some choices might seem to be made instantly but are actually more complex than they first appear. This book discusses people who seem to have mastered the art of making great decisions and explains how they might not be those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who are able to narrow down the vast number of variables to the ones that matter. 

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