Consider this: In taste tests, consumers can rarely tell the difference between different brands of chilled cola (some claim we can’t even tell the difference between a cola and Sprite). Below a certain temperature, all we taste is the cold, the sugar, and the sensation of the bubbles on our tongue. The rest of the experience is in the brand. And the brand resides in the mind, not on the tongue.
In an article published in Neuron a few years ago, and reported in plain language here in the NYT, researchers described the results of a study in which they scanned the brains of 67 consumers whose mental “reward system” lit up when they were given either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. They were evenly split as to which cola they preferred. But when told which brand they were drinking, an entirely different part of the brain lit up. When they were aware of which brand they were drinking, three out four consumers preferred Coca-Cola. Once again, the brand resides in the mind, not on the tongue.
In fact, brewers (and many other marketers) have intuitively known this forever. Have you ever noticed when you sit down and order a beer at a café or bar that the beer glass is often smaller than the contents of the beer bottle (it holds less than the standard 330ml or 25cl)? Brewers that supply the glasses to the retail outlets want the bottle to be left on the table while the beer is consumed. If the bottle is not exhausted, the server will not take it away. That way, the consumer is experiencing the brand, not just drinking beer. This is also the reason for the brand logo on the beer glasses used for draft beer, and in fact it is the reason that brewers supply retail outlets with the branded glasses.
So one way to think about this is that the consumer experiences the world by mentally interpreting market stimuli (product experiences, advertisements, prices, and so on). Marketing positions itself in the mind of the consumer, pre-emptively, awaiting the product experience. And when the consumer experiences the real world (the logo is seen, the product is consumed,..) the stored brand associations spring into action, giving whole new meaning to the experience. A Heineken is what it is because of all we know about it -- otherwise its just a beer, like any other beer.