April 5, 2022

Why Misattribution is Your Brand’s Enemy


No one has a better understanding of your product than you. You can recite music rotations and clock structure and positioning statements better than anyone else.

Most of your listeners, however, cannot.

It sounds outrageous—inconceivable, even—that there are listeners that still think your station, which hasn’t been called “Lite” for a decade, still plays soft and relaxing music. But they do.

It simply can’t be possible that listeners think the superstar afternoon talent who crossed the street years ago to your station is still on the other station. Right?


Your station swapped its frequency to take advantage of a stronger signal, and surely your listeners will figure it out because they love the brand so much, yes?


The clear and present danger of Inside Thinking is believing your listeners are paying close attention. Outside Thinkers—those that can step into their audience’s shoes to understand their behavior—recognize that misattribution is a very real thing, even for otherwise strong, established brands.

Perception is, in fact, reality. So, when a substantial portion of the audience believes your Adult Contemporary station is still playing soft relaxing music when it has morphed into a contemporary Hot AC, misattribution will stunt the station’s growth. The product, no matter how appealing, will be out of sync with perceptions until the perception can be changed.

If listeners think your superstar talent is still on the competition, your brand’s growth will be stunted because of misattribution. If your station was on one signal for a long time, you can be sure they will misattribute the brand to that signal for a long time.

Uncovering misattribution is one of the most valuable facets of conducting perceptual research. While it is challenging for brand managers to recognize it themselves due to how close they are to the product, perceptual research can identify areas of misattribution that may be holding it back. You may find, for example, that P1s—your most loyal consumers—recognize and understand your strategic changes, while the general market has a completely different perception. Changing that perception may dramatically change the perceived appeal of your product with potential listeners. Pinpointing these issues allows for the development of a strategic plan, through various means of marketing, to ensure the most valuable messages are being communicated, with a clear goal of reducing instances of misattribution and bringing your brand’s perceptions in alignment with its content execution.

One thought on “Why Misattribution is Your Brand’s Enemy”

  1. Jessica Ettinger

    “I’d like a diet Coke, please.”
    “Is diet Pepsi OK?”

    Even when people SEE the word Pepsi on a menu, they order a Coke. No one’s paying attention. (And most consumers just don’t bother to say the extra syllable in Pepsi.)

    You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Or to own a position in the human mind. (Thank you, Reis & Trout.)

    Had Pepsi marketed diet Pepsi as “DP” for the past 30 years, who knows, maybe it would be cooler. At least it would be quicker to say.

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