Brand and price battle for attention

It's a question as old as the cash register: What's the key purchase motivator for the consumer — brand or price?

Everyone has his or her opinion. On top of it comes new research from Media, Pa.-based ICR, the international research and consulting firm, conducted on behalf of HCN, investigating how consumers are currently shopping various home improvement categories.

Short answer: It all depends on the category.

One thousand homeowners were interviewed and asked whether brand or price was more important when shopping various categories (see chart). The nationally representative sample yielded some interesting results. From a high-level perspective, brand was the winner in many categories with some exceptions. As usual however, the devil is in the details, and in some cases the overall results clouded some of the more specific insights when results were examined in more detail.

"One of the things this research pointed out was even in still challenging economic times, the home is considered an investment and consumers want to use the best brands they can afford," said Mark Delaney, VP client service at ICR. "Marketers should pay particular attention to how that sentiment varies by category and by demographics, such as age and income."

In categories such as kitchen appliances and power tools, brand was the clear winner as shown in the chart. However, in categories such as roofing materials and carpeting, price was the clear motivator.

There was little surprise in the roofing category. (Most homeowners would be hard-pressed to name roofing brands.) But the carpeting results were curious, according to Delaney.

"We had thought carpeting would score higher for brand than it did," he said. "This is perhaps illustrating the very cost-focused advertising by flooring retailers."

Age plays a significant role, according to the results. For example, the older the consumer, the more likely he or she will buy based on brand. In the case of exterior paint, 65-plus-year-old consumers bought based on brand 69% of the time — a full 10 percentage points higher than any other age group. In the case of carpeting, 43% of those in the 65-plus-age group bought based on brand — a full 13 percentage points higher than the next highest scoring age group of 35- to 44-year-olds.

"One theory certainly is that older consumers have more experience purchasing these categories," Delaney said, adding that buying a trusted brand is an age-old strategy of saving money in the long run.

Of course, gender roles weigh heavily on purchase decisions.

In the case of power tools, men are from planet "Brand," at 71% — and 57% for females. In the case of major kitchen appliances, however, men and women march in lock step, with 61% saying they favor brand over price, according to the data.

"This makes sense, given that kitchen appliances are one of the most widely advertised of the categories we examined — at least in terms of a mainstream audience. Apparently males and females both enjoy showing off their updated appliances to friends and neighbors," Delaney said.

ICR is an international consulting firm based in Media, Pa. It specializes in sectors, including home and home remodeling, and consumer package goods.