Recently we were reporting the results of a survey on brand preference. The customer’s first reaction was that the data was wrong – “I know Brand Y has nowhere near that market share,” he said.


He was right: Brand Y was a regional player with single-digit market share. Interestingly, their appeal and value proposition seem to indicate that they have significant growth opportunities.

Rarely does preference share align with market share, because of a host of market interactions.

  • Limited distribution. Brands may have distribution that is limited geographically, as with Brand Y above. They may be in some distribution channels but not others (e.g., online only).
  • Premium or discount pricing. Brand preference data is typically about unit sales, whereas market share data is often reported by overall sales. The premium provider with small unit sales might have disproportionately large market share (think Apple and laptop computers, for instance), while the economy provider with large unit sales might have disproportionately small market share.
  • Promotions. Promotions may temporarily overstate either brand preference or market share.
  • In-store context. Measures of brand preference in surveys cannot always accurately capture the true shelf-set and appeal of a product in the context of competitors when a consumer is actually shopping. Not all brands might have been listed in the questionnaire, leading to a different selection process than would happen in market.
  • Marketing execution. Brand preference data is based on “all else being equal” and a product that your target audience might love still needs successful marketing programs to position it in a competitive context. 
  • Product line. Brand preference data often focuses on one type of product, while market-share data may reflect the entire extent of a product line.
  • Brand awareness. Brand preference studies with prompted lists of brands overstate awareness for brands.

Some simple models have Share of Market equal to the product of Share of Preference, Share of Voice and Share of Distribution.

Brand preference is a powerful metric for assessing the strength of product, brand and pricing, but it is only a proxy for market share when the market interactions listed above have minimal impact.