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Decision-Making Under Uncertainty: Capturing Dynamic Brand Choice Processes in Turbulent Consumer Goods Markets


  • Tülin Erdem

    (University of California at Berkeley)

  • Michael P. Keane

    (University of Minnesota)


We construct two models of the behavior of consumers in an environment where there is uncertainty about brand attributes. In our models, both usage experience and advertising exposure give consumers noisy signals about brand attributes. Consumers use these signals to update their expectations of brand attributes in a Bayesian manner. The two models are (1) a dynamic model with immediate utility maximization, and (2) a dynamic “forward-looking” model in which consumers maximize the expected present value of utility over a planning horizon. Given this theoretical framework, we derive from the Bayesian learning framework how brand choice probabilities depend on past usage experience and advertising exposures. We then form likelihood functions for the models and estimate them on Nielsen scanner data for detergent. We find that the functional forms for experience and advertising effects that we derive from the Bayesian learning framework fit the data very well relative to flexible ad hoc functional forms such as exponential smoothing, and also perform better at out-of-sample prediction. Another finding is that in the context of consumer learning of product attributes, although the forward-looking model fits the data statistically better at conventional significance levels, both models produce similar parameter estimates and policy implications. Our estimates indicate that consumers are risk-averse with respect to variation in brand attributes, which discourages them from buying unfamiliar brands. Using the estimated behavioral models, we perform various scenario evaluations to find how changes in marketing strategy affect brand choice both in the short and long run. A key finding obtained from the policy experiments is that advertising intensity has only weak short run effects, but a strong cumulative effect in the long run. The substantive content of the paper is potentially of interest to academics in marketing, economics and decision sciences, as well as product managers, marketing research managers and analysts interested in studying the effectiveness of marketing mix strategies. Our paper will be of particular interest to those interested in the long run effects of advertising. Note that our estimation strategy requires us to specify explicit behavioral models of consumer choice behavior, derive the implied relationships among choice probabilities, past purchases and marketing mix variables, and then estimate the behavioral parameters of each model. Such an estimation strategy is referred to as “structural” estimation, and econometric models that are based explicitly on the consumer's maximization problem and whose parameters are parameters of the consumers' utility functions or of their constraints are referred to as “structural” models. A key benefit of the structural approach is its potential usefulness for policy evaluation. The parameters of structural models are invariant to policy, that is, they do not change due to a change in the policy. In contrast, the parameters of reduced form brand choice models are, in general, functions of marketing strategy variables (e.g., consumer response to price may depend on pricing policy). As a result, the predictions of reduced form models for the outcomes of policy experiments may be unreliable, because in making the prediction one must assume that the model parameters are unaffected by the policy change. Since the agents in our models choose among many alternative brands, their choice probabilities take the form of higher-order integrals. We employ Monte-Carlo methods to approximate these integrals and estimate our models using simulated maximum likelihood. Estimation of the dynamic forward-looking model also requires that a dynamic programming problem be solved in order to form the likelihood function. For this we use a new approximation method based on simulation and interpolation techniques. These estimation techniques may be of interest to researchers and policy makers in many fields where dynamic choice among discrete alternatives is important, such as marketing, decision sciences, labor and health economics, and industrial organization.

Suggested Citation

  • Tülin Erdem & Michael P. Keane, 1996. "Decision-Making Under Uncertainty: Capturing Dynamic Brand Choice Processes in Turbulent Consumer Goods Markets," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 15(1), pages 1-20.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:15:y:1996:i:1:p:1-20
    DOI: 10.1287/mksc.15.1.1

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