Senior executives engage in market research when they are seeking
to quantify demand for their current products and potential demand for their
new products. These same executives should engage in brand research
when they want to learn how their best customers perceive them, why those
customers choose them over competing brands, and how to express their brand
universally and crisply across all print and electronic media.
If market research is about benchmarking demand in the marketplace, then
brand research is about creating differentiation in the mind of the customer.
If market research is about identifying new products and services, then brand
research is about why customers choose to purchase those new products. Finally,
if market research is about determining price elasticity, then brand research
is about commanding a premium price.
There are many firms offering market research. This research is typically quantitative, employing telephone, email and mail surveys. Sometimes
this research is bundled with advertising services. Sometimes it is conducted
by an online marketing agency leveraging the traffic coming to your website.
Most often, market research is provided by companies that specialize in quantitative
research have expertise in specific industries.
Firms offering brand research specialize in building, strengthening and
extending brands. They are subject matter experts. Brand research is qualitative,
employing one-on-one interviews with your most desirable customers and, when
and where appropriate, utilizing focus groups.
Brand and market research are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes, by simultaneously
employing both brand and market research, you can develop a multi-dimensional
perspective of your business and your customers.
When to Conduct Brand Research
There are five discrete moments in the life of a company when the new knowledge
obtained from brand research provides competitive advantage.
New Company. New Brand.
When companies are launched, brand research is conducted to first define the
competitive set as it exists in the minds of the target customer and then
to understand how to position the new brand in that set.
Existing Company. Brand Elasticity.
When companies want to offer a new product or service, they need to determine
whether the customer will allow the brand to travel from the existing products
to the new products. For example, when the Caterpillar Corporation wanted
to move from heavy road grading equipment to footwear, brand research informed
Merging Companies. Brand Architecture.
When two companies merge, they develop a business strategy. Similarly, when
two brands merge, they need to develop a brand architecture that defines how
the two brands will retain their current customers and attract new customers.
Managing Companies. Managing Brands.
As companies mature, they seek business consultants to provide expertise in
areas ranging from pricing strategies, to developing supply chains, to defining
organizational structures. When companies seek to maintain the health and
welfare of their brands, they should engage brand strategists to: develop
brand-marketing plans that identify and measure customer choice; create new
tag lines and logos; inform the development of Standard Guides that ensure
universal expression of the brand; conduct 'brand coaching' with both executives
(so that they become the stewards of their brand) and customer-facing employees
(so that they become managers of their brand).
Revitalizing Companies. Rejuvenating Brands.
As markets change and customer needs evolve, companies often lose their most
profitable customers to new competitors. As their offerings become commodities,
their brands become diluted. In essence, both their business and their brands
have lost their meaning and relevance to their target customers. Brand strategists
can identify the remaining equity in the diminished brand. Next, they can
define the new brand promise. Finally, they can reposition the brand to its
What You Should Learn by Conducting Brand Research
If any research is to have value, it must provide new knowledge and be actionable.
So it is with brand research. Below are five critical success questions that
brand research informs.
- Why do customers choose you over competing brands?
Knowing this enables you to focus on the skills that help you make and keep
your promise to the customer.
- Are you competing in the right category?
To be clear, an example of a category is laptop computers. A brand in that
category is Dell. Knowing in which category you compete in the mind of your
most profitable customer enables you to strengthen your position in that
category. You can strengthen that position by better delivering the benefits
your customer receives when they choose you.
- What specific new products and services can you offer?
Old Coke will not travel to new coke. Yet Virgin can travel from the entertainment
industry to the travel industry to the soft drink industry. Brand research
will identify the current state of your brand in the minds of your customers
and what specific steps are required to move your brand to the desired future
- What are the sources of trust employed by a customer when choosing
a company like yours?
When making a buying decision, customers seek out trusted sources, such
as colleagues, experts, the Internet or advertising. Brand research can
identify those sources and the ways in which your customer prefers to interact
with these sources.
- What are the key messages that resonate with your most profitable
customers? Brand research will provide the specific messages that influence
customers. These messages should create differentiation and describe the
benefits of ownership.
Harnessing New Knowledge
Three hundred years ago, Descartes stated, "Knowledge is power." In today's
rapidly shifting business and brand landscape, where entire industries can
evolve overnight, it is appropriate to paraphrase Descartes and say, "Knowledge of the customer is power."
Brand research can enable your company to discover that new knowledge and
learn how to harness that power.