It surprises me sometimes when clients (and prospective clients) balk at the idea — and the cost — of research within the brand development process. After all, who is the brand for? Whose perceptions define it? Customers, channel partners, employees, prospects — just about everyone BUT the CEO. Of course, it’s fruitless to ask customers what they want our brand to be; they just don’t know or care. It’s up to the company to create the brand. But it makes perfect sense to find out what customer perceptions are and whether they can accept our vision. In fact, it’s foolish not to. There are also important roles for other constituencies. Here are a few ideas on what and how to research within a brand development process.
- Market Research. Your brand is what separates you from other competitors within your category. Doing some market research sheds light on the category and competitors. This doesn’t have to be primary research. Buying existing third party research about the category, visiting web sites, paying attention to competitors’ social media presences — all of this may be enough to get a good idea of the landscape. Put together an analysis and share it with the brand team after brand discovery.
- Validation Research. OK, you’ve been through brand discovery and you’ve developed your brand story and other fundamentals — time to see if they make any sense to your customers, before you spend any more time considering how you’ll communicate them. This is best done with qualitative research techniques because you can’t really predict what respondents will say and you’ll want responses in their own words. We’ve used both well-moderated focus groups and one-on-ones successfully. Phone focus groups have worked very well when we need respondents across a wide geography. What you can learn about is respondents’ attitudes about the category, how you fit within the competition and — by exposing them to elements of the brand fundamentals you’ve already developed — whether they can accept the brand you’ve envisioned and whether it may be compelling. Listening closely to customers in this way has the added advantage of hearing the words they use, which can supercharge your communications. And you don’t have to stop with customers. This type of research can be valuable with channel partners and internal groups, too.
- Creative Research. Before you make decisions on your branding elements, it can be valuable to test them with customers. We’ve found this is best done quantitatively in online surveys or one-on-one interviews, depending on the complexity of the materials. The point is not to ask what respondents like best, but which best communicates what you are trying to communicate, so you make make educated choices.
See, that wasn’t so difficult. Imagine the advantage your process gains by including customers and partners. Is it worth the time and expense? Is car insurance worth the cost?