Your brand is important. Some would go so far as to say that your brand is your business. And your brand is what consumers perceive it to be - this may not be what you are expecting.
A brand is so much more than just its products and services; it is made up of tangible elements, such as products, logos, fonts and images, as well as intangible elements such as the brand identity that you are hoping to convey, the brand promise that sits behind the identity, and the thoughts and feelings that consumers have about the brand.
Regardless of how much time you spend developing a brand strategy and planning your brand identity down to the last detail, all that matters, in the end, is consumer perceptions. If you have set out to be a luxury brand but consumers think you are a low-end brand, then you are a low-end brand. This is why you need to know what consumers think and feel about your brand. You need brand research.
What is brand research?
Brand research is the ongoing process of conducting market research with customers, prospects, lapsed customers and competitors’ customers as well as with employees, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders in order to understand and strengthen your brand.
The type of brand market research and the brand research methods you choose will depend on a number of factors. Do you have an established brand or are you launching a new brand? Do you need to know whether people are aware of your brand or is it more important to find out who consumers perceive to be your main competitors? Brand market research can be broken down into the following broad categories:
How many people know about your brand? What proportion of your target market is aware of the brand versus the general public? When people think of your product category, which brands come to mind and is yours one of them? Brand awareness research can help you to answer all of these questions.
Brand awareness research can use prompted brand recognition techniques: you give people a list of brands in the category, or show them a set of brand logos and ask which they have heard of.
Alternatively, you can conduct unprompted awareness: you ask people to name all the brands they can think of in that category. In many cases it is useful to do both - to ask first unprompted and then prompted brand recall, as it will help you to understand the degree to which your brand is cutting through compared to your competitors.
It is possible to conduct brand awareness research using quantitative methods such as online surveys, or you can assess awareness as part of wider qualitative research studies using online focus groups or asynchronous online community studies.
Brand perception research helps you understand what people think and feel about all elements of the brand, both tangible and intangible. And, more importantly, it tells you how people will feel about themselves when they buy into your brand.
Qualitative insights are key to brand perception; it is only by digging deep into the brand associations that people make and the emotions that they have around the brand that you will uncover the richness of data you need to support decision making.
Brand perception research is a key part of marketing strategy. It is important to assess brand perceptions across each target audience as there can be differences. For example, where an affluent businessperson may perceive a car brand to be luxurious and reflect their status in life, a parent can look at the same car and see it as having a focus on safety, which, if they were to buy that car, would tell people that they are taking great care of their family.
In this case, luxury and safety are both key brand attributes, but each target customer has their own perception of what the brand stands for.
Semiotics can also be a great tool for understanding brand perceptions, often used as part of online qualitative methods such as focus groups or online communities. Semiotics deals with the signs and signals that make up a brand image and the cultural environment that the brand operates within. Taking a semiotic approach to analysis can help you derive new insights from existing data.
Social listening is another good way of assessing sentiment around the brand and competing brands. How your target audience talks about you and your competitors on social media and in online reviews can be an effective way of assessing perceptions.
Linked to brand perception research, brand positioning looks at the attributes and associations that people have with your brand, relative to other brands. Brand positioning research can be part of a competitive analysis, where you look at positioning relative to other brands in the category, or it can be a more conceptual exercise where you compare with brands in other categories - this can be a rich source of data and give you unique insights into your brand's attributes and associations.
Qualitative projective techniques are great for this type of research. For example, if you are a cereal manufacturer, rather than comparing your brand to other cereals, you could ask consumers to compare it to car brands or holiday brands. The insights that you will gain from this type of exercise will help you adjust your marketing and communications so you can influence your positioning in the market.
This tells you how attached people are to your brand and whether they will continue to purchase your products and services, or whether they are likely to shop around. You can also explore whether they are brand advocates - that is, do they recommend your brand to others? Brand advocacy goes hand-in-hand with brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty can be measured using NPS - the net promoter score - which is widely used across industries and product categories to evaluate how likely people would be to recommend brands, products and services to their friends, family or business associates.
Measuring brand equity is complex. It means trying to put a monetary value on the brand, which can be done in a variety of ways. There is a practical financial aspect to brand value- you can look at the investment that the company has made in the brand - the cost of expenditure such as marketing and communications; you can also look at how much income the brand generates for the company and the market value of the brand - how much it could be sold for.
There is also a more qualitative and intangible element to valuing a brand, which is comprised of the type of consumer insights we have discussed. Brand strength can be thought of as a combination of high awareness, positive perceptions, effective position and high NPS scores and advocacy.
How to conduct brand research
As we've discussed there are multiple types of brand research, and multiple methods you can choose to accomplish your brand research objectives. If you follow these 5 steps, you will be able to choose between methods and conduct powerful brand research which will enable you to make great decisions about your brand.
- Talk to your employees first. They will have a lot of insight into what the brand means to them - this will differ from the customer perspective but it will provide early insight into perceptions
- For inspiration, look to others in your industry that have branding that you admire - and look outside your industry too.
- Start by auditing what you already know about the brand, whether that comes from specific product research, from customer data or from research conducted on branding that is still relevant.
- Look for the gaps in your knowledge and create a research plan to fill the gaps.
- Look for suppliers who can go beyond the basics of measuring awareness and quantitative insights, and who offer qualitative insights that get to a deeper level of understanding.
If you would like to know more about brand research and how we can help you to improve brand perceptions and make great branding decisions, head over to our Expertise pages and discover more about how we work with our clients to make the changes and improvements, which will have the most impact on the strength of their brand.
We conduct branding research for companies in a range of sectors from fast-moving consumer goods to brands operating in the B2B space to learn more about the customers we work with, check out Our Work.