Whether you’re launching a new brand or updating your existing one, it’s important to get your product, personality, and messaging right. Your brand is the face of your business, but it can’t rely on the elements and aesthetics that appeal to you personally—the most important factor is that it appeals to your target audience and they connect to it. The best way to strike this fine balance? Brand research.
What is brand research?
Brand research is pretty much what it sounds like: it’s the process of conducting research relating to brands and branding. Most brands are more than just what they sell. They have an abstract collection of ideas that relate to their ‘personality’ and customer base. This could be a recognizable logo, like McDonald’s golden arches (said to be recognizable to many children even before they can speak) or the Nike ‘swoosh’. It also refers to typefaces, colors, and even the tone of voice used on their packaging, like Innocent Smoothies’ colloquial messaging.
Why is brand research important?
You might be conducting brand research as a way to keep up with current trends, cultural shifts, or unprecedented events that have had an unexpected impact on the way you run (and the way consumers interact with) your business.
Whatever your reason, the most important aspect of brand research is to gain an understanding of the perspective of two different groups: your external customers, clients and users; and also your internal employees, investors and stakeholders. Gaining this understanding will ultimately be the most useful input to shape the future of your brand.
We all feel like experts on our own brands, which is why it’s necessary to take a step back and digest the points of view of those who aren’t so close to it. There’s likely to be aspects that you love, which your customers don’t relate to and elements you’re considering dropping that your customers value highly.
Without researching the opinions of those most familiar with your brand as well as those discovering you for the first time, you could progress into a rebranding strategy that actually alienates your audience. And that’s exactly why brand research is so important.
Start by discovering how your brand is perceived right now. Then, as you steer your brand in the direction your audience wants it to go, you can start altering the elements that will best appeal to your current and prospective customers.
Types of brand research
As you probably remember from your years in education, research is a lengthy business. It’s not just about reading a few articles or reviews, but really delving into your audience and their needs, and what you, as a brand, can do to keep them interested and on-side. Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true methods of brand research that any company can adopt.
Surveys are a quick and (relatively) easy way to gather a lot of information in a short time. It’s a good starting point for your brand research, as you can ask your audience directly what they like, don’t like, and would improve about your brand and then work to implement those ideas. T
his input can also guide other areas of brand research like your brand awareness, and how you compare to competitors. Just bear in mind that you want more than a yes or no answer, but also that your customer is likely to want to finish the survey quickly—the sweet spot is about three minutes. Ask varied questions that delve into the parts of your brand you really want to know about, and be sure to share the survey with a wide range of audience members, not just your regulars. The more perspectives you can take on board, the better.
Brand awareness analysis
Brand awareness research helps companies understand how well consumers—whether or not they are direct customers— know their brand. It might sound like a process that works in favour of larger brands, but it can be used to test the efficacy of something as intangible as an advertising campaign or, if you’re a local business, how well members of the community know what you do.
You can do this in the form of a survey if you have access to networks much wider than your existing audience. Alternatively, interviews and focus groups work well to produce unbiased results. These can dig a little deeper than a survey as you can lead the conversation and ask more follow-up questions than a written survey will allow.
Audits and focus groups
Bringing together multiple interviewees with an external interviewer helps the conversation flow in a different way from your in-house surveys and interviews. Firstly, interviewees will feel more at ease to speak freely to a third-party interviewer than they might with a spokesperson for your company. And secondly, bringing a group of people together helps to spark more ideas and inspires wider conversation that one person might have alone.
On the other hand, a one-on-one customer interview is a brilliant and effective way to get to know your customers on a personal level. Not only are users of your business likely to want to share their input and feel valued, but since they already know your brand you can delve into some deeper lines of questioning with the knowledge that they will already have some understanding of what you do.
As well as analyzing your own brand, it’s useful to conduct the same kind of research on your competitors. You should know what they’re doing, and review what you think they’re doing well and what is missing—these are the kind of details you can apply to your own brand development. Use this information to analyze the best keywords to boost your digital marketing, the key products your customers are shopping around for, and even whether you’re actually doing better than the brands you thought you were up against.
You can do this by simply reviewing their websites and social platforms, or by using specific tools. For example, Sprout Social can help you analyze how your social media performance compares to that of your competitors, and Google Adwords will help you understand where you rank on search engines against your competitors using industry keywords and phrases.
After you’ve implemented the suggestions from your brand research and surveys, it’s important to check back in with your audience. One effective way of doing this is to host a smaller number of user interviews to see what they think of your improvements, whether you’ve implemented them well, and if there’s anything you’ve missed. Everyone likes to feel that their opinion matters, so this is sure to do well for your brand’s reputation with the interviewees involved, as well as helping you understand whether your changes have hit the spot.
What is brand research for?
The key outcome to aim for when conducting brand research is to gain an understanding of how external and internal sources see and understand your brand. Next, it is to make improvements that will encourage brand loyalty and brand awareness.
High levels of brand awareness will mean a person knows your brand by its logo or slogan or knows what you do without ever having used your services. It might not sound that useful to you right now, but when they do need your product or service, you’ll be one of the first brands they think of.
Brand loyalty leads to brand advocacy, where your customers ultimately help do your marketing for you. People who like your brand will recommend it to others as well as continuing to support you themselves. For some brands with limited audiences, this can help to reduce costs in other areas of advertising. It can also help secure forecasted profits, for example, Apple knows that with each new product launch fans will queue overnight to be one of the first to buy, which can often lead to sell-out product launches.
But you don’t need to be a globally recognized company to secure success from brand research. Even a small increase in brand recognition can lead to increased brand equity, no matter how niche or local your business.
How to take your research even further
Once your brand research is complete, there’s one thing to keep in mind: your customer’s opinions will keep changing. The perception of your brand and its competitors will always impact the purchasing decisions of your customers, so regularly conducting a thorough and strategic analysis of your brand landscape is key.
It will keep you on top of your game, ensure you’re always in the know about your audience’s wants and needs, and are less likely to fall behind your competitors when it comes to keeping up with trends in your industry. In a digital world, your audience will be evolving faster than ever. It’s up to you to make sure your brand can keep up.