How you present your brand to the world, both in terms of visual identity as well as messaging, is both an art and a science. Far beyond products and services, a brand has personality, taste, voice, goals, aspirations, attitude, traits, culture and community. All these brand elements are in your control and owned by you, but how your brand is perceived is relatively out of your hands. Brand perception is owned by the customers, as your brand triggers reactions and associations based on personal experiences and cultural references.
For brands operating in familiar environments, this can be tricky but for the most part creative and strategic teams do a good job. Launching your brand into a new market is a whole different ball game with a fresh set of challenges and rules. Replicating the exact same brand strategy from one market and applying it in a new market is a tactic that may work, will likely fail and is guaranteed to deliver suboptimal results.
Brand research can make the difference between a smashing hit, and a fantastic flop.
What is brand research?
Brand research helps secure a competitive advantage as it uncovers insight-based ideas and recommendations on overall brand strategy and product positioning. Simply put, it helps developing a brand that resonates with your customers.
There are several ways to perform brand research to understand the landscape and develop a launch strategy or contribute to the continual development of brand assets. Creatives, strategists and marketers use the information found during brand research to make informed judgements and confident decisions when it comes to pricing, positioning, partnerships, markets, targeting and so on.
Ultimately, a clever brand uses brand research to engage in a continuous, two-way conversation with customers allowing them to stay in touch with what’s happening and adapt tactics when necessary.
Essential brand elements for comprehensive brand research
Distinctive brands are based on creativity, strategy and insight. For brand research to support each of these pillars, it needs to be comprehensive and cover the following brand elements.
As a basic and essential first step in brand research, you need to find out who knows about your brand already and the journey they went on getting to know you. You will be able to track the performance of your branding strategy by understanding the size of your audience as it grows over time. This is a good exercise even if you are launching into a completely new market – you may be surprised by how many people already know and love your brand, and finding them early on can be a game changer.
Brand perception & association
Images, words, texture, sound and many more things trigger reactions and evoke ideas. What those reactions and ideas are have a lot do with personal experiences and cultural associations. Over time, customers build up a collection of reactions and associations related to your brand which forms brand perception. Researching the market, competitors and local cultures can help you shape the brand perception you want to achieve, by associating your brand with the right ideas and qualities when customers encounter it.
To level up from associations, looking into the personalities of your customers can help you create a real and meaningful connection with them. Once you understand your customers better, you know what they find inspiring, appealing, entertaining, and worth sharing. Brand research uncovers the information you need to position your brand in a way that connects to the personalities of your customers.
Testing and fine tuning your value proposition increases your chances of hitting the bullseye instead of the edge of the board. Through comprehensive brand research, you will understand the problems customers face that are relevant to your brand and more importantly, you can uncover the reasons behind the issues. With that insight, you can shape your brand communications in a way that establishes deep relationships with customers.
Know what your customers need and at minimum meet, but always try to exceed, their expectations.
To complete the picture, you need to know where your brand stands in relation to your competitors. The first step is about understanding what others do, how they present their brands, and how they try to differentiate themselves. Then, you dig deeper by finding out what customers like about those brands, what they don’t like and what informs their choices to uncover the existing opportunities for you to seize.
Snapshot of brand research methods
There are many ways to gather information for all the brand elements listed above. Some will be easier to capture than others, but the more varied sources and tactics you apply the more reliable your data and findings will be.
Perhaps one of the easiest tools in your brand research toolbox is a simple survey. It can be a great source for developing an understanding of your customers views on brands and products, both for new companies as well as long-established brands. A good survey has a clear focus on what it seeks to uncover with well-formulated questions and should take no more than a couple of minutes to complete.
If you want to know what people are saying about your brand when you’re not around, then social listening tools are an effective way to do that. There are many different tools available but generally speaking they enable you to track conversations taking place across many different social media channels. With this information, you can conduct a sentiment analysis to find out what people like and dislike about your brand, or more broadly a product category or even an entire industry.
The organic nature of conversations taking place online provide more objective information as opposed to surveys. There will always be some form of bias in how the questions have been structured, and people filling out the forms may provide answers they wish were true rather than the actual truth. Instead, social listening lets you be a fly on the wall and see what’s really happening.
The traditional version of social listening, focus groups can be a great way to bring different types of customers together for qualitative input. Spark conversations with open-ended questions that help you gain a deeper understanding of customers’ opinions, perceptions and emotional reactions to your brand.
Your own employees
Customer-facing employees are in the best position to know what’s happening on the ground. While it would perhaps be anecdotal, the stories they can tell you about customer experiences can prove to be incredibly valuable in fine tuning the way your brand is presented and the brand experience you deliver.
Brand research in practice: NIVOSE Mountain Chic
NIVOSE is a prominent French brand established in 1933 which provides authentic elegance for the true skiers. As part of their new growth chapter, they wanted to introduce their Mountain Chic lifestyle concept to the Chinese market. The Mountain Chic concept was centred on a lifestyle that was new for Chinese consumers, so together we conducted brand research to find out the best way to introduce the brand and the unique experience it offers.
The first thing we did was a one-day workshop with the founders and their team. We did a series of interactive exercises so that we were able to get all the input we needed to elaborate on the brand vision, mission, value proposition, values, tone of voice and personality.
These exercises included brand associations, with questions such as “If NIVOSE was a car/drink/watch etc., what brand would it be?” or “If NIVOSE was a person entering into a room, would it be a woman or a man? What would she/he say? How would you describe her/his personality?”.
Another exercise was to create personas of the ideal NIVOSE customer. This activity was based on the customer research we did before hand, so the goal of the exercise was mainly to identify the needs of those ideal customers and how NIVOSE could approach them and satisfy those needs.
We also did a comprehensive competitor analysis prior to the workshop, so that it was easier for both us and the client to identify the value proposition and the unique selling point of NIVOSE.
Introducing the NIVOSE experience to the Chinese market
With the information gathered during these activities, we designed a retail experience for NIVOSE comprised of visuals and activities that involved the 5 senses. At the launch event, Multiple-Sense Corners invited visitors to experience Mountain Chic through sensory activities. Hearing, for example, was activated with headphones that played nature sounds to give customers the feeling they were high up in the mountains. Adding to the experience, we also installed VR glasses so that people could see the French Alps from above, as if they were on a plane.
With thorough brand research, we were able to raise brand awareness for NIVOSE in a new market, introducing their unique lifestyle concept to a new audience in a way that made sense for local customers.
While this is a great example of how brand research can help with launching your brand into a new market, it is just as useful when you are already established in a market but are looking for information on how to localise marketing activities and communications for a new campaign.
Want to perform your own brand research? Get in touch and let’s work together on maximising your brand’s potential.