Tight budgets. Tighter timelines. Shifting targets. There’s no room for inefficiencies in the modern marketing scene. Which is why you can’t afford to skip research when it comes to developing your branding strategy. Brand research can give you the insight you need to understand your audiences, what they need, how they perceive your brand, and how they believe your product or service can help them reach their goals. It can also shape your understanding of the marketplace and how you stack up against your competitors.
Essentially, brand research gives you all the information you need to come out of the gate with more effective branding—effective and profitable. A study conducted by Hinge found firms that invest in brand research are nearly twice as profitable as those that don’t, and they grow 30 percent faster.
Maybe you need market insights as you look to launch a new product or enter a new territory. Or perhaps sales have been soft and you need help understanding why. Whatever big questions you’re asking, brand research can help you get the answers, so let’s take a look at how to do it.
One of the most inexpensive forms of research, secondary research, can be done from the comfort of your desk. It relies on existing information to give context and background on your marketplace, competitors, and audiences. And what you uncover can help you develop goals for any qualitative or quantitative research you conduct down the road.
Immersing yourself in your organization’s brand guidelines, business plan, marketing strategies from years past, testimonials, marketing materials, etc., will provide a great deal of insight right off the bat. It will help you gain understanding around your industry, current performance, and even help identify gaps in knowledge you can fill in with other types of research.
Most industry organizations share market knowledge through regular reports, presentations, webinars, and more. You can also access reports from companies like IBIS World and PEW Research. Costs for these existing studies vary, but they can offer much deeper insights than you’re able to gain from the smattering of data points available on industry blogs. The one drawback of this type of research is the findings, though industry-specific, may only be tangentially relevant to your business.
The way your competitors talk about their products and services can help you understand your position in the marketplace. Take a look at their websites, marketing materials, and sales language. You can also use competitor spy tools like AdBeat, RivalIQ, and SEMRush to determine what they’re saying, where they’re saying it, and the keywords and audiences they’re targeting.
Quantitative research requires a little more time than secondary research, but the findings will be more relevant to your organization. You can also reach a larger sample size than you can with longer-form qualitative research, which means you’ll be able to collect significant data you can use to clearly inform your strategies.
Surveys can be conducted in a variety of ways: online, in person, or via phone, but overall the approach is essentially the same. Participants answer a set of predetermined questions, the majority of which are closed (i.e., yes/no, multiple choice, scaled). Make sure to include an incentive to maximize response rates. This can be something as small as a $5 coffee gift card, but should be factored in when planning the research budget.
Many social tools allow you to create simple surveys to glean clear answers to specific questions.
Once surveys are complete, the answers are then compiled to create a picture of how your customers behave, how they view your product, and more. Because responses are limited and the data is wide-reaching, you’ll want to make sure you have a clear understanding of the larger questions you want answered. Without these goals in mind, the data can quickly become unwieldy.
Qualitative research often provides the most actionable and relevant findings. Where quantitative research offers shallow insights from a large swath of your audience, qualitative research goes deep. It allows you to explore, at length, what your industry-specific are thinking, where your industry stands, and where internal stakeholders see your products/services fitting in the marketplace.
Interview participants might include internal stakeholders, current customers, former customers, and prospects. This allows you to understand your audience’s mindset at every phase of the buyer journey. Conducted in-person or over the phone, these interviews typically last 30 to 90 minutes. The interviewer uses a discussion guide to shape the conversation but may choose to ask follow-up questions to probe deeper. Consider using a third-party interviewer to encourage open, honest answers.
A focus group can be more efficient and lead to a broader discussion than one-on-one interviews, but it can also be trickier to pull insights from everyone in the room. A skilled moderator should lead the discussion to ensure everyone participates. In-person focus groups tend to encourage the most discussion, but they can be conducted through a web/teleconference service to reduce costs or include participants from different geographical areas.
Less formal than focus groups or interviews, social listening allows you to tap into conversations about your brand that are already happening. This methodology can actually deliver a combination of qualitative and quantitative findings. Many social tools allow you to create simple surveys to glean clear answers to specific questions. You can also use social listening tools like Sprout or Hootsuite to dig into key topic areas and uncover answers to questions you didn’t know you should be asking.
Even between research projects, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your brand. A brand tracker can provide ongoing insight into the health of your brand and how it changes over time. There are a variety of tools available to help you to measure everything from relevancy to recall. Brand Tracker from Hanover Research, Net Promoter, Board Reader, and Google Analytics are some of the most popular of these powerful tools. Regardless of how you choose to conduct your research, the most important thing is to start somewhere. That same Hinge study we referenced earlier found that even occasional research can boost your growth exponentially, so carve out some time, budget, and manpower to include some research initiatives as part of your branding efforts.