Tools and techniques for conducting brand research
What do you think your customers or clients value most about your brand?
You know it’s essential to base your branding decisions on solid research. Because without data, the best you can do is make an educated guess about what your customers really think. Conducting brand research on a regular basis ensures you understand your brand from your customers’ perspective.
But traditional market research can be extremely expensive. Especially if your target audiences include hard-to-reach folks like CIO’s and technical users. And conducting your own research can be time consuming if you’re not sure how to organize your strategy.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend a fortune to gather the data you need. Focusing your research efforts to uncover the perceptions of your current brand community is an economical and effective way to gather the information necessary to position your brand.
These four tools are essential to the research process we use with our clients—before we begin crafting a brand strategy or writing the first word of a brand story. Our approach to research comes from years of uncovering brand insights for our clients and using the results to build their brands. You can learn more about our approach to research and branding in the The Ad-Free Brand, by Chris Grams.
Tool #1: The brand box
The brand box is the framework we use to structure almost all of our research projects. As we design questions for our surveys and interviews, our goal is to collect the data to fill in each box.
You want to know:
- what the external community (customers, clients, users) believes about the brand today, and what they would value in the future
- what the internal community (company leaders, employees, board members, investors) believe about the brand today, and what they would value in the future
We believe the strongest brand strategies and stories are rooted with a foot in each of these areas. Though it’s tempting to focus on the excitement of a future vision, you must acknowledge where you are today in order to move forward toward a sustainable future. Imagine if you were to completely change your brand overnight. Without the context behind the change or insight into your vision, the people who love the brand most may feel left out.
The strengths of your current brand can form your brand’s pillars—the core differentiators around which the rest of your story is built. They can also be a bridge to where you want your brand to go. Ride the wave of your brand’s strengths into new markets, new categories, new verticals.
Tool #2: The brand survey
A simple survey is a powerful tool for uncovering the data you need to evolve your brand. Typically, we send a survey to both the internal and external communities, so we can compare and contrast both groups’ perceptions.
Qualitative questions are especially useful for uncovering brand perceptions. Though more time-consuming to analyze, we find that the richest data for crafting brand stories comes from these story-driven questions.
Brand Story Questions
Here are some of the most effective qualitative questions for uncovering your brand story:
- What words and phrases do you most strongly associate with [brand]?
- If you were to describe the value of [brand] to a friend or colleague, what would you say?
- What is the most memorable experience you have had with [brand]? (Where was it? Who was there? What happened? How did it end? Why was it meaningful to you?)
- What *one thing* do you value most about [brand] today?
- If you could change one thing about your experience with [brand], what would it be?
- Looking to the future, what do you think represents the biggest opportunity for [brand] to serve you better?
These questions will give you insight into the language that people associate with your brand, and the interactions they remember most. Look for consistencies and inconsistencies between the responses from your internal and external communities.
Three great questions to better understand your competitive landscape, and your differentiators against competitors, are:
- What organizations would you consider as competitors to [brand]?
- If you had to group those organizations into a category, what would you call it?
- What do you think distinguishes [brand] from other organizations in that category?
Does your community list the same competitors you had in mind? How do they think you stand out? Look for common themes as well as gaps between internal and external perceptions to inform your brand strategy.
Net Promoter Score
The most important quantitative measure of your brand’s strength is your Net Promoter Score.
This is a number you can track over time and compare to other companies within or outside of your industry. We’ll go into the value of tracking your internal and external NPS in more detail in future posts. For now, here is the standard question:
- How likely would you be to recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague? (1-10 scale)
In addition to collecting demographic information like age, gender, role, size of company, and any other important facts about your community members, there are two questions that can give you insight into your community members’ lives and personalities:
- When it comes to your work, what are your greatest aspirations?
- When it comes to your work, what keeps you up at night?
The data from these questions are useful for understanding what your external community cares about, and how your products or solutions help them.
Tool #3: Stakeholder interviews
Interviews add valuable color and context for building your brand story. We suggest conducting interviews with key internal leaders in the company to gain a clear understanding of where the company came from, why it exists, and its future vision. Some great questions to ask internal leaders are:
- In your own words, why does [brand] exist? What is [brand’s] greater purpose or broader mission?
- When you’re talking to someone who doesn’t have a deep understanding of your organization, do you have any particular ways or anecdotes you use to explain what [brand] does?
- What can [brand] do that no other company can?
- What should [brand] be in five years?
- What do you think are the most important elements of the [brand] today? What should stay the same? What should change?
Interviewing important members of your external community can also give you great insights. We often work with our clients to gather data specifically from the users within the space they are growing into, or customers they’d like to replicate in the future. Some of the questions we ask this external group are:
- Think back to before you engaged with [brand]. Could you help us understand some of the challenges you were working to solve where you thought [brand] products / services might help?
- Can you tell us more about why you chose to work with [brand]?
- Can you share a story about the value that [brand] has had for your organization?
- Is there anything you would change about [brand] if you could?
- How would you finish this statement: [brand]= _______
Tool #4: The brand research and positioning workshop
After we analyze the data we’ve collected, we host our clients in a facilitated workshop to review the results together and collaboratively push the synthesis one step further. We’ve found that this milestone is pivotal to creating alignment among diverse teams, and that looking objectively at the data together lays the foundation for the next step—creating a story that’s grounded in the present while pushing the brand into the future.
It’s great fun to distill the results down to the most important themes that fit into each box of the brand box, so you can start building your brand strategy and story from a well-informed place.
Our next post will explore specific techniques for analyzing all the fantastic data you collect during your research. Subscribe below to get the insight in your inbox.
Interested in how you can use your research to position your brand? Download our guide: The 4 Critical Building Blocks of Great Brand Positioning.