What is Market Research and Why Should Brands Care?

Market research sounds pretty straightforward and at times, it is.  However, conducting and utilizing market research often requires a nuanced approach by organizations looking to fine tune or overhaul their brand.  But marketing executives can take heart: market research can serve as a powerful tool to help organizations devise a sound brand strategy. To accomplish this, it’s important to understand the different types of market research, their relevance to branding, and the optimal use of qualitative research.  Fortunately, as market researchers ourselves, we can help break down a frequently asked question: What is market research and why is it important for my brand?

Four Types of Brand-Related Market Research

While it embodies various flavors and use cases, market research related to branding and corporate identity generally focuses on four main areas:

Brand Health

By assessing such variables as brand awareness, brand consideration, and brand purchase, brand health research can provide a baseline measurement of how your brand is doing.

Brand Attributes

Measuring an organization’s service/product or personality attributes vis-à-vis the competition can help identify what traits can be – or already are – owned in the marketplace.

Brand Message Testing

Market research can help eliminate guesswork and reveal the most effective messaging among brainstormed approaches.

Brand Name Testing

Like message testing, market research enables companies select the best name among different options, depending on which name meets your objectives.

Why Market Research is Important for Your Brand

Understanding the main types of brand-focused market research is all well and good.  But how exactly can it propel a company’s brand strategy to the next level?

If you can’t describe your target audience with confidence, market research is a must.  If you don’t definitely know why customers choose your brand, it’s a must. If you can’t draw a perceptual brand map of your brand and your competition, again – it’s a must. You need to know what attributes and personality traits your organization’s brand shares with the competition and more importantly, what distinguishes your brand from the rest.

In addition, market research enables companies to see target audiences through an unbiased lens and thereby overcome blind spots and unexamined assumptions that are holding them back.  By examining findings through cultural or attitudinal segments different than our own, organizations can course correct and better position themselves for success.

In particular, many companies ignore the point of view of potential customers (as opposed to existing customers) because it requires them to purchase an outside research panel.  However, when potential customers are ignored, there’s a disconnect that makes it difficult to launch a robust growth strategy.

Interestingly, market research also brings in rational evidence to resolve internal disagreements and make a case for a particular brand approach.  Branding change in many cases requires culture change, which only really happens when internal audiences are inspired to adopt new values and behave differently. In these cases, market research isn’t solely about attracting or connecting better with customers – it serves as a critical driver for internal culture change.

Market Research Methodologies and Processes: Take a Walk on the Qualitative Side

There are a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies and processes available to inform an organization’s brand identity.  Many companies typically undertake qualitative research first, since it can provide deep insights, explore multiple points of view, and inform the questions asked in broader-reaching quantitative studies.  Unfortunately, the techniques and objectives of qualitative research are sometimes misunderstood, undermining the effort before it even gets started. Whether they’re using focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or some other technique, market researchers would do well to consider the following insights:

Listen In

It’s a good idea for key stakeholders to listen in on interviews, especially at the beginning of the process.  Why? Because they’ll need to educate and course correct the moderator, who has an outsider’s view on the topic being researched and must know when to probe a topic further or quickly bypass already established perceptions.

Keep an Open Mind

Market researchers are sometimes defensive or dismissive when interview subjects misrepresent or misinterpret company information.  But rather than take issue with inaccuracies, researchers should pay careful attention to such input, which may reveal important findings about their company or offerings.

Explore Possibilities

It’s tempting to draw conclusions based on qualitative research.  However, qualitative research is intended to identify and explore variations – the why’s and how’s of any question.  And because it’s essentially anecdotal, with small samples, researchers should avoid using percentages or ratios to describe findings (e.g. 40% of respondents felt x, y, z.)  Look to quantitative, survey-based research to answer “how many” people feel a certain way.

Guide Your Market Research Firm

To create the most value, marketing researchers working with an outside agency need to firmly grasp – and actively guide – qualitative research, whereas the onus falls squarely on the agency to drive results on the quantitative side.

For companies looking to undertake a brand identity program, market research enables them to bake the customer voice straight into their branding strategy.  Understanding the different types of market research and how they can inform branding is a pivotal first step. Devising a sound qualitative research plan can likewise provide a sound foundation for strategic brand development.  If done right, with the knowledge and sophistication it deserves, market research can give organizations a real leg up against the competition. And who can argue with that?

Interested to learn more about how market research can support your brand? Contact us today.