Brand Research: A Primer for Marketers

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Quantitative data can tell you a lot about how your brand is performing, but it can never paint the entire picture. At some point, you’ll need to fold in qualitative data that represents how consumers feel about your brand. Those sentiments can be gleaned from indirect sources, but the best way to know what your customers think is, and always will be, to simply ask them by conducting brand research. 

Not just any questions will do, however. For your brand research to provide the kind of data you need to make smart decisions, you have to ask the right questions at the right time in the right way. It’s easy to skew your data simply by phrasing something awkwardly. Still, it’s just as easy to head that off by taking the time to thoughtfully consider your approach before you launch a single survey.

What is brand research?

Brand research is the cyclic process of asking consumers for feedback, receiving it, and responding to it. Brand research doesn’t have to be conducted on any specific schedule, though it should be done regularly enough to keep abreast of current customer sentiment. It’s particularly important to conduct brand research surrounding a significant change, such as the release of a new product or a redesign of a brand. It’s important to know that the “response” phase of brand research doesn’t necessarily mean acceding to customer opinion; the more critical aspect of that part of the cycle is for respondents to feel heard.

The 4 pillars of effective brand research

There’s so much you can learn from your customers you could conduct brand research every day for the rest of your career and still not know it all. Alas, time and resources are finite, so it’s important to achieve as much as you can as efficiently as you can. There are many different brand research tools ranging from focus groups to phone calls. Still, advances in technology (and the ongoing pandemic) mean market surveys provide the best balance between practicality and effectiveness. Here’s what you should keep in mind when crafting your brand research methodology:

1. Know what you want to know!

What exactly are you trying to learn? It’s a simple question, but one that many marketers overlook when conducting online survey research. While you’d undoubtedly like to pick a respondent’s brain all day, the truth is you have a limited amount of their attention at your disposal, so the questions you ask must be in service of your ultimate goal. Clearly defining the answer you’re seeking is the first and most crucial step in drafting an effective market survey. 

Even a question like “Why do you prefer our brand over our competitors?” is too broad in and of itself. Drill down further to more granular thoughts like price, convenience, or familiarity. Think about it this way: If you could only learn one thing from this survey, what would it be? That’s your starting point. Anything that isn’t directly connected to that is probably better used in a different piece of research.

2. Phrase that in the form of a question

Nothing will torpedo survey market research faster than poorly-phrased questions. Unconscious bias is one of the biggest problems when it comes to drafting survey questions, which is one reason why it’s crucial to have more than one set of eyes reviewing them. Even with the best of intentions, it’s embarrassingly easy to draft leading questions or present answers that force a specific response. Collaboration also helps head off confusing, awkward, or rambling language. Brand research questions should be concise and offer simple multiple choice answers. Anything that can be misinterpreted will be misinterpreted, so keep all options as straightforward as possible. Having an “other” option can make data collection more complex, but it also allows for ideas you may never have considered. It’s probably not helpful to have it included on every question, but leaving respondents room to elaborate can lead to great insights. 

3. Ask the right people

A counterintuitive truth about brand research is that more data isn’t necessarily good for your results. Yes, you want enough of a sample for statistical purposes, but you also want to pull that sample from people familiar with and interested in the topic. Asking people in a pottery class what they think about baseball will get answers, but it makes more sense to ask people at a baseball game. Targeted surveys let you do more with less; you’ll need fewer responses to achieve critical statistical mass, and you’ll get those responses faster. Keep in mind that the “target” of your targeted survey can be as large or small as is appropriate for your market research and can (and likely should!) change between surveys.

4. Make it as rewarding as possible — literally

Respect respondents’ time by keeping your survey as short as possible while still getting you the data you need. According to research, data quality declines on surveys that take longer than 20 minutes to complete, so aim for 10-15 minutes maximum. One of the best ways to minimize friction for the respondents is to meet them on mobile. Adults in the US spend nearly three hours a day on their mobile phones, and most of that time is devoted to personal use. They’re far more likely to help with your research in their off-hours as opposed to while they’re working. A person’s off-hours are valuable time, so incentivize them to take the time to answer your questions with rewarding surveys. A market research tool like MobileVoice® achieves high impact by providing boons like in-game currency or powerups in exchange for survey responses. Users get goodies; marketers get surveys completed by highly engaged users — everyone wins!

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