In my experience with organizations of various sizes and types, market research is most commonly used when the organization has a specific question to answer. The specific question can vary significantly, but some of the more common ones deal with the appeal of a new product idea or the interest in a new positioning or in a new creative marketing message.
While it is absolutely correct to field research to help answer these specific questions, organizations would benefit from performing market research on a more regular, ongoing basis to answer some brand questions repeatedly, over time. This would help to monitor customer perceptions and behaviors consistently — not just when a specific marketing project question arises. If organizations only complete research when they have specific initiative-based questions, they run the risks of missing shifts in customer perceptions of their brand, failing to spot new trends in how their product/service is being used, or even misdiagnosing who their customers really are.
I should note that many organizations do routinely field customer satisfaction or product/service performance surveys, and while these are very important, this isn’t the type of research to which I am referring. I am suggesting that organizations also implement a program to regularly understand how customers are thinking about the brand, based on the collection of all of their experiences with the brand over time.
The implementation of ongoing brand research does not have to be complex or expensive. Some organizations make a significant investment in brand tracking, and it becomes a major initiative. However, for most others, it can be as simple as fielding a few customer focus groups or interviews every six months or even distributing an online survey among their customer base regularly. The method of research can vary depending on the size of the organization, its customer base, and the category/industry of the organization. Most importantly this research should be done frequently (at the very least annually), consistently, the results should be reviewed and tracked over time, the organization must be willing to adapt its marketing strategies based on the results, and the questions should focus on the target customers and their brand perceptions.
With all of this in mind, for those of you interested in initiating a brand research program for your organization, I’ve developed a general list of questions for you to incorporate into your research among your target customers. Listening to how your customers respond and tracking how these responses change over time will unearth some significant opportunities for better understanding who your customers are and what motivates them, adjusting your marketing messages to your customers, and strengthening your brand in the minds of your customers.
Here is the list of 9 questions that every organization should consistently ask its customers about its brand:
- When you think of the brand (insert brand name here), what are the first words that come to mind?
- When and why did you first become a customer of the brand?
- Why do you continue to be a customer of the brand?
- Who do you consider to be competitors of the brand?
- How is the brand different from its competitors (in terms of being both better and worse)?
- How is the brand the same as its competitors?
- How can the customer experience of the brand be improved?
- Do you anticipate that you will be a customer of the brand in the future?
- If you were describing the brand to others, what would you say, and would you recommend it?
For those of you who already ask your target customers about their perceptions of your organization’s brand regularly, are their other general questions that you always ask? Let me know! I’d like to incorporate them into the list.