9 Questions Every Brand Should Ask Its Customers Regularly

May 18, 2010

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:

  1. When you think of the brand (insert brand name here), what are the first words that come to mind?
  2. When and why did you first become a customer of the brand?
  3. Why do you continue to be a customer of the brand?
  4. Who do you consider to be competitors of the brand?
  5. How is the brand different from its competitors (in terms of being both better and worse)?
  6. How is the brand the same as its competitors?
  7. How can the customer experience of the brand be improved?
  8. Do you anticipate that you will be a customer of the brand in the future?
  9. 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.


Common Marketing and Branding Mistakes to Avoid: #1 Communicating Features instead of Benefits

November 12, 2009

Introduction to New Series:  Common Marketing & Branding Mistakes to Avoid

One of the things that I enjoy most about being a marketing and branding consultant is helping others solve their marketing questions.  When I was working as a full-time marketer for other companies, I didn’t find many people outside of my place of employment asking me for marketing guidance.  As one would expect, now that I am a consultant, I am finding that I get asked a lot more questions and receive a lot more requests for help from a wide variety of businesses and not for profit organizations.

A lot of the questions that I answer or challenges that I help solve are ones that I think a lot of brands and businesses face.  As a result, I’ve decided to start a blog post series that addresses some of the mistakes or pitfalls that I am seeing, and I try to suggest ways that each can be avoided or corrected.  This post is the very first of the series.

Mistake #1  Communicating Features instead of Benefits

One very common, but critical problem that marketers can face is understanding the difference between a feature (also known as an attribute) and a benefit.  As a result, marketers can fall into the trap of promoting features to their target customer instead of benefits.  This is a big mistake that can ultimately impact a brand’s success. As Phil Kotler and Gary Armstrong, renowned marketing gurus, state in their book Principles of Marketing, “Consumers do not buy attributes, they buy benefits.”

So to help clear up this problem, let me distinguish the difference between a feature and a benefit.  A feature or attribute is a characteristic of a product or service.  Examples of features are:  high quality, durable, well-built, etc. Features don’t do things for the target customer or make him feel a certain way.  Features don’t fulfill a customer’s needs.

However, features can be translated into benefits that are meaningful to the target customer.  Benefits fulfill the target customer’s needs or desires.  Benefits are the reasons why a customer chooses a brand and buys a product or service. Examples of benefits are: ‘makes me look like I have good taste’ or ‘won’t break so that I won’t have to buy another soon’.  Benefits can be functional (what the product/service does for the target customer) or emotional (how the product/service makes the target customer feel).

The key to translating a product or service’s features into benefits is understanding the target customer’s needs.  By understanding these needs, a marketer can identify the relevant benefits that fulfill the needs.  The benefits are based on the product or service’s features/attributes.

So with all of that said, marketers should look at the messages that they are using to grow their brand and promote their products or services.  Are the messages communicating the benefits to the target customer?  Or are they really just communicating the features?  Benefits are much more meaningful and impactful than features, so if features are being communicated, the brand is not realizing its full potential.  Marketers can stop making this mistake by translating the features into benefits for their target customer.