Brand research is the process of gathering feedback from your current, prospective, and past customers in order to better understand how a company’s brand is perceived by the broader market. A company’s brand primarily consists of its:
- Level of visibility and awareness, and
- Reputation and the characteristics associated with it.
A company with a strong brand will have high visibility, positive reputation, and characteristics that create market interest. Conversely, a company with a weak brand will have a low level of awareness and/or a negative reputation. Brand research can help to identify where your company’s brand stands along that spectrum.
Why Is Brand Research Important?
Brand research removes the guesswork from a company’s messaging and brand strategy. It provides marketing leaders with the data they need to make more informed decisions based on fact, rather than opinion or mere intuition.
Additionally, brand research helps companies benchmark their brand strength vs. competing organizations in the marketplace. This benchmark data can then be used to adjust a company’s brand strategy.
Set Competitor Brand Benchmarks
Competitive benchmarking evaluates your brand’s success vs. other brands in the industry. It helps companies to understand where they stand – and where their competitors stand.
When companies don’t know this information, employees are free to develop their own opinions based on what they believe to be true, whether or not it is accurate. Not having an agreed upon set of competitor benchmarks can create confusion, tension, and inability to set effective marketing priorities.
For example, if executives believe their company’s brand strength is stronger than competitors, they may have a misplaced sense of how easy it would be for their sales teams to sell their solution. These leaders may also have misconceptions about how much marketing budget is required to achieve a desired level of market awareness.
Great brand research should not only show how a brand’s awareness measures against the competition, but it should also highlight how well organizations under study compare with a broader set of peers. For example, at Cascade Insights, we conduct brand studies exclusively for companies in the B2B tech sector. This gives us the ability to show how a company stacks ups against a database of hundreds of other B2B tech brands that we’ve studied in the recent past:
Establish Internal Brand Benchmarks
In addition to competitive benchmarking, companies should also be establishing their own internal brand benchmarks. These benchmarks will help to pinpoint exactly where a company stands with their own brand awareness and perception, regardless of where their external competition stands.
Companies first need to be able to understand what their level of visibility is. How well-known are they among a particular persona or buyer type? Or in a particular geography, industry, or market segment.
Once that is established, companies also need to benchmark how well their brand is being perceived. What do buyers think about their capabilities, approach, and price?
Beyond those initial perception factors, brand research should also dig deeper to elicit a respondent’s sentiment of a brand. What are their initial feelings toward that company? In a consumer brand study, this may be relatively straightforward. For example, a consumer may feel that Patagonia elicits feelings of being environmentally-conscious, outdoorsy, or adventurous.
In a B2B brand study, however, respondents are typically more pragmatic about their decision making processes. Any strong feelings they have toward a company will likely be focused on how they perceive that company’s ability to address the core needs of the business they work in. In the hierarchy of B2B values, B2B buyers will first look to meet key needs, such as cost reduction, improved productivity, how well a product or service integrates with existing technology, etc.
After that foundation is set, buyers will then consider all that they have personally at stake as well. For example, could this brand potentially reduce any anxiety, boost their reputation amongst their colleagues, or help them to execute on a vision?
Overall, brand research helps companies to establish a baseline level of what their current brand strength is. With these internal benchmarks in place, companies can identify the areas where they can leverage their strengths and the areas where they need to boost performance.
Improve Brand Awareness and Perception
Once benchmarks are established, that information can be used to create brand messaging that reflects the findings of the research. Brand research will reveal not only benchmarking of where your company stands, but also the brand characteristics that customers care most about. Developing brand tactics that reflect that can lead to a stronger awareness and perception of your brand.
Brand Visibility and Awareness
Hearing from new contacts, “We haven’t heard of you before!” can be discouraging for any seller. Particularly if the prospect is a good match, it can be frustrating that an increase in your brand’s visibility would have led to more closed deals.
Brand research can identify the reasons behind these gaps in awareness. It will dig into how customers discover new brands and how well your brand stands out from competition.
Once you better understand why decision-makers weren’t aware of your brand, you can take steps to bridge that awareness gap and take steps to make your brand more visible to the right people.
Brand Perception and Reputation
Maybe you have a strong brand recognition, but you are struggling to convert those potential leads into customers. Or maybe your solutions are selling, but customers aren’t sticking with you for the long haul.
Either way, these issues are reflective of a brand experiencing problems with its perception and reputation. A brand study will get to the root of the issue by unearthing how customers are perceiving your brand in relation to the competition. You’ll learn whether a competitor’s product is performing better than your company’s, or if you are engaging with the market in a way that is turning customers away.
Once you better understand where exactly the problem lies, you can address it head-on. Is there a misconception about your service that can be cleared up through better messaging? Are customers experiencing a problem with your product or service that can be addressed by your product team? Or, are you simply pursuing poor sales and marketing tactics or strategies? Regardless of the issue, brand research can pinpoint specifically where you should be investing your time and resources to improve your brand’s perception and reputation.
When Do Companies Need Brand Research?
Whenever there are new trends, big changes, new offerings, or new players, it’s a good idea to gauge how the market views your brand. Here are some of the specific instances in which brand research would be an especially strategic choice.
Your Brand Has Fallen on Hard Times
Your brand could fall behind the pack for a number of reasons. First, your brand may no longer track what the market values. Second, your brand may no longer reflect how your solutions or company have evolved over time. Finally, your brand may simply have gone stale over time, in terms of appearance and core messaging.
Brand research can help you focus your rebranding efforts by giving you customer insights on exactly what in your current branding misses the mark. You might learn that your visuals are just fine, but your name feels dated – or vice-versa. Or that the tactics you are using to promote your brand aren’t hitting the right channels, the right people, or with the right force. Brand research will give you the information you need to undertake a right-sized rebranding process.
A New Competitor is in Town
If a new upstart competitor has emerged and is garnering some serious interest from the industry, chances are it can change the branding landscape in a hurry. Flush with investor cash, a new startup in your space can rapidly make everyone else look old.
Brand research can help you determine how to close the gap. It can also let you know what’s truly working for your competitor’s brand and how you can best emulate those successes or strike out on your own.
Your Company Recently was Involved in a Merger/Acquisition
When mergers and acquisitions happen, brands may need to change too. It’s important to proceed with caution though. Many customers may have loyalty to existing brands, so hasty rebranding decisions are ill advised.
For example, when Microsoft acquired Skype, and later LinkedIn, it faced a decision. Should they rename the acquired company something that incorporated elements of the Microsoft brand? Or should they leave the newly acquired brands as stand-alones? In both cases, Microsoft chose to keep each brand separate.
However, there may be other cases where the firm you’ve acquired has better name recognition than you do. In these cases, it might make sense to take on the new company’s identity and retire your own.
Finally, you can merge two brand identities. This is what the B2B marketers at Plantronics and Polycom did when they rebranded both companies Poly after the merger was completed.
You’ve Invested in New Marketing Initiatives
If you’ve recently made significant investments in your sales and marketing efforts, your brand awareness, or your offerings, brand research can help you to measure the success of those initiatives. It can tell you what worked and what didn’t.
This data can be used to inform future marketing investments. It can show you where to amplify what’s working and where pull back on what’s not.
Your Company is Exploring a New Innovation
Did your company recently develop a new product or service, and you’re unsure if it need its own brand, category, or style? It’s a challenging choice: risk losing the awareness, consideration and loyalty or the original brand or risk having buyers confused about what you now offer.
For example, Salesforce was first named when the company delivered software for sellers. Now, however, since they have branched out into marketing, customer support, and analytics, the brand name may be limiting what potential customers think the company does.
Brand research can help to determine whether a new brand name is needed, or whether the new product/service would be better served under the umbrella of an existing brand.
How Is Brand Research Conducted?
These are the ways in which market researchers conduct brand studies from start to finish, including how they recruit respondents, gather responses, and analyze the data collected.
Recruiting Respondents for Brand Research Study
Recruiting the right participants for a brand study is just as important as asking the right questions. For B2B brand studies, these are the types of people who are typically recruited and interviewed:
- Current customers
To effectively recruit those participants, some strategies include finding potential respondents through: LinkedIn, Twitter, industry events and conferences, training centers, or online forums.
To incentivize participants of a B2B study, rates often need to be a bit higher than for a consumer brand study. While it is relatively easy to find consumers willing to answer a survey for reward points, a drawing, or a small cash incentive, business professionals value their time differently. Considering the industry, senority level, organization size, and incidence rate is necessary when deciding on incentives.
Gathering Responses in a Brand Research Study
Brand research typically uses mixed methodology in research studies. Either at different stages of the project, or interspersed throughout, both qualitative and quantitative research methods are commonly used to answer research questions.
Quantitative methodologies like surveys and questionnaires are used quite frequently as a way to collect and aggregate large amounts of responses. Quantitative surveys are a great way to measure or validate certain ideas, thoughts, or questions you may have.
Brand study surveys should ask such questions as:
- Where does my brand rank compared to competitors?
- How satisfied are my customers?
- How big of a role does social media play in each buyer’s journey?
- What type of content do buyers want at each stage of the buyer’s journey?
- What content leads to discovery, advocacy, and selection?
- What are the best landing pages and campaigns we can develop to reach our target audience?
More information about quantitative methods can be read on B2B Quant: Not Your Average Survey.
Qualitative methods like focus groups and In-Depth interviews (IDIs) are also used quite frequently, often in conjunction with quantitative research. Qualitative research allows companies to dig deeper and collect more in-depth information like key themes, drivers, and motivations. With brand research, it’s critical to to not skip the qual, and to go beyond quant to get the right insights.
Some questions brand researchers may ask during a focus group or an IDI are:
- What words or phrases do participants associate with each brand?
- What are the things they value most in a brand?
- Who do they imagine a brand’s ideal customers are (in terms of company size, industry, etc?)
- What brand would they associate certain claims with, like “Most innovative” or “Best value”?
- Who do they view as the market leaders, and why?
- Who strikes them as up and coming in the space?
- How do they see their needs evolving over the next 3 years?
- What are the technology trends they feel will be most impactful to their business?
Questions like these can lead to a great deal of discovery and insight for a company. While quantitative research helps companies collect responses to more straightforward questions, qualitative research can uncover deeper context surrounding those answers.
Analyzing the Data of a Brand Research Study
Once responses from both qualitative and quantitative data have been collected, researchers must then analyze the data, draw conclusions based on that data, and present the findings.
For quantitative research like survey responses, researchers utilize a diverse toolset to analyze the data and connect the dots between different questions and segments. Reports should deliver real insights, not just charts for each question..
For qualitative research like IDIs, researchers must review transcripts and recordings of IDIs, focus groups, and more to search for commonalities or themes that have been discovered throughout. It’s helpful to have project goals and Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs) in mind while reviewing the transcripts and recordings.
Once the data is analyzed and findings become clear, researchers must then find a way to present that data in a way that is ethical and responsible. It’s also important to incorporate visuals and graphs while telling a story throughout the report. Brand research findings typically start with an executive summary then dig deeper into analysis.
Brand researchers should then show strong and compelling recommendations for a company to change their sales, marketing, or product development efforts based on the research findings. Some research firms may even go one step further by not just delivering recommendations, but actually helping to activate them.
How Can Brand Research Work For You?
Brand research can provide value to a number of different roles within an organization. Below, we’ve broken down how brand research can work for different functions.
Brand research gives marketers some quantifiable research – beside lead totals – to measure their performance. While lead totals are not 100% in a marketer’s control, there are many other factors that are.
For example, a logo, color pallette, and website messaging are all things within a marketer’s job function that may influence brand perception. These are all areas that marketers can change based on the results of a brand study.
Brand research will also reveal the level of brand awareness that a company has, which will influence a marketing team’s budget. For example, if a brand study reveals there is very little brand awareness, that would make the case to expand promotional efforts via PPC, publications on 3rd party websites, and other strategies.
Because of these reasons, brand studies are often one of the first types of market research that a marketer in a new role will commission.
Like marketing leaders, C-level executives also benefit from gaining quantifiable metrics to help them understand their company’s brand strength. As the leaders who have the final say on the budget for a marketing department, brand studies help to provide some data-backed insight to help them determine what that budget should be.
The C-suite also tends to have strong opinions on the manner in which their company’s brand is perceived in general. Although they won’t typically be involved in the day-to-day operations that surround procuring and working with a brand research team, they will have a vested interest in the results. They will typically be involved in any changes that a company makes to their brand as a result of the research, and will likely need to sign off on any brand changes that are being made.
Sales leaders rely on a steady stream of leads to be able to close deals and hit their targets. If sellers are slow to receive quality leads, or are struggling to convert those leads to customers, brand research can help explain why.
A brand study may reveal that low brand awareness is the reason why sales teams aren’t receiving quality leads. If prospective buyers have very little awareness of a certain company, sellers need to be aware of that before they engage in any outreach efforts with them.
Or a brand study may reveal that customers have a negative perception of their brand. In this case, sellers would need to take the time to debunk certain myths potential buyers might believe or emphasize certain aspects of a solution that they know their buyers will care about.
As the people responsible for making sure that a team ships a great product, product managers need to be sure that every decision they make is backed by data. Brand research can provide product managers with some direction as to what features or organizational capabilities drive a positive perception of a company’s brand and which ones don’t.
Partner and channel managers need to entice new partners to promote your solution. A strong brand can help to make that process much easier. Partners want to align themselves with solutions that sell themselves and products with a strong brand tend to do that more easily than those with a weak brand. Therefore, a brand study can help you decide if your partner channel strategy is going to be an uphill battle or a simple downhill glide.
Unique Considerations for Tech Brand Research
The tech sector poses some unique challenges when it comes to conducting brand studies. The speed in which the industry changes, the language and vernacular that tech professionals use, and the high volume of mergers and acquisitions are all distinct factors of the tech field.
Quickly Evolving and Fast-Paced Environment
Perhaps more than any other industry, the technology landscape is extremely fast-paced and quickly evolving. This means that market research that was conducted even a year or two ago may soon become irrelevant.
Not only should tech companies act quickly on the research that they have commissioned, but they should also expect to conduct research more frequently than other industries for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Complex and Nuanced Terminology
Every industry has its own set of terminology and manner in which they communicate. The tech space is particularly notorious for its use of acronyms and jargon. So when interviewing and surveying tech professionals, it’s critical that those conducting market research efforts can easily understand the language.
Additionally, the tech space as a whole is filled with complex topics. It’s crucial that the market researchers who are speaking with respondents thoroughly understand what’s being discussed so that they can ganer the most meaningful insights from subjects.
High Volume of Mergers and Acquisitions
The amount of mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector is accelerating faster than any other industry. In the first half of 2021, the tech industry accounted for nearly a quarter of all mergers and acquisitions.
Nearly any time a merger or acquisition occurs, companies will commission brand research as a way to help them decide if they should rename the acquired company, leave it as a stand-alone, take on the new company’s identity, or merge two brand identities together.
Due to the exceeding abundance of mergers and acquisitions in the current tech landscape, brand research is particularly vital to this industry even moreso than others.
Types of Brand Research
There is no single, standard way to structure brand research. Different organizations have a wide variety of convictions as to what elements should be measured during a brand research study.
When we conduct brand research projects, we typically will cover the following:
The first step in the analysis effort includes a focus on brand awareness. During this initial phase, a prospect becomes aware of a company and what they offer. In most brand studies, researchers will measure the level of awareness and visibility that a company holds in its industry.
During this second phase, a prospect will move beyond just being aware of a company, and actually start to consider them for potential needs. Many brand studies will measure not only the level of awareness that a company holds in its industry, but also how many of those potential customers are actually considering purchasing their service or product.
Brand usage refers to when a prospect converts from considering a product or service to actually using it. Brand research will typically measure the number of customers who are currently using a product or service, and how that has trended over time.
The final stage occurs when users become loyal advocates of the brand. These brand advocates promote the business through their positive experience, and use word of mouth to help the company to attract new customers. Brand research can help companies to quantify the number of users who have become advocates of a brand.
In addition to the four phases outlined above, brand research can also encompass a variety of other assessment areas. Here are just a few:
Brand research will almost always include assessing how a market segment(s) perceives a company’s brand. Brand perception comes from customer use, experience, functionality, and the company’s reputation in the industry.
Brand positioning describes how a brand is different from its competitors and where, or how, it sits in customers’ minds. Brand research can help marketers to uncover what their brand’s true differentiators are, and how to capitalize on them.
Customers that continue to repeat their business with a certain company have a strong loyalty to the brand. Brand loyalty is a powerful driver of profitability in companies; Over half of revenue in most companies comes from repeat business with existing clients. Brand research measures how loyal customers feel to the vendors they are purchasing from.
Brand penetration measures the popularity of the brand and how deeply it seems to have penetrated the market. It’s calculated by measuring the number of people who buy a certain brand at least once in a given period, divided by the size of the relevant market population.
Brand value is the monetary worth of a brand if it were to be sold. Companies use this if they plan to merge or be bought out by another business. If this other business wanted to use their name, logo and brand identity to sell products or services, brand value would be the amount they would pay for that right.
Cascade Insights & Brand Research
Cascade Insights is a market research and marketing agency that works exclusively in the B2B tech sector. We specialize in producing B2B market research and B2B marketing, including brand research. Visit our B2B brand research page to learn more on how to build your reputation with custom market research and marketing assets.