Brand and Marketing Research: Getting Started

I am a firm believer in research first for almost everything in life — from planning a trip to starting a home project. Of course, nowhere is this more true than in my professional life. At KPS3 we start every project with some type of research. Research is especially important before undertaking a large marketing project, such as a rebrand, advertising campaign, or a new website.

Clients often come to us knowing they should do some research but are not sure where to start. The best place to start is with your strategic brief (a.k.a. your plan). In this blog, I dive into the components that will make up the meat of your strategic brief. These aren’t everything that your brief might have, but they are some of the most important pieces, and some of the most difficult to nail down.

Always Start with Your Goals

The place to start with any project is with your goals. Write down why you are conducting this research and what you hope to know once it is complete. It’s important to include these in your strategic brief for two reasons:

  1. It gives your entire team and your project stakeholders a chance to see the goals in writing and agree on them
  2. You can (and should) return to them throughout the project as you are making key decisions

Everything — from audiences to research methods — will be based on these goals.
For research projects, I also like to outline the project’s core questions in this portion of the strategic brief. These are not your survey or focus group questions, but rather the desired outcome of your research. These are the fundamental questions that kicked off your project in the first place — “Do our customers’ perceptions of us align with our desired brand?” “How can we increase our brand preference among X group of consumers?”

For research projects, I also like to outline the project’s core questions in this portion of the strategic brief. These are not your survey or focus group questions, but rather the desired outcome of your research. These are the fundamental questions that kicked off your project in the first place — “Do our customers’ perceptions of us align with our desired brand?” “How can we increase our brand preference among X group of consumers?”

Core questions go hand-in-hand with your goals and are helpful to come back to throughout the project. As you are drafting your research tools, you can check to make sure that those tools will help you answer your core questions.

Identifying Your Research Audiences

Once the project goals have been established, you can move on to identifying your audiences. Striking the right balance between external and internal audiences is critical. Here are some notes on what each type of audience can bring to the table.

Internal Audiences

These are audiences who are intimately connected to your organization. Most often, they are the organization’s employees but this can also include governing boards and certain types of customers (e.g., students). Internal audiences can:

  • Be helpful in identifying the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, both of which can inform rebrands and campaigns
  • Identify opportunities for better brand alignment (i.e., ways in which the organization is not aligned with its stated brand promise, values, etc.)
  • Help identify hidden gems (i.e., strengths or assets within the organization that may not be apparent to the marketing team or executive suite)
  • Provide an historical perspective on the organization’s values, brand, and offerings
  • Provide second-hand insights into how the organization is perceived among its external constituents (e.g., what they hear about the organization when they are out in the community)
  • Reveal a need for better and/or increased communication to certain pockets of the organization

External Audiences

The audiences that you are aiming to target with your new brand, campaign, website, etc. should be included in your research whenever possible. These audiences are most often, but not always, your customers — both existing and prospective. External audiences:

  • Can provide first-hand information on:
  • Their perceptions of your organization
  • What they are looking for from an organization like yours
  • What kind of messages and design they respond to
  • What channels the organization can use to reach them
  • Are in the best position to provide an honest comparison of the organization to its competitors
  • Can provide their own perceptions of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses, which may or may not align with the strengths and weaknesses identified by your internal audiences

Choosing your Research Methods

Once you have your audiences and goals nailed down, you can identify your research methods. Your research methods will vary based on your project goals, available resources, timeline, and audiences. In-person, qualitative research (e.g., focus groups) tends to be more costly than research that can be done electronically (e.g., surveys) but provides an opportunity to do a deep-dive into your research topics. Whereas large-scale, quantitative research provides you with more breadth than depth.

I won’t bore you here, but I could go on for days about selecting the right research method. And guess what? I did! Here. Check out this blog for the pros and cons of some of the most popular brand and marketing research methods.

Communicating with Project Stakeholders

Regardless of whether or not you include them in your research, there will be stakeholders that you want to keep apprised of your project along the way, including during your research phase. Keeping your stakeholders up-to-date is especially important if you are working on a project you know they are emotionally invested in, such as a new logo, mascot, or campaign. In your strategic brief, it can be helpful to outline how you will keep your stakeholders updated.

Providing regular updates to your stakeholders through town hall events, small group meetings, emails, or your intranet does several things:

  • It gives those who care about the project chances to get involved
  • It gives you more opportunities to hear feedback and reactions from your stakeholders, which can be very useful when planning a brand or campaign launch
  • Sharing your progress is a way to keep stakeholders who aren’t involved in the day-to-day project involved and aware
  • It provides non-marketing professionals with insight into everything that goes into a brand, campaign, or website. Many, if not most, of your stakeholders are not marketers by trade. Keeping them apprised of the project’s progress, especially of your research findings, helps communicate the breadth of the project. When your new brand or campaign is revealed, your stakeholders know how you got there because you have shared everything that has gone into its creation
  • It provides ample opportunity to reinforce the goals of the project. Reinforcing the goals with your stakeholder and internal audiences can be very helpful, especially on emotionally charged projects such as rebrands

Stakeholder communications can be included as part of the project timeline, or your stakeholder group may be so large that it warrants its own mini-communication plan within the brief. Incorporating this into your strategic brief will ensure that your stakeholders don’t fall by the wayside when you’re in the heat of your research project.

Have a question, disagree with something you read, or just want to chat about research? You sound like my kind of person. Leave a comment or drop me a line: | 775.686.7413


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