On Branding: Market and Consumers Insight
This article covers an important dimension of holistic branding - markets and consumers - and explains why solid market research is a vital part of any successful branding strategy. This is the 3rd article of a 6 part series on branding.
Here we are back for our bimonthly appointment on branding. To refresh your memory: in the first article “Brands at Labbrand” the concept of what a brand actually is was illuminated and a holistic branding model which defines the dimensions brands interact on with different stakeholders was briefly introduced.
The dimensions of the holistic branding model are:
- Markets and consumers
- Products and services
- Communications and visual identity
- Culture and behavior
After having discussed what branding actually does in the second article we come to clarify today what some might argue is the most important dimension of holistic branding - markets and customers - and explain why solid market research is such a vital part of any successful branding strategy.
The market is a precondition which every company must deal with. The market is always changing, only the pace of change is not constant. For instance, a specific industry market structure can change radically in a very short period of time due to technological breakthroughs whereas long term trends such as increasing education and a higher standard of living can influence consumer consumption habits as part of an ongoing evolution of specific needs, expectations and perceptions.
Understanding market conditions, what these conditions are influenced by and how these conditions are evolving is an essential precondition for any type of brand development. It is to a large extent through the external market that consumers, who possibly have never even used your product or service, are influenced and through this influence, either positive or negative, view and perceive your brand.
However, understanding and making the best of market opportunities is not as easy as just undertaking market research. Market research is often carried out with clearly defined narrow objectives. Recommendations based on research results are made in relation to these narrow defined objectives, thus increasingly losing focus of the brand.
By implementing the holistic branding approach when conducting market research and thus analyzing findings through the aforementioned four dimensions, the focus on the brand can be gained again and major issues although possibly originating outside of the research scope can be identified and their repercussions minimized.
Market research can be broken down into two broad categories which can be further divided into two methodological sub-categories:
Regardless of the market your company is active in, both types of research (qualitative or quantitative) can be relevant. However, a common misconception is that either only reactive or proactive research is necessary, especially from a branding stand point of you.
Markets can be described in a reactive manner, i.e. by variables describing their overall structure such as size, number of competitors, trends, saturation, product alternatives etc. This type of quantification enables one to better evaluate the attractiveness of a market and calculate your company’s market share or penetration enabling a company to company comparison.
However, each market is made up of actors (companies and consumers) who have needs, expectations and perceptions which also influence the dynamics of the market. Understanding how your competitors or their products are perceived by your consumers is essential when defining the unique positioning of your company or your new product.
Looking at the first instance, a prime example of weak reactive research can be found in market leaders moving down market into a potentially large and profitable market, but not taking into consideration the implications this type of action could have on brand value. The product might be consistent, but how do the company’s current consumers view this step? How does this affect the brand promise? Is this step consistent with the company’s values?
Another example is of companies interested in expanding their brand’s presence into a new market. Their current consumers might be very accepting of this horizontal brand extension, but what about the overall market view? Is this a growing market or will it become outdated in short period of time? A successful case of successful horizontal brand expansion can be found in the localized offerings KFC has put on the Chinese market. By adding new products specially developed for the local needs, the brand has successfully improved its positioning in China and this without moving away from its brand values.
The holistic branding model gives a unique perspective as to how the results from both reactive and proactive research can be combined and balanced. Branding strategies can not be wholly defined by boring market data and branding can not only depend on understanding consumer needs, expectations and perceptions. Relying on only one source can lead to potential massive over (or under) evaluation of specific branding strategies and lead to either missed opportunities or extensive damage control.
The most important thing to remember is that even seemingly mundane decisions can affect your brand. Only by understanding and measuring how the different dimensions interact with one another can potential opportunities (or problems) be recognized and taken advantage of. Market research doesn’t need branding but successful branding definitely requires market research.