At Bluetext, we are frequently approached by organizations who are questioning the strength and positioning of their brand. They sometimes feel that their brand is getting stale, or that their service and solutions offerings no longer match up to the original name and are looking for guidance on what they should do. This is never an easy question. Any brand that has been in a market has built up brand equity and has begun to stand for something. Target audiences, including current customers, prospects, employees, partners, industry analysts and influencers, have perceptions of the brand, an image in their heads about its people, what the company can deliver, the quality of its products, solutions and services and whether they want to do business with the organization.

Knowing if and when to update the brand, through a new look and feel, a refreshed logo or tag line, its messaging and even its name, is important. We talked with a large company recently that was the market leader in their key verticals. Yet they didn’t think that their legacy brand and name would take them where they wanted to go, and wanted our counsel. Making the decision to jettison a name for a company in a leadership is a huge commitment and one that should never be taken lightly.

The answer is often found in market research in the form of a carefully crafted survey that will uncover what customers and prospects know about the brand, feel about the brand and how they would be likely to react if that brand underwent significant changes. It might be that a simple brand refresh is the best move, modernizing the logo and look and feel, for example. In other cases, a whole new name and approach to the market might be what’s needed to move the company to the next level. In every case, that decision should be informed by real insights into the market, and not just gut feelings that executives might have, no matter how close they think they are to their customers.

By surveying customers about a brand, the goal is to gain insight into very specific areas of knowledge and associations. This means that the survey approach has to be deliberate and precise. When done right, a brand awareness survey can offer the needed insights into:

Brand Recall: With brand recall, the respondent is given what’s known in the trade as an “unaided” question about which brands come to mind when, for example, they think about that particular market or solution. No options are provided to select from.
Brand Recognition: This is the “aided” opposite of an “unaided” question. The respondents are provided a list of companies with the goal of understanding when presented with a list of brands, do they recognize the company as a reputable option.
Brand Identity: Brand identity seeks to test which attributes the respondents associate with the company, and to understand how effective the marketing efforts have been in presenting the brand to the audience.
Brand Image: A brand’s image is based on the customer’s perception alone. Tracking disparities in the marketing and the image can reveal important gaps in marketing campaigns and results.
Brand Trust: This a fairly direct question that measures whether your audiences feel the brand is trustworthy, and is important for understanding client retention trends as well as new client acquisition.
Brand Loyalty: Loyal customers are often the best way to win over new ones, so tracking loyalty can give insight to whether the company is building the kind of customer relationships that turn them into evangelists for the brand.
Customer Profile: Changes in your core customer base may signal the need for a pivot, either in the product or service or in the marketing.

We are big believers in market research to inform these types of high-risk decisions, but only if it is the right kind of research that will deliver the insights that are needed. Not every research tool is going to deliver the best results for the client. Bluetext employs a number of methodologies for understanding how a market perceives a brand. They fall into a family of four types of survey tools and strategies, each providing a different way to reach a target audience and each that will deliver different types of insights:

IDI’s—In-Depth-Interviews are an easy way to understand the perspectives of the company’s executives as well as key customers. They are typically done one-on-one and follow a guided set of questions in order to compare answers among executives. They are conversational in order to get into more depth than a multiple choice question on a survey. We recommend including the CEO and head of sales as well as board members, customers and partners.

IDI’s help set a baseline from those with the most knowledge of the company and the market. They also allows us to gain insights from those on the front lines with clients and prospects, and how those key decision makers react and respond to the brand’s messaging. What IDI’s don’t do is give an unbiased view of the company, because by definition they rely on those with the most knowledge of the company. We think that is very valuable when beginning any research project. We use IDI’s extensively as part of our Discovery process and to develop new messages.

Online Panel Surveys—Online panels are today’s version of the phone surveys that used to dominate the research field, and understanding the difference is important. Panel surveys are gathered from people who agree to be included in online surveys, and are broad enough to provide a random sample for statistical purposes. One of the main differences from phone surveys is that the audience is self-selecting: they agree in advance to be included in panels.

Phone surveys have gone out of favor for our purposes due to the shrinking demographics of households that have phone lines, legal restrictions on calls to cell phones, high cost and declining participation rates. While phones surveys are important when a very precise analysis of public attitudes is needed, such as political campaigns, for example, we rarely include these in our clients’ projects.

Online panel surveys deliver a broad section of the target market with a randomized sampling that enables projections within a margin of error, and are the most economical way to do that. Online panels will include individuals who may not have a direct knowledge of the company or brand at issue, and so may provide insight into how well a brand is known compared to its competitors. However, those same individuals won’t have any insights to a company with which they are unfamiliar. For that reason, these types of surveys make the most sense when the company has enough name recognition or a large enough footprint that a majority of the survey respondents would have a good likelihood of at least some recognition of the company. We also recommend online panel surveys to understand market trends, audience behavior and to generate news or content in the form of proof points or even surprising results that challenge conventional wisdom.

Database Surveys—When the goal is analyzing how a company’s market and ecosystem perceives that brand, for example in relation to its key competitors, relying on people who already have familiarity with the company can often deliver the best results. This is especially true for brands that may not be a house-hold name in that market, and thus the majority of respondents to an online panel survey would not know the company. In these situations, we often recommend leveraging the company’s own database, which typically includes current and past customers and clients, prospects and others with whom they have communicated with or marketed to previously. By definition, this audience will have at least some familiarity with the brand, either through direct experience or through receiving emails or being targeted in marketing campaigns.

We call this approach “database surveys.” This allows us to employ a method that is  more cost effective while still obtaining the valuable insight the company needs to make the hard brand decisions. The cost savings come in not having to purchase an online panel list or survey tool. We can employ survey tools like Survey Monkey to compile the responses and parse the data.

Focus Groups—The fourth tool that we use is called a Focus Group, which is a conversation with up to a dozen people at one time, led by a moderator who guides the discussion. Focus groups can use recruited individuals who fit certain categories, such as the industry they work in, the rank in their company, and even demographics for age and location. They can also use members of the company or customers, much as the IDI’s do. Focus groups are not randomly selected and do not return statistically significant responses, but that is not their purpose. They are better suited for testing new messaging, getting a response to a new brand or look and feel, or diving more deeply into perceptions and biases. One challenge of a focus group is that a particular individual can dominate the discussion and limit the participation from others, but a good moderator can keep the group on track and the conversation productive.

If you feel that your brand isn’t performing up to expectations, or believe it may be time for a refresh or a new direction, gives us a call. Bluetext can craft the right approach that will deliver the insights and results to make the right decisions.