Brand Research Fundamentals: Part 1 - Brand Development and Strategic Planning

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Posted Sep 08, 2011
Susan Gunelius

Brand research is a critical component of business success for two reasons. First, it provides a business with hard data to make effective decisions. Second, it gives a business deep insight into consumers’ minds, because let’s face it, consumers don’t always act the way they say they will. In fact, when it comes to consumer behavior and buying decisions, consumers rarely act the way they say the will.

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brand research

Your brand is one of your company’s most valuable assets, but far too often, companies skip essential brand research claiming they already know what their customers want and who their target audiences are. But do they really? Probably not.

Brand research isn’t a one-time thing. Your brand touches every part of your business and every part of the consumer experience. Therefore, brand research must be ongoing to confirm that your brand continually builds equity and gains value in consumers’ minds. There isn’t a place on your company’s balance sheet for “brand value” but it’s a powerful business asset that deserves to be prioritized and researched on an ongoing basis.

Remember, the world is changing faster than ever and that means your brand needs to keep up with consumer needs, market evolutions, and so on. Those things are hard to do if you’re not keeping up with them through brand research.

In Part 1 of the Brand Research Fundamentals series here on AYTM, you will learn about the type of brand research you should be doing to develop your brand, including market definition and audience segmentation. Let’s get started!

Market Definition


How can you make sure your brand is positioned correctly against competitors and offers the promise that consumers want and need if you don’t know what’s happening in the market where you’ll do business? You can’t, and that’s where your brand research should start.

Your goal during this stage of the brand research process is to get a comprehensive understanding of the market and how consumers perceive the brands in that market.  Following are some of the most important points you need to gather market intelligence about:

  • Which brands have the highest unaided awareness levels?
  • What words do consumers associate with other brands in the market?
  • What do consumers like about those brands?
  • What do consumers dislike about those brands?
  • What do consumers think is missing from brands on the market today?

In other words, brand research needs to identify existing hot buttons and pain points for consumers and determine which brands are addressing them. This is the stage to look for opportunities to differentiate your brand and define your brand’s unique value proposition.

Audience Segmentation

brand research audience segmentation

During brand development research, you also need to determine who your audience is. This includes your target audience (and there may be more than one), which is the group of people who are most likely to buy your brand and buy it frequently.

Next, you need to segment your audience into smaller groups of people with similar behaviors so you can develop specific advertising and branded experiences that appeal to those audience segments and will most successfully raise brand awareness and sales.

Notice that I used the word behaviors in the previous paragraph rather than demographics. That’s because far too often businesses segment their audiences using demographic criteria such as age, gender, income, and so on. While demographics can be very useful in media buying and secondary marketing activities, it shouldn’t be the primary focus in audience segmentation.

That’s why brand research is so important for audience segmentation. Your research should begin by identifying what people buy in your market, how much they spend, how often they buy, where they buy, and if they demonstrate brand loyalty. Next, you need to gather behavioral insights by asking your audience questions that enable you to learn the following:

  • Why do consumers choose one brand over another?
  • Why do consumers choose not to buy other brands?
  • Why do consumers buy frequently or infrequently?
  • Why do consumers buy in a specific store?
  • How do consumers use the brands they buy?
  • When do consumers use the brands they buy?
  • How do consumers make the decision to make the actual purchase?

Once you segment your audience into behaviorally-similar groups, you can create messages, promotions, and so on that will most likely appeal to those segments and motivate them to action. You can also add demographic criteria into your behavioral segments to find sub-segments for laser-focused ad placement and promotional tactics.

For example, at one point in my career, I worked with H&R Block’s corporate marketing department to create annual direct mail programs. Year after year, I was amazed by the extraordinarily detailed H&R Block customer segmentation that the team developed. There were no segments called “18-24 year old males with incomes under $25,000” or “65+ males with incomes over $100,000.” Yes, those demographic criteria were addressed in sub-segments, but the primary segmentation was behaviorally-focused with segment names like “Savvy Investors” who understood finance and taxes and needed messaging that spoke to them in different ways than the “Just Starting Out” segment needed. [Note that those aren’t the actual segment names but rather just examples to get you thinking in the right direction.]

Once you fully understand your market and your audience, it’s time to define your brand’s position and develop your brand’s identity. Stay tuned to AYTM for Part 2 of the Brand Research Fundamentals series which will discuss brand creation research.

Images: 1, 2, 3

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