How to Brand - Part 1: Research the Market and Consumers

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Posted Aug 01, 2011
Susan Gunelius

Before you can learn how to brand, you need to understand what a brand is. If you haven’t already read my 6-part What Is a Brand? series, follow the link to read it now.
Branding questions? Create a new market research study, and get the valuable answers you need. As a market research company, we at AYTM are here to help you quickly and easily test brand ideas for your new company, product, service, or academic project.  Learn more

Everyone in business will tell you that it’s important to have a brand, but few tell you exactly how to brand. What are the steps to bring a brand to life? This series explains it in 6 simple parts.

You can have the best logo in the world, but if that logo dies on the page, it’s not going to help you create your brand story. That’s how you brand. By making the world understand and believe in your brand story.

McDonald’s Knows How to Brand

What’s the McDonald’s brand story? It began as the brand that delivered cheap food fast. It was the brand for families with young children and people who were on the go.

Today, the brand has grown to still hold its original promise as cheap and fast, but the company has conducted a lot of research over the years to learn about changing consumer preferences in order to not just stay relevant but also attract broader audiences. What was once a very simple brand story that did one thing well is now attracting wider audiences with healthy food options and high-end coffee.

So far consumers are buying it and McDonald’s remains the number one fast food brand. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that research by Customers DNA LLC showed McDonald’s coffee customers are more loyal to the brand than both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts customers. Who would have guessed?

The McDonald’s brand story is a story of brand growth and evolution as the world around it changed. However, McDonald’s continues to do what its brand promises very well.How did the McDonald’s story grow and change so successfully? The answer comes down to three very important factors:

  1. An understanding of the competitive market
  3. An understanding of the consumer market
  5. A willingness to change

Who would have thought McDonald’s would one day sell gourmet coffee and fruit and yogurt parfaits when the McDonald’s commercial shown in the YouTube video below came out in 1967?

Back in 1967, “McDonald’s is a happy place,” was the brand’s tagline. McDonald’s didn’t know that years later its brand would be attacked as the cause of childhood obesity. It took flexibility, a focused brand strategy, a willingness to expand the brand promise without abandoning it completely, testing, and research to continue to survive and thrive. And that leads us to the first step in learning how to brand!

How to Brand Step 1: Research the Market and Consumers

Just as McDonald’s spent time and money to research and understand its market and consumers, you need to do the same in order to brand your business, product or service correctly. Do you think one of the executives at McDonald’s sat down one day and said, “We’re going to sell Mango Pineapple Smoothies and Iced Lattes?” I’m certain this decision wasn’t made without research to support the change.

Don’t put the cart before the horse and launch your brand without confirmation that the brand you’re launching has a chance for success. Do your research, analysis, and strategic planning first.

Researching the market: You need to research the competitive market where you plan on doing business. Who are the big players? What do they bring to the table? What unique opportunities are open for you to snatch up? What threats exist that could impede your path to success? What benefits can you offer that competitors aren’t already offering or aren’t offering well?

The big question you need to answer through research about your market is this: What is the right market for you and how does your brand fit into the market?

Researching consumers: You need to research existing customers within the market and potential customers. Who are they? What do they want from brands in that market?  What are they not getting that they want and need? How do they feel about existing brands in the market? Is this a market they’ll purchase products or services from on an ongoing basis? What type of pricing, features and benefits do they want?

The big question you need to answer through consumer research is this: Who is my target audience and what do they want from me?

The strongest brands are very focused brands. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people and roll out a broad brand that doesn’t tell a succinct story at all. Remember, brands must meet consumer expectations or consumers will become confused and turn away from the brand. Clearly identify your target audience and your market position, and then develop a brand that meets the wants and needs of that audience and market.

Similarly, don’t make the mistake of building a brand around a fad or trend that is likely to die out quickly. It takes time and money to build a brand, and a fad that is hot today might not be tomorrow. Always confirm the longevity of opportunities that you identify through your research before you jump on a speeding bandwagon.

Use your research results to launch the next step in the How to Brand series: Identify Brand Values and Your Brand's Unique Value Proposition, which is the subject of the next post in the How to Brand series. Stay tuned to the blog for Part 2: Identifying brand values.

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