Market research is often used to inform big decisions on big brands – historically, the more important the initiative seems to be, the bigger the budget, longer the runway, etc. So things like major product launches, new brand creation/rebranding – these types of things ‘deserve’ market research.
The challenge here is that companies are confronted with a steady stream of decision points – and consumer insights don’t just help in the most ‘important’ cases on the biggest brands. They can help in decisions of all sizes across the portfolio, and the cumulative effect of going without insights on medium and smaller brands and priorities can dwarf the business impact of the big ones. One key benefit of insights communities is the ‘recruit once, research often’ nature of their structure – which enables marketing research to become an integrated ongoing program rather than a string of ad hoc projects. You can think of it as the difference between a photo and a movie. Big, stand-alone research projects capture a snapshot in time, while insight communities enable you to see a continuous, moving picture of evolving needs and preferences in the marketplace.
It's become well-understood that the traditional project model for market research is inefficient and incomplete – researchable questions that aren’t ‘important’ enough simply go without insights support and the company misses out. For those big decisions, time and budget is wasted on from-scratch project execution and those insights often disappear into a dusty binder on an office shelf until the next time.
Previously, we discussed how insights communities support innovation processes by harnessing the power of the customer through direct, constant feedback and ideation. Beyond innovation, however, insights communities can be used to shape brand strategy across a portfolio of brands with budgets of various sizes and help companies manage the customer experience and overall brand reputation.
Finch Brands uses insights communities to better understand what creates brand affinity – the sources of connection between consumer and brand. This can be accomplished using traditional market research methodologies, but insight communities provide the ongoing dialogue that makes this data dynamic as opposed to static. We can collect data to provide a benchmark and develop progressive brand strategies, but then we can measure the success (or failure) of these initiatives over time with the same consumers to understand what is working and what is not.
Having continuous access to large numbers of target consumers – as well as having the ability to easily replenish and add new consumers to the community – gives us the ability to employ unique methodologies, specifically designed for brand strategy development across an entire portfolio.
Sources of Connection
Product-level innovation is about meeting needs, but so is overarching brand strategy – and the latter tends to be more abstract and emotional. In today’s world, when brands need to lead with values, the most successful brands make consumers feel something. Below are some techniques we use inside insights communities to assess underlying emotional needs:
- Collaging – In a collaging activity, respondents are asked to express themselves with images and photos rather than words. These types of exercises are more effective at tapping into underlying emotional associations because they are not mediated by verbal measurement methods.
- Mad-Libs Post Cards - With this technique, we allow respondents to fill in the blank on Mad-Libs-style post cards from their future selves to themselves today. This includes a clear picture of the happy future they envision for themselves, how they got there, which brands and products helped them along the way, and which problems they overcome to achieve success.
- Vent Sessions – we ask individuals to simply complain about a product category. Most organizations are familiar with customer complaints, but these often relate solely to the company at hand. We use discussion boards to get complaints posted and reacted to and then use live chats to have members evaluate these problems in terms of their frustration, frequency of occurrence, and the availability of solutions to these problems. Not only does this help surface potential product concepts, but ways in which a brand can build a connection.
Positioning Development and Evaluation
Using data gathered from the above methodologies, we seek to close the gap we mentioned earlier – between what consumers want and what a brand offers. This is done through strategic brand positioning, which involves developing unique statements that define what it is that the brand stands for and what it offers to the market.
These positioning statements are then presented to respondents in a live chat exercise to obtain qualitative reactions. With this consumer input in hand, positioning statements are modified and validated with a broader audience using quantitative research. Here, the different positioning options are presented monadically (one at a time) to community members who are asked to evaluate each in terms of key measures such as interest, relevance, and uniqueness.
At the end of this process, the best brand positioning is identified to serve as the basis for communications development. The insights community can then used to develop and evaluate the creative execution of the brand positioning. As the brand strategy comes to life, we are able to gain real-time feedback on creative development prior to releasing it in the market.