Understanding exactly where and how a brand exists in the wider world is an essential first step in any brand management effort. Image or perception studies—which can be conducted via online or e-mail surveys—can help companies capture those illusory consumer sentiments and customer impressions that are driven, at least in part, by emotion. Whether conscious or subconscious, rational or irrational, these emotions make up the reality of the brand—for consumers, employees, competitors, and investors.
The 8 Trigger Points
When marketing researchers explore brand perception, we tend to focus on eight primary areas. These qualitative markers go beyond the typical gauges of brand awareness to encompass how consumers feel about a brand, how they respond to it, talk about it, and interact with it. Let’s define the eight areas perception studies cover and take a deeper look at each.
1. Emotion. What are the broad emotional responses consumers have with the brand? What are the primary triggers and influencers of the positive and negative reactions?
2. Individuality. What characteristics differentiate the brand—and by association—consumers who use it? How is it set apart from competing brands and how substantial or valuable are the differences?
3. Communication. How and what does the brand communicate instantly? Are these messages consistent or do they change with time, experience, or sub-brands?
4. Social influence/transformative potential. Does the brand have the power to improve lives? Is it an agent of personal or social transformation?
5. Competitiveness. How well does the brand separate itself from competing brands? What are the key differentiators and how important are they to consumers?
6. Innovation. What’s the brand’s capacity for growth and reinvention? Does it have a reputation for innovation and the potential to redefine markets?
7. Leadership and durability. Is the brand viewed as a leader in its category? Does it command authority and respect in the marketplace? Is it a brand that’s considered stable, secure, and relevant generation after generation?
8. Comfort and inspiration. Are people comforted and uplifted by the brand? How does the brand generate confidence, inspiration, or action with consumers?
The positive and negative information culled from perception studies form a starting point for a targeted marketing strategy that can both inform and empower business owners. A clearer idea about how consumers experience a brand can help marketers trumpet positive associations and recreate negative ones.
How to Use Perception Studies
In more mature market segments, perception studies can help well-established companies develop new brand strategies that breathe life into their unique value propositions and competitive advantages. For newer businesses, data from these assessments guides a broader marketing approach that’s keyed into the strengths and weaknesses of the competition.
Perception studies are also particularly useful as businesses face sensitive branding moments like rebranding, or when they extend, merge, or revitalize a brand. Insights from study results form the basis of a comprehensive marketing strategy that honors the legacy of an already strong brand and sets the stage for its successful evolution. In today’s hyper-competitive landscape, perception studies are fundamental tools that empower every marketing dollar you invest.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.
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