Essential Market Research


A blindfolded focus group in a mock kitchen taste testing meats (1935)

It was the second week of her new job, and Jane was panicking.


She'd finally been hired as a brand manager at a company she'd been eyeing for years. It was her dream job, but she already felt like quitting.


After the first week of introductions, she'd met with her VP who was excited to see hear what she had planned. Jane's brand portfolio was struggling, and the VP wanted to know how she was going to turn things around.


Jane needed a way to quickly find out why each of her brands were in trouble, and create a strategy to fix them.


With a her company expecting results so soon, she felt lost.


How was she going to figure all of this out in time?



When to do market research


The first step any brand manager or strategist worth their salt should take when starting a new job is to figure out what the hell is going on.


You need to view the brand through the eyes of the consumer, understand it's weaknesses and strengths, and where it sits in the market.


To do this, you need market research.


Before jumping into the exciting world of strategy and tactics, you need to go through a discovery phase that uncovers exactly where the brand came from, where it currently sits in the market, and where it wants to go in the future.


The pressure on new brand managers to deliver results soon after starting at a new company means that this discovery phase is often rushed, or not done at all - which is a huge mistake.



The Emperor of Ice-Cream


My favourite marketing story about making time for proper diagnosis involves former Gucci Group CEO Robert Polet.


"The Ice-Man Cometh" - Robert Polet

Polet was hired at Gucci after heading Unilever's frozen products division for many years. His hiring was openly mocked by many in the luxury goods market - "What does an ice-cream salesman know about high end fashion?!"


To make things worse, Polet chose to start his tenure in the month of July, just as the entire company was about to shut down for the summer holidays. The joke was that the new CEO would be the only person in the office on his first day.


But the joke was on the doubters.


Polet knew that Gucci started its new fiscal year in January. That meant he had six months to build a strategy that fixed Gucci's many problems. He used the quiet summer in France to launch an extensive diagnosis of all the brands in the group's house, which became the foundation of his successful strategy that turned the flagging empire into a growing, profitable force.


Free from the pressures and distractions of a fully functioning office, the ice-cream man built a solid understanding of Gucci and it's place in the luxury fashion market. Four years later, his success led him to win Europe Businessman of the Year.


The research methods he used to diagnose Gucci's problems almost certainly included the following...



Essential market research


There are four types of research you need to cover for a proper brand diagnosis.



1. "Terroir"


A French word that refers to the unique characteristics of geography and soil that influence the taste of grapes in vineyards. In a research context it means delving into the heritage of the brand, its founders, and original location.



2. Secondary research


Spend a few hours Google finding everything you can on the brand. News stories, press releases, old interviews with founders or key employees. Don't forget to look at old or existing brand research too. You'll often uncover hidden gold.



3. Consumers (Qualitative)


You need to know what people actually think about your brand, both good and bad. Use focus groups, ethnographic studies, and loyalist research to see the brand in the eyes of the consumer. Loyalist research with extreme consumers is a fantastic (and under-used) way to figure out what people love and hate about your brand.



4. Surveys (Quantitative)


Consumer groups are not representative of the market, so use the data you collect from them to create a survey that extrapolates your findings to the whole market. Re-run the survey every year to track changes in sentiment.



A marriage of Poets & Quants


The key to painting an accurate picture with your research is marrying the soft, fuzzy consumer data (poets) with hard, precise numbers and facts (quants).


Completing your heritage, secondary and consumer research will give you a list of 1-10 words associated with your brand.


Now, use qualitative surveys to quantify those findings and see which associations are significant.


If you structure your survey questions to mimic your brand's buying funnel (hint: you should definitely do this), you will also uncover purchase drivers across all your market segments.


In other words, you will know exactly what words people associate with your brand, how strong each association is, and which of those associations you need to focus on to drive growth.



Half the cost, half the time


Like Robert Polet, Jane needs to carve out the time and money to do a proper diagnosis before jumping into strategy and tactics.


A common complaint amongst marketers is that this level of research typically takes months to complete, and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.


However, with the new availability of online survey panels and platforms it is now possible to do a full diagnosis for a third of the cost in half the time.


I've done most, if not all, of this research in three months for under $10,000 in total.

A proper brand diagnosis is the foundation of a solid marketing strategy, and helps companies and brands:


  • Understand their customers

  • Balance long and short-term market growth

  • Create effective, profitable marketing campaigns

If you need help conducting a proper brand diagnosis, get in touch!



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© 2020 by Ian Barnard.