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Is it time for the truth?
August 11, 2014 | Lynn Manternach, Ph.D.

When it comes to your company’s brand, have you been drinking your own Kool-Aid?

You know what I’m talking about. Those sweet things we tell ourselves about our customers, our products and services and our brands. Those things we start to believe because we’ve heard them so often.

But have you heard those sweet things from your customers?

Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what your customers say it is. You need to hear the truth from them. It’s risky to assume that you know everything about your customers or that your intuition is spot on.

Most organizations, regardless of size, can’t afford to waste resources on branding and marketing that doesn’t work. The best way to make sure what you’re selling and what you’re saying resonates with your targeted customers is to find out their version of the truth. Because when it comes right down to it, that’s the reality that really matters.

You’re looking for an informed truth, so make sure the people you talk to as part of your brand research effort are those who know your brand well. They should be customers who have engaged with your brand recently and regularly.

Rigorous brand research can help you uncover significant competitive opportunities and threats, including brand positioning opportunities that you have not previously considered. That added insight has the potential to make all the difference for your brand and your bottom line.

What are your perceived strengths and weaknesses?

Your customers’ perspective of what you’re really good at – and not so good at – could be very different from your internal assumptions. Customers will focus on the aspects of the brand experience that are most relevant to their lives.

A qualitative look at brand strengths and weaknesses can provide rich insight into what consumers really think. A close examination of the specific words they use to describe your brand, in conjunction with an examination of the emotional tone and tenor reflected in their words, can help you prioritize branding and messaging strategies.

What benefits are important to your customers?

Your brand has to be relevant to consumers, and that means you need to understand how customers perceive and prioritize the brand benefits. There are so many possible ways to talk about your brand, but to connect with your customers you need to make sure you understand what’s most relevant to them. One approach is to test a list of perceived brand benefits for importance, asking customers to rate each on a scale of not at all important to very important. That helps you understand how perceived benefits compare to each other and differ by customer sub-groups.

To make this insight as actionable as possible, follow up by testing the same group of perceived brand benefits for satisfaction. Look for the areas where there are gaps between the level of importance and the level of satisfaction. These are the areas where there is room for improvement. Prioritize your efforts by focusing on the largest satisfaction gaps benefits nearest to the top of the importance scale.

What is your competitive set?

Consumers have lots of choices, and understanding the options they are most likely to compare you to when they’re in the buying mode is important to understanding how to position your brand.

One approach is to simply ask customers who they see as your top competitor. Next, ask them how that top competitor compares to your brand when it comes to your perceived strengths. This data can be eye-opening and immensely helpful in terms of brand positioning and messaging.

What benefits can you own?

The brand sweet spot is where what you’re really good at intersects with what’s relevant to consumers, in a way that differentiates you from competitors.

Branding is more art than science, and analysis is where branding experts really shine. It takes sophisticated tools and technology to transition from the raw truth of customer data to understanding the brand sweet spot. It takes experience, insight and creativity to turn research into business results. And it all starts with finding the truth.

This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.

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