Consumer InsightsMay 27, 2021

Consumer Research: How to Find Insights for Your Brand Strategy

May 27, 2021
Elena Author Photo Framed
Elena Prokopets
Freelance Writer & Content Strategist

Building a strong brand is hard. Assessing customer perception. Increasing brand awareness. Deciphering customer journeys and then putting an endless list of assumptions to practice.

What makes the above so hard? Having too little data to lean upon.

Your brand strategy should not be based on gut feeling but solid facts. In order to grow as a brand, you need to know how your brand is performing with your target audiences, how those audiences are responding to your campaigns, and how these audiences feel about your brand.

Consumer research can provide you with the missing knowledge.

In this article, we are going to dive into the world of consumer research, exploring what it is, the benefits, and how you can integrate reliable data into your brand strategy.

What is Consumer Research?

Consumer research is the process of collecting information to first identify the target audiences and then zoom in on their preferences, perceptions, attitudes, and purchasing drivers for a product, service, or brand.

Data collection and analysis are the key steps of consumer research. To ensure accurate and unbiased results, marketers leverage an array of qualitative and quantitative research methods, alongside tools for interpreting the obtained input.

The main goals of consumer research:

  • Formalize ideal buyer personas

  • Refine brand positioning

  • Discover new or lookalike audiences

  • Collect feedback on existing offerings

  • Decipher consumer decision-making process

Ultimately, the point of consumer research is to validate your branding and marketing assumptions or discover new vectors for brand development among untapped audiences. And it works! Just ask Kiri Yanchecko, founder of Australian skincare brand AMPERNA.

"It was invaluable for me to do consumer research and purchase market research papers before I started work on my brand strategy. It enabled us to take this knowledge to people to help brand the business and know our target personas/consumers."

What is the scope of consumer research?

The scope of consumer research is limited by a research thesis — the main assumptions you’d want to test.

A good thesis focuses on one specific area of research. For example: what are the most-recalled sustainable brands among millennials and what impacts their brand preferences? Focusing consumer research on specific audiences and scoped research questions allows you to get more precise information.

Why Consumer Research is the Cornerstone of Brand Strategy

At any time, 3 in 4 consumers are on the lookout for new relevant brands and products, even if they don’t have a purchase agenda.

Brands have many touchpoints to connect with prospective customers at any moment, in any place — on social media, via email, mobile, websites, or offline brand marketing.

Source: Think with Google

When brands can get onto the target’s radar, good things happen — interest piques, brand awareness improves, and conversions and sales follow.

However, for such serendipitous “match-making” to take place, marketers need to know two things:

  • Who are their target audiences

  • What is relevant to them at the moment

A true, deep knowledge of your target market, their lifestyle problems (and how your brand solves these problems), and what motivates them should be at the heart of any brand strategy,” recommends Lauren Hamilton of Digital Narrative.

If a brand doesn’t know who its ideal buyer personas are and what matters to them the most, they are employing “a scattergun approach which wastes valuable budget, leaves consumers cold, and fails to achieve the brand’s objectives”, according to Hamilton.

Indeed, brands should use consumers' constant background "search mode" as an opportunity to deliver relevant content at every touchpoint to help them take the next step. From ad campaigns to PR and paid influencer marketing campaigns, you have a lot of opportunities to show that your brand “gets what they need”.

Yet the above is challenging.

The expanded game field with blended offline and online interactions means you have more data than ever before. At the same time, consumers are more exposed than ever to different levers and pitches, impacting their decision-making.

It follows that 71% of marketers have no clue where to start when it comes to understanding consumer behaviors. Almost a half (49%) also cannot decipher why users behave the way they do.

Consumer research helps you fill in those lacunas.

Two Approaches to Consumer Research

Primary Consumer Research

Primary customer research means going directly to the sources of truth — the customer — for input to your strategy. Brand monitoring, focus groups, user experience studies are common methods of primary consumer research.

Primary research can be exploratory and specific. In the first case, you are casting a wider net to understand the overall consumer sentiment and market trends. Exploratory research is useful for audience segmentation and buyer persona creation.

Specific consumer research puts the microscope on identified areas of interest such as brand preference, product usability, or response to different creative. In this case, it makes sense to work with a specific audience segment and pose questions related to a particular issue.

Download The Ultimate Guide to Brand Tracking to learn more about a source of primary consumer research.

Secondary Consumer Research

Secondary research assumes leveraging internal and external data to decode your audience behaviors. CRM or social media analytics, and other types of BI tools come to the fore here. Using external data such as trend reports, market statistics, and public records can also help obtain a more wholesome picture of your target audiences.

Secondary research is a solid way to assess the competition, understand your current positioning, and discover new secondary audiences.

How to Do Consumer Research (with Examples)

Customer research is a sequential process. It has to be well-structured, bounded by a method, and backed by supporting tools. Without the above, you risk spiraling into research chaos.

That’s why you need a framework for conducting consumer research. And we have one for you!

1. Select Your Research Methods and Tools

Before you dive into the research part, you need to create a supporting “infrastructure”. That is to identify your key method for collecting data.

Consumer data comes in two forms:

  1. Quantitative — information, recorded as counts and numbers.

  2. Qualitative — non-numerical data that approximates and characterizes.

What is Quantitative Customer Research?

Quantitative customer research involves discerning facts and statistics from consumer opinions. By asking questions such as "how many", "how often", or "how likely", you can record consumer behaviors and preferences as specific numbers.

Using qualitative research you can collect data around measures such as duration, price, amount, length, etc. You can then use these insights to shape up your brand marketing.

The only way to craft a compelling brand strategy is to ensure that the brand team puts the consumer first and makes their voice heard. Consumer research can help in defining target consumers and their preferences towards — the offering, brand campaign, media habits, their usage and attitude towards a category.” Soudip Banerjee, Senior Brand Manager at Preferred Consumer Products

Types of Quantitative Research

  • Customer surveys and questionnaires — classic methods for producing statistical data for analysis.

  • Cross-sectional surveys — conducted with target audiences, rather than current customers to assess their preferences.

  • Brand performance tracking — modern brand analysis tools transform unstructured (spoken) data into numeric values, pegged to specific research questions.

  • Marketing analytics and product intelligence — an array of MarTech tools helps translate consumer actions into quantifiable parameters.

  • Branding tests — estimate how well target audiences respond to your visual identity and marketing collateral.

  • Consumer sentiment research — helps quantify how different audiences perceive your brand and competitors.

  • Pricing research — evaluate price sensitivity levels among your audiences and their response to different promotions.

  • Market segmentation research — helps divide the total addressable market into niche audiences and segments with similar behaviors.

Quantitative Consumer Research Tools

Latana. An AI-powered brand tracking tool that provides reliable data upon which marketing decisions can be based. Use it to gain intel on consumer awareness, brand consideration, preference, and usage, across an array of segments. Can be easily customized to track specific brand KPIs.

Typeform. Simple survey form builder for data collection. Is a good beginners’ tool for collecting and pre-organizing data for subsequent analysis.

Google Analytics and HubSpot Analytics. Both provide wide-angle views into online user behaviors but are not as telling when it comes to the “why” behind brand preference or brand affinity.

What is Qualitative Consumer Research?

Qualitative consumer research collects conversational voice of customer (VoC) data, explaining the motivators behind consumer behaviors. Open-ended questions, discussion, and observations can help us glean into the whats, whys, and hows of consumers’ actions. Plus, develop a better understanding of the audiences’ attitudes, beliefs, and values.

Also, “qualitative research excels in hypothesis generation and is helpful in identifying risks with a concept under evaluation,” says Sara Belt, Senior Director of Growth Insights at Spotify. For example, whether existing customers will respond well to a new product feature or price structure.

Types of qualitative consumer research

  • Customer interviews — structured conversations with customers, well-representative of your ideal buyer personas.

  • Focus groups — facilitated meetings with representatives of target populations, aimed at collecting broad intel.

  • UX research — user interviews or observatory studies can help learn more about the target audiences’ behaviors online.

  • Content analysis — a secondary type of research that helps understand the sentiment expressed by consumers and competitors.

  • Decision-making process investigation — research into the thought process behind brand evaluation, aimed at understanding the drivers and blockers at different stages of the customer journeys.

Qualitative Consumer Research Tools

  • Zoom and spreadsheets — a well-proven combo for recording hosting customer interviews, collecting and organizing customer data. This setup is hard to scale but works when you need extra data quickly.

  • Remesh.ai. Offers a digital alternative to partnering with consumer research firms. This online focus group platform facilitates interviewing and data collection using AI algorithms.

  • Lookback. A video platform for conducting user research interviews in real-time. You can ask users to complete tasks on their own or host guided experiments.

2. Formalize Your Research Personas

You have the means, now know you need to determine a target audience.

A target audience represents the specific customer segments and ideal buyer personas you wish to analyze.

Brand audiences can be primary and secondary.

  • Primary target audience — a consumer group, known to best respond to your brand messaging and offers. These are the decision-makers you want to engage the most.

  • Secondary target audience — other customer segments who may appear less likely candidates for using your brand, but are still strong contenders. For example, female beer drinkers are an undermarketed audience for craft beer brands such as BrewDog. Secondary audiences may also impact primary audience decision-making e.g. Gen Z kids may respond better to cause marketing, prompting their parents to prioritize sustainable brands.

After you’ve identified your target audiences, go a level deeper and document them as buyer personas. A buyer persona is a generalized, data-backed, representation of an ideal brand user.

Good buyer personas include:

  • Demographics data: factual information about a person such as age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, etc.

  • Psychographics data: psychological information about the consumer’s beliefs, values, struggles, preferences, etc.

Further consumer research should help you fill some other knowledge gaps pertaining to:

  • Key pain points

  • Purchase drivers

  • Decision-making rationale

  • Preferences and attitudes

  • Attitude towards your brand

Why can learning the above be powerful for branding?

Take a lesson from Barbie. In the early 2000s, the iconic doll was losing its allure among consumers. Because of unrealistic body standards and outdated views on women's roles in society, Barbie was no longer the doll of choice among its primary audience.

Amidst the praise and criticism, Mattel had little clue on what the target audiences expected. So the company hosted a series of focus groups with different target audiences. Some mothers expressed concerns over changes in the iconic Barbie looks. While others were very supportive of making the doll more diverse in terms of body shape, skin color, and age. Eventually, the team decided to give Barbie many new looks as per the audience’s cue.

After a 25% nosedive, Barbie sales started climbing up between 2012 and 2017. Last year, the company reported the biggest increase in demand for the doll in two decades. Today, 55% of dolls sold globally are diverse in body type, skin, and hair color. Consumer sentiment around the brand also became less polarized.

3. Develop a Research Hypothesis

Apart from knowing who to talk to, you also need to sharpen the main subject of discussion.

A research hypothesis is a succinct summary of what you want to learn from the consumers. It includes a specific problem statement and supporting questions you plan to research and resolve.

Why is it important to ask precise questions for consumer research? Because the type of problem you are facing will dictate the means to solving it.

Organizations with a track record of success using a specific insights methodology can easily fall into a pattern of applying a tried and true formula even when the research question is fundamentally different. This cognitive bias is known as Maslow’s Hammer — that is, when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail". Sara Belt, Senior Director of Growth Insights at Spotify.

For example, if you struggle to improve brand awareness, your first cue might be to analyze your Google ads campaign numbers and double-up with ad targeting. You may, however, overlook the fact that you are pursuing the wrong brand audience or that your collateral just doesn't resonate with them.

That’s why a brand tracking tool can be useful as it also comes with an experienced team of researchers, data scientists, and project managers that supports you from the preparation of your survey right down to the delivery of your results.

  1. Analyze the market trends and competition

A good brand strategy tells a story and provides a specific value proposition for your customers. It also outlines what makes you different from the competition and gives them an idea of how you will solve their problems,” says Abby Ha, Head of Marketing at WellPCB.

Secondary research adds more context to your brand strategy. By knowing what your competitors do and what other factors affect the demand on the market, you can refine your brand differentiation and strategic development vector.

Thus, as part of consumer research, you should also size up the competition. In particular, collect data about:

  • Competition market positioning

  • Brand differentiators

  • Macro market trends

  • Niche/short-term market trends

Remember: changes in consumer demand don't appear out of nowhere. They are a direct by-product of other events. These can inadvertently affect your brand too.

Few remember, but Instagram got started as a Foursquare competitor called Burbn. The first app version had many features such as check-in at a location, future check-ins (plans), earning points, photo sharing, etc.

However, after receiving feedback on the MVP app, the team reevaluated its product strategy. Burbn was in no capacity to compete with the likes of Yelp and Foursquare. Consumers were not too keen on using yet another app for check-ins either. But around the same time, the first iPhone was released, featuring the best mobile camera.

After re-analyzing the market and consumer feedback, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger arrived at the conclusion thatif we were going to build a company, we wanted to focus on being really good at one thing. We saw mobile photos as an awesome opportunity.”

That early decision to rely on customer feedback and market research, resulted in Instagram as we know it today.

5. Validate or Dispell Your Assumptions

Consumer data doesn’t equal insights. After you've completed your research, you'll need to further evaluate the qualitative and quantitative data you've collected.

Data validation is an important step as it helps you ensure that you are using accurate, truthful, and representative information about your audience.

After you’ve collected the inputs, you’ll need to:

  • Organize all the collected data in meaningful categories

  • Check for bias, inconsistencies, contradictions

  • Weed out irrelevant or questionable results

  • Apply extra analytics if needed to mine the intel

6. Put Consumer Research to Action

Ultimately, the goal of consumer research is to inform your actions. There are many very good ways to use consumer research data:

  • Refine your brand positioning and brand statement

  • Create strategies for engaging with secondary audiences

  • Develop new creative and collateral for ad campaigns

  • Improve your ad targeting to reduce ad waste

  • Expand into new markets with greater confidence

Here’s how Armacost Lighting, a manufacturer of LED accent lighting, translated their data into more website traffic and revenues.

Ad performance is one of the brand’s best sources for customer research. The team keeps close tabs on click-through rates on keywords and then uses attribution models to understand what happens next.

The data showed them that many consumers were eager to learn more about their products. But the team didn’t provide specific product information for decision-making. “Our research helped us realize that we appeal to an underserved, yet well-educated market segment — consumers that are deploying our products in their campers and boats,” said Jeremy Lippenholz, Director of Commercial Operations. Despite being aware of this secondary audience, the brand never targeted them directly.

They put this consumer knowledge to a test and built a multi-step digital marketing campaign. It featured content marketing assets, email marketing, organic social media promotion, and paid advertising campaigns. At every touchpoint, the company ensured they are providing the information this audience needs to make an informed decision.

Results were fast to follow. In a month, the website visits increased by 17% and revenue from the marketed product categories jumped by 11%. “We are now exploring more products to better serve the new-found market segments,” the team says.

Final Thoughts

Consumer research is a major undertaking, but the payoffs are lavish too. Learning who your audiences are, how they think, and what prompts them to act is the key to improving your market presence, growing brand equity, and ultimately — revenue numbers.

Using the above six steps, you can learn how to coax clarity out of the chaotic stack of analytics data and spoken consumer insights. Remember: a clear research audience, succinct hypothesis, the optimal research methods and supporting tools are the infrastructure you need to run efficient consumer research.

Consumer Insights

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