How To Use Research To Find High-Order Brand Benefits

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Brand Laddering, Brand Positioning

A recent cartoon on Brand Laddering by marketoonist Tom Fishburne, besides making me laugh, reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a client who wanted to elevate the perception of his brand from “utilitarian” to something with a deeper emotional connection to people’s lives. He asked about how he could use marketing research to understand what this “something” was.


I really commend him for thinking first of doing marketing research instead of making assumptions that may or may not be true. I have seen a great deal of brand positioning studies, where clients want to capture brand perceptions and personality traits without doing any exploratory research first. They create a list of statements or adjectives that can be used to describe a brand, which often reflect what they want customers to think of the brand. The problem with this approach is that, they ignore what the starting point for the customer is and try to put words in their mouths.


If you don’t know how customers or potential customers currently perceive the brand and its products, what words they use to talk about it, or how they are used, you risk:

  • Sending messages about the brand that are not supported by the products, making them ineffective and damaging to the brand’s credibility
  • Alienating market segments that may be a good fit for your brand and products


I also see this problem when clients want to know reasons for buying or not buying a brand using closed-ended questions without having any input of what these might be.


My advice is always to use previous research as an input, if available, or conduct exploratory qualitative research to identify mayor topic areas, language use, explore emotional connections, and context in which the brand is used. Some of the data collection methods that can be used for this purposed are:


The process of driving growth and loyalty by attaching a higher purpose to the brand needs to be grounded in the actual relationship (if any) consumers have with the brand. You need to explore, test and test again. This will help you create the ladder that can take the brand to new heights.

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