I love helping companies brand or re-brand themselves. It’s fun to dig in on a brand discovery study to get real information on customer and prospect perceptions of a client’s company or brand. And as the head of a marketing communications agency, I know that when the study is complete, every project we do for that client will be easier because we’ll have the focus of a thoughtful, differentiating brand postioning statement to help guide the messaging. But maybe best of all, the findings of the brand research effort can sometimes delightfully surprise you.
That’s what happened with a client I had been working with for almost 10 years — a medical malpractice insurance company. We met one day to discuss the state of the industry. The market had changed considerably since we became their agency of record in 2005. The healthcare industry had consolidated considerably; more and more doctors were leaving private practice to become employees of the their local hospitals; and self-insuring had become more prevalent. It was time, we decided, to revisit the company’s positioning with a brand discovery study.
Surveying the situation
Clients always say they know what their customers think of them. But when you ask the customers themselves, you don’t necessarily get the answers you expect. That’s what happened when we surveyed executives at the client's insured hospitals to find out what they really valued about their medical malpractice insurance carrier.
When we asked, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear (this client’s name),” we expected to hear that protecting their assets and reputation superseded everything. After all, protection really is the product, so to speak. And it is something the client has taken extreme pride in doing over the years. Yet while the research did show that protecting the hospital’s assets and reputation were indeed critically important to them, most of these hospital executives answered the question in some form or another, with “relationships.”
We were about half way through our planned number of interviews when it started to become very clear that relationships were a much bigger deal than we had imagined. The revelation was so pronounced, in fact, that we had to change our survey for the remainder of our interviews. That was because a later question in the survey asked respondents to rank specific attributes of the company and “relationships” hadn’t even been included! Talk about an “Aha Moment.”
Sure enough, when all was said and done, relationships ranked extremely high for that revised question.
Looking beyond the data
Another big finding of that particular brand discovery study came out of the analysis of the survey’s answers, not so much for the specific things that were said in response to any particular question, but for how many of the answers were framed. That is, virtually every executive surveyed at some point during the interview had a story or anecdote to relate about a specific person at the company they could always reach quickly and turn to when they had an important question. It simply underscored the fact that personal relationships are an invaluable part of their partnership with the company.
Discovery and the need to be open-minded
The moral of the story is that we call them “discovery studies” for a reason. When you decide to re-brand and take a look at your position in the marketplace with brand research, keep an open mind and let the findings speak for themselves. Because as well as you think you know your customers, you may not discover what they really think of your brand until you ask.
And there you have it.