As the owner or marketing director of a small or medium size business, there may come a time when you feel you need to re-position or re-brand your product, service or even your company itself in the marketplace. More than likely, you can’t outright own your category. But you can certainly carve out a niche — based on a concept or advantage — that is all yours and the marketplace associates with you. More specifically, your brand position wants to revolve around the needs of your customers and a strength or advantage your brand offers, preferably one for which you’re already known.
So how do you identify that niche and winning positioning strategy?
It all starts with brand research into what your customers think and feel about your brand. The scope of that brand research will depend on the size of your business and your budget. But make no mistake: If you’re looking to re-position or re-brand, there is no more valuable information you can have than the thoughtful insights of customers.
While larger businesses will probably want to conduct full-blown, statistically rigorous market research into both customer and prospect perceptions of the brand, a small or medium size business can usually gain invaluable insight with a much more modest brand research effort.
A 4-step process for conducting your own brand research
If you have a marketing agency, you may want to enlist their help your brand research, but you and your in-house marketing team can do the job yourselves if you’re willing to invest some thought and time into the effort.
There are four steps we typically include when we conduct a Brand Discovery Study for our clients. For details on the process, download our free eBook, Positioning: The Secret to Re-Branding. A do-it-yourself guide to small and medium size businesses. But here’s the process in brief:
1) Internal Interviews
Internal interviews are where we recommend starting for a number of reasons. First, Your employees will buy into your eventual brand position much easier if they feel they’ve contributed to the process. More importantly, they are likely to have strong opinions about your company and brand’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as on what your brand is all about — or what they think it should stand for. Finally, the findings from your internal interviews will help inform the questions you want to ask your customers and prospects.
Employees with frequent customer contact are likely to have the most meaningful insights. Remember, this is about positioning your brand in the minds of customers. That said, it’s good to interview people from several, if not all, levels of the company. Develop a list of questions designed to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the brand. Ask what excites them about the brand; what they think customers like best about the brand; what they think the brand’s biggest advantage is relative to the competition… You get the idea. In the end, the answers you get to these questions will help you formulate questions for the next phase.
2) Customer and Prospect Interviews
Line up customers who would be willing to take 20 to 30 minutes to answer questions about your brand you’re interested in investigating, be it a product, service, or the company itself. The first question you should always ask is “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of [the brand name]?” Ask and then wait for their answer. Whatever they answer is a good indication of the position you currently hold in their mind. It’s also what the market research pros call “unaided awareness.”
3) Competitor Research
Aside from any insights on competitors you gained from the customer and prospect interviews, review the web sites of your competitors and any other materials of theirs you can obtain. Try to determine the position they may own or aspire to. List their tag line or slogan, if they have one. Look for other competitive attributes you may be interested in and put all the information in a spreadsheet by competitor. Alternatively, you can make a Word doc for each competitor, but do try to gather the same information for all.
For steps 1 through 3, there is no magic number for how many employees, or customers or prospects to interview, nor for the number of competitors you research. The more interviews, the more confident you can be in your findings. Above all, don’t cherry pick clients who will give you the answers you want to hear. Get a good cross-section and encourage complete honesty (This is where the help of a third party like your marketing agency can be valuable. They can even promise anonymity.). Finally, be grateful for the information you receive, however good or bad it may seem. Whatever the case, it will be valuable in helping you determine your brand’s future direction.
First, compile the answers. It helps to have a separate document for each question. Then begin looking for threads that run through the answers. You may be surprised at what comes out of such of a simple review. Compare your findings with the positions and other findings from your competitive research and look for the “open ground” — that singular position that:
a) Has high value to customers and prospects
b) Is a benefit or promise on which your can deliver consistently and
c) You can own for the long term without a competitor copying or covering it
This is a simplified version of the process, for sure. (For more on the process of writing your statement, click here.) But truthfully, it doesn’t necessarily need to be any more complex than that. If you’ve never taken the time or effort to review your brand and competition methodically like this, you will no doubt learn new insights that will be invaluable in helping you find a winning marketing position that differentiates your brand and provides clarity and focus for your future marketing and communications.
And there you have it.
- Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. Written by Al Ries and Jack Trout in 1981, this classic book introduced the marketing world to whole idea of positioning — forever changing the course of advertising.