Editor’s note: Dana Sloane is marketing director at Insights in Marketing, a Wilmette, Ill., research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “How to defend your brand with market research.”
With a crowded and noisy consumer landscape, a marketer’s and researcher’s attention is often divided between various growth opportunities and communication channels. However, something that marketers and marketing researchers often don’t spend enough time thinking about is defending their brand and position in the marketplace.
Earlier this year I attended the Kellogg Marketing Conference at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where I listened to one of my old marketing professors, Tim Calkins, talk about a subject that most marketers know exists but are often at a loss for how to address or anticipate: proactively defending your brand.
In the discussion, Calkins reviewed several examples of top brands that did not successfully defend themselves, resulting in significant market share loss. From Chobani’s share-stealing entrance from its competitors in the yogurt marketplace to BlackBerry’s slow but steady demise and Kodak’s growing irrelevancy, time and time again we have seen the consequences of a non-defensive brand strategy.
Calkins argued that it really should be every marketer’s priority to defend against competitive threats because it’s hardest to defend once your threat is defined and easiest to defend when your threat is undefined.
Using market research to defend your brand
Energized by Calkins’ session, we put our heads together to identify the top six tips that we often give to clients to make sure they are proactively defending and protecting their market share:
Remember: Your consumer is your boss. We all get tripped up by internal politics, agendas and internal brand priorities. However, some of the best advice that we can give you is to remember that your consumer is always your No. 1 boss (even above your company’s CEO). Keep the lines of communication open with them; work hard at understanding and continuously meeting/exceeding their needs.
Incorporate consumer trend-spotting into your routine. It is important to pay attention to changes in your target consumer. You need to regularly identify potential consumer disruptions. How? You can develop need-state segmentations, read relevant blogs, review consumer feedback, shop the shelf and participate in social listening. Regardless of how you do it, it must be done regularly to stay agile and relevant.
Assume the role of an observer whenever possible. We recommend performing observational research with your products/brands regularly. The cost is not great to do consumer immersions and it can result in groundbreaking discoveries. Observing consumers is a great way to spot consumer pain points that they may not even know themselves (e.g., watching consumers struggle with mops/dusters resulted in a new, widely accepted brand of cleaning tools – Swiffer).
Conduct research to feed the innovation pipeline. Change is the only constant and your brand must be planning for change and news in the marketplace. If your innovation pipeline is not supported by meaningful, relevant benefits from consumer research, you are leaving yourself open to competitive threats and innovations as well as potential share loss.
Assess your category and competitors regularly. We all know that it’s important to participate in brand equity tracking and focus on brand innovation but we still need to make sure we are paying attention to our category, competitors, their consumers and their activity in the marketplace. Marketers and researchers should be talking not only to their consumers but to their competitors’ consumers as well. Furthermore, A&U and habits-and-practice studies should be conducted on a regular basis (every three-to-five years) covering multiple brands – not just your own.
Conduct internal war-gaming sessions. It’s always great to put yourself in the shoes of your competitor and imagine how they would react but few professionals actually take the time to strategize and think like a competitor. Several-hour-long internal war-gaming sessions are great for immersing yourself in the competition and identifying anticipated competitive strategies that you can respond effectively to.
A great offense is unfortunately not always the best defense. Use market research to defend your brand and make sure you don’t lose sight of protecting what is already yours.