Part 7: The wrong way to do brand research

Previously, we’ve looked at the importance of brand research and why the most common mistake organizations make is to not do it at all. We’ve also seen how some organizations confuse brand research with donor research . Now let’s explore another common mistake people make regarding brand research: They rely on it too much.

Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? In other words, if brand research is so important, how can you rely on it too much?

Brand research tells you how people perceive your brand today. But you don’t want to build a brand for just today. You want to plan for the future and move your organization there.

Brands need to grow and keep up with the times. Stretch them too far from current perceptions and you won’t be believable. Ground a brand too much in current perceptions alone, and you’ll quickly be out of date and irrelevant because even if those perceptions are accurate today, you’ll need to nurture them over time and keep them fresh. IBM, for example, may have had positive brand associations in the minds of its audiences, but if they hadn’t taken efforts to change perceptions from being a mainframe computer company to an Internet-oriented solutions company, they would be in trouble.

Your brand may exist only in the minds of your audiences, but you can still help shape the perceptions and associations they have. If you think of a brand as a memory, then what can you do to instill that memory? Keep it alive? Make sure it doesn’t get corrupted? All of that is part of growing your brand.

Your brand is something you want to stretch and grow. You absolutely need to start with how people currently perceive you. But if you’re like most organizations, those perceptions will be either blurry or diffused (meaning that different people perceive you in different ways).  Brand research will tell you what those differences are.

Once you know those perceptions, you’ll want to build on them. Create a new or refreshed brand that starts with those associations but doesn’t end with them. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a rescue mission. People may perceive you as helping the homeless or having a soup kitchen. They might describe you as “compassionate” or “ministering to the poor.” That’s fine, but those are fairly general associations. Your goal is to create a brand that is distinctive, that stands out.

So you may start with those, but then build upon them to try to get audiences to perceive you as being, say, the thought leader on homelessness, the organization that knows how to transition people off the streets, the expert on long-term housing, the most effective source for treating addictions, etc. Each of these are more refined associations – a clearer brand – that could differentiate the rescue mission from others, building on current perceptions, but not being held back by them.

Use brand research to understand how your audiences think of you now, but don’t stop there. Build on that with an effective brand strategy to be relevant well into the future.