SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on brand research and brand development with Ben Osborne

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SMPL Q&A is a new blog feature, in which we interview our experts on all things relevant in branding, design and simplicity. Recently, we crossed the pond to our London office to sit down with Ben Osborne, director of insights, EMEA, to talk about the different types of research, how they inform brand strategy and development, and how to best utilize the Siegel+Gale EyeOpener™ brand research tool.

What are the three reasons for conducting brand research?

  • First, hindsight: A look in the rearview mirror in a way, evaluating whether you hit your targets, checking the trajectory your brand is currently on, and whether your brand strategy worked at all.
  • Second, insight: Understanding what people think and what they are saying in the here and now. This forces you to look at current trends and evaluate whether they impact the way you conduct brand research going forward.
  • Third, foresight: Focusing on the road ahead, trying to predict what the future will hold for your business. This kind of brand research can set you up to have a better idea of the outcomes of the decision you are testing in the first place.

Which type of research plays the most important role in brand strategy?

In the world of fact-based branding, forecasting techniques and research that delivers foresight often provide the most powerful strategic lens. It brings the most value to the process and can help you craft a powerful and differentiating story.

This is especially the case if your brand strategy ambition is to differentiate and grow in a crowded marketplace, to launch in new categories or markets, or even to create new brand extensions, where there can often be a risk of cannibalization—research can help you navigate these paths.

How can EyeOpener help to achieve this?

EyeOpener is a proprietary research tool created by Siegel+Gale to help us understand why people in a category choose specific brands over others. It’s an extremely robust brand research tool for fact-based branding, and has been used on more than 1,000 occasions, across 35 industries and in more than 70 countries.

We look at what drives preference, identifying the most important brand attributes in a specific category today—as in right now. But what makes this approach unique is that we don’t stop just at brand attributes. By looking at the fundamental drivers of preference to help us explain current market dynamics, we can then create compelling strategies to unlock growth opportunities and understand how to differentiate today in order to capitalize on the preference drivers of tomorrow.

This is key because some things might be very important today, but with limited incremental value in the future. For example, trust in the financial sector will remain a key dimension in future, but is more of a table stake. In contrast, the environmental policy or personality of the brand might be less important today, but with much more elasticity, much more latent energy for attacking share in future.

This is why we focus on drivers that are both compelling today and can ultimately have business impact if leveraged properly in the future.

How do you predict the future of brands?

There is no crystal ball. But, as far as predicting the future of brands goes, we often invest the time to look at futureproof modeling through custom market simulators within EyeOpener. This means we can look at all of the brands in a category and start to define scenarios where traits of your brand change and challenge the field. If we want to explore the impact of a big marketing push we can dial up awareness of a brand and see how preference share re-distributes.If we want to test different positioning strategies we can define scenarios where we change brand perceptions and see how it competes with audience segments. We can even add new brands, to explore the impact of a launch or new line extension, and predict the impact of brand architecture changes.

When clients take such big risks, defining a new strategy and implementing a costly re-brand, EyeOpener allows us to show them which option is best, what the return on brand investment will be, and how the market is likely to look afterwards. This, in a manner of speaking, is the Holy Grail of branding research—and is worth every penny spent.

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