The shifting sands of Brand Research in India

The past few decades have seen the emergence of Brands as the make all and break all of businesses across the globe. What was born as an "identity - a name, logo, tagline" has today become the heart and soul of the business. More and more proponents of Branding are canvassing the need for the "brand" to become the central driver of all that a company is, does and wishes to become. Therefore the brand is becoming recognized as the firm's most important asset. It has come to represent the cumulative result of all of the company's activities in the market place. 

Brands have morphed into investment vehicles, that are designed to build perceptions and experiences to influence purchasing patterns and relationships with potential and existing customers.

Most companies that understand and perceive the brand as being central to their activities, base their decisions about the brand on rigorous and vigorous brand research. Yet many marketers and indeed even branding professionals find difficulty in differentiating Brand Research from Market Research. While they understand the importance and power of research in quantifying buyer demand, they are unable to perceive its role and importance in examining the customer's "brand experience". Brand research helps firms to define and understand customer expectations, evaluate whether they are being met and finally to explore how to exceed expectations.

In the forthcoming years, brand research will need to foray into the methodologies that are able to delve into emotions and evaluate them as drivers of brand experience. This will require the utilisation of research and design methodologies, techniques and tools that elicit insights into the "WHY" of users goals, needs and motivations and find ways to translate these insights into brand, product and service concepts.

Brand research in India, is likely to see some trend-setting changes over the coming years. While the list here is definitely not exhaustive, it should be indicative of the future.

1.Pure methods will give way to hybrids

Brand research will need to explore the use of newer technologies as research instruments while delving more heavily into other disciplines such as anthropology, psychology and cultural studies for devising innovative research designs. Many businesses around the world have already begun to change the way they track and measure their brands by using technology to enhance qualitative techniques. For e.g.,

  1. Using webcams to observe consumer experience in their context of use
  2. Software that tracks consumer content usage on the internet, that researchers then investigate to understand target consumers
  3. Events that take place in focus group style, involving an element of decision making.

The strength of combining quantitative and qualitative techniques will come to be recognised. There will be a heightened awareness of cultural diversity and thereby, the use of techniques that specifically take into account these differences. Alternative approaches that tap into universal, non-verbal aspects of human responses will also begin to become more popular in the context of brand related researches.

2. Research focus will shift from tracking to understanding

Large quantitative surveys that pre-and post-test ad recall will be side-lined as research begins to explore why the ad appealed to consumers and whether the appeal actually translates into purchase. Research efforts will switch focus to understanding consumer emotions, the expression of these emotions and the monitoring of their evolution over time. It is not merely what the consumers think about a brand, that drives brand strategy, but an analysis of the gaps in consumer perceptions and desired brand values. Consumers desired brand values are an outcome of appraisal process that involves rational and non-rational 'sense evaluation'.

3.Brand tracks will get replaced by brand audits

A brand audit evaluates the brand as it stands in the context of the three sets of market forces that work on it and thereby determine how it is perceived in the market place. The three forces that impact a brand are:

  1. The company and its actions
  2. The competition and their actions
  3. The economic and social trends

A brand audit evaluates, not merely the external audiences to all brand communication and activities, but lays significant emphasis on the internal audiences (employees and stakeholders). It evaluates the gaps between a brand's external audiences and its internal audiences. This evaluation, typically, puts to rest claims of "we know what our consumer think and wants" that can bring about the demise of a brand. A brand audit seeks to understand the market space within which the brand operates in, find that space/opportunity (current/future) that may be available and not yet owned by any other brand. It defines the markets "ideal" brand, exposes perceptions and attitudes towards a brand and its competition and evaluates the impact of economy, society and market on brand perceptions.

4.Internet based interactive brand research will begin to emerge

With the advent of social networking sites and the enthusiasm with which the urban middle class in India has embraced it, researchers are beginning to discover ways and means of tapping social networks for collaborative consumer insights. The dynamic nature of consumer contribution will encourage the use of mix-n-match formats in which a combination of activities will explore, understand and measure. (e.g. - insights/ discussions on blogs, followed by face-to-face interviews or focus groups)

5.Research respondent profiles are likely to change

The senior citizens will become more interesting -With growing numbers of financially independent retired people, who have become accustomed to a specific life-style, the GEN-G(?) (generation-geriatric) will begin to become an important target segment for marketers in India. Expect products with larger typography, better legibility, ergonomic designs, easy to hold and operate, rounded edges and so on. With this will come the need to understand their emotions, their brand experiences (and how they are different from the other age-groups and why) etc.

Given the predicted shift from track to audit, the role of the internal audience in the brand research will begin to be recognised. Although in India, it will be some time before the industry grasps the importance of the internal audience and consumer as the 'brand ambassador', it will however become conscious of 'a' role that they play in brand perceptions. However, as 'brand' becomes a much brandied word in common parlance, consumers will begin to experience the effects of brand fatigue due to over enthusiastic marketers going for brand overkill, brand research is likely to suffer due to uninterested respondents.

“A brand is the DNA that separates a product from a commodity"- David Michaelson

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