Customers know what they want. In this era of nearly infinite choice coupled with on-demand access, they won’t be your customers for long if you don’t offer what they need – or want. Competitive advantage can be conferred not only from having a unique or a superior product, but from branding itself. Product research informs the brand. By conducting product research, you can get the answer to several critical questions, such as who your customers are, what they want, what they need and why they buy. With this information, you can build a strong brand poised for success.
The Link Between Product Research and Brand Impact
Product research is a two-way street. Not only can your target audience guide you on their needs, their aspirations, why they would want your product and how they would use it, but you can assess if they are your target audience – or not. Product research reveals which demographics, behaviors and values are the most important factors for your brand. Once these factors are known, and their connections are established, researchers can interweave this knowledge into the brand story. Narratives that highlight customer engagement with the product are what solidify the brand.
Making a good product simply isn’t good enough. The customer voice, their needs, their desires plus the why and how they would consume your product must be reflected back to them. Product research helps marketers show customers that their voice matters, that your brand is a good fit for their needs and will be positioned well to appeal to them and entice them to buy. Tapping into the voice of the customer early in the process – and often – helps ensure that your brand will have an impact on your target audience throughout the full lifecycle of your product.
Product Research Answers “Why?”
Perhaps the most critical question to be addressed first during product research is “why?” Without the fundamental understanding of the drivers motivating the purchase decision, even the “best new product ever” is at risk of failing if it has not been developed and positioned to align with why a customer would make the purchase. Moreover, this product research effort should not be regarded as a “one and done”. Behaviors and values today are changing at a more rapid pace than ever before, and, product research needs to be conducted throughout the life cycle of the product to ensure that the branding remains on point and relevant – in tune with those changes.
Product research is insightful on everything from naming the product to designing it in co-creation sessions. Such approaches afford researchers with a sense of what the target audience is interested in to form a base for the design or name, then product development and marketing teams can tweak those insights to shape the brand based on the common themes that emerged during product research. When you understand why your customers will buy your product, you can craft your brand style, positioning and messaging in accordance with what will motivate a consumer’s purchasing habits. Product research enables this understanding and helps to lower the risk of failure in the marketplace.
Product Research Answers “How?”
Product research matters when establishing your brand because you have likely determined the who you want to appeal to, but you still need to figure out the how. Tools including panel research, focus groups, co-creation communities and numerous others provide two-way channels to engage your target audience. You can reach them to tap into their individual and collective thinking, plus they can reach you to tell you what they would like to see from your brand. Panel research can be particularly useful given the repeated engagement with the same panelists which results in a much richer, more comprehensive customer target profile as well as the opportunity to see how customer behaviors and values are shifting over the life cycle of the product.
The myth, “build it and they will come”, has proven fatal for many businesses, even for some with brilliant ideas. Why? Because the ideas and businesses failed to resonate with their target audience with proper research behind their brand campaigns. For example, AskJeeves, the first natural language search engine, was lambasted mercilessly by the characters of South Park. There is no shortage of businesses with big ideas that fail to do the proper market research to help them achieve their goals.
In contrast, the product research adage, “ask and they will tell” holds true. What’s particularly important here is that yes, while customers will tell you what they’re thinking, they won’t always tell you the whole truth, or they will tell you one thing and do another. There is documented evidence that customers in product research sessions are, on occasion, compelled to lie. Product research must allow for these aberrations in the story by engaging a large enough target customer audience to be truly representative and find the common themes. Statistics work based on the power of numbers – in the absence of sufficient data, it’s not possible to separate the outliers from the common threads within the data. Conducting product research around the axis of pain points, with tools designed to measure the emotional response, can help reduce that ambiguity.
Product research that addresses how customers will engage with your product can be highly illuminating. For example, consider packaging. Tests are required to determine how easy (or difficult) it is for customers to access your product via the packaging. Certainly, creative elements are important here in the overall aesthetic and design of the package, but functionality can be even more important. Case in point, packaging for over the counter (or prescription) medications. Packaging must be designed to thwart the efforts of a curious child but accessible to an elderly customer who may lack strength or have arthritic hands. Without product research to tease out what the “right” level of difficulty is, the product is at risk of eliciting complaints from consumers which, when vocalized in online reviews, can lead to slumping sales that may be potentially irrecoverable once the brand is damaged.
Product Research with KL Communications
Product research matters in establishing your brand and KL Communications is committed to sharing our experience to help you be successful. Many of our posts provide stepwise instructions as well as suggestions regarding which research tools to use and how to best use them. We invite your feedback and would welcome input on future blog topics, particularly by those interested in advancing their own efforts in product research.