Reduce Risk, Maximize Reward
Research is not just an academic exercise, it is an essential first step toward digital marketing—in all its forms—that meets your company’s needs and addresses your challenges head-on. Building your brand is an investment, and it is your job to make sure you are getting the most out of your efforts. Thorough and well-executed research acts as insurance that reduces the risk of such investments by helping you truly understand the problem at hand before falling in love with a proposed solution. After all, it’s impossible to be entirely sure that you are committing to the right solution if you don’t really know what’s at the crux of the issues you’re trying to fix.
The Role of Research
1. Defining your “So what?”
What a brand does is quite different from why it’s of value in the marketplace. Your “why” or “So what?” tells consumers what is special about your brand in particular, and why they should choose you over your competition. Through research, you can differentiate between what you do, how you do it, and why consumers should favor your work. Doing so will allow you to compose a brand narrative that is benefit-focused and puts your company’s products, services, or offerings into a valuable context. This is important because it gives consumers a clear understanding of who your brand is and what it stands for in a way that also communicates what they will get out of your business-customer relationship. Research is how you begin to move conversations with customers from “what” to “so what?”—and how you convert transactions into longer-term strategic relationships.
2. Simplifying the complex
Research is all about deconstruction. By taking your time to delve deeper into a particular topic, you can break apart a system that is oftentimes the product of many intricately intertwined parts in a very methodical way. Doing so allows you to better understand each component part and, in turn, develop a more nuanced understanding of the entire system. When you use research to break down each of the different elements that go into your brand, you are acquiring the knowledge necessary to put them all back together again in such a way that the resulting whole amounts to something greater—and far more compelling— than the sum of its parts.
3. Establishing a proper position in the marketplace
To successfully position your brand within the marketplace, you must understand market trends and keep an eye on your competitors. Conducting research is how you come to understand the opportunities or gaps in the market so that you can find where “you can win.” Your positioning can’t be smoke and mirrors, and research ensures that your position is credible, defensible, and relevant in relation to the other brands in your same vertical. When it comes to owning a position, research is the critical first step towards establishing trust.
4. Identifying and leveraging “ways in” for different audiences
In today’s customer-centric world, having a strong grasp on who your customers are is critical. This doesn’t just mean identifying their surface-level attributes — it means getting to know them for who they are and what they care about and value so that you can figure out how their interests intersect with what you do, who you are, and what you want to be known for. Once you pinpoint what matters most to your audiences and spot a legitimate overlap with your own business, you’ve successfully determined a particular “way in” for that group of consumers. The key to finding “ways-in” is to mine for shared values rather than fabricating a commonality that doesn’t actually exist. Research ensures that you can find authentic ways in, which will help you earn your consumers’ trust and nurture brand advocates.
5. Getting credit for your work
Brands often believe that their value is self-evident. In a noisy, competitive world, whether or not consumers can recognize this value can’t be left to chance. Brands need to take credit for their work. Getting credit for the value that you create is essential to the success of any brand because it validates what you ask for from customers in return for your services. When you can back your business with research, you can establish a sense of authority and expert-level status, setting the expectation that you are producing high quality work which is deserving of compensation. Research that is done through the lens of an outsider—rather than as someone within your company who already understands your value—uncovers hidden value that you would not have recognized otherwise. This informs how you can best communicate your business’s impact and successes in a way that will resonate with those who matter most: consumers.
Putting it Into Practice
It is important to remember that research is not just a one-off, single layered project, but rather a multifaceted, ongoing process. This process takes place in 3 stages: calibration, exploration, and validation. Calibration happens prior to kickoff and helps to shape the problem at hand. Exploration comes when you begin to dig deeper and work the problem, understanding the relevant themes and opportunities at hand. Finally, validation occurs when you are ready to take action and test in different ways to optimize your solution. Each of these three steps can be done using an array of methods that should be chosen based on your client and their needs.
You must also keep in mind that the more research methods you can use, the better. When you produce results through research triangulation, deploying a mix of research methods, it generates input from various perspectives. Taken together, this combined input works to enhance the overall viability of the resulting recommended solution. Thus, research is critical to both developing a thorough understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, and to ensuring the best possible solution.
The better you are at conducting research, the better your brand will be, and the more your business will grow.