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  • Rebecca Quarles

Brand Choice: How to Get More and Better Insights from Your Branding Studies

The Trouble With Traditional Branding Studies: Rating Scales

Branding studies show clients their brand’s relative position in the market and provide rich detail on the competition. But all that rich detail has a price – questionnaires that are long, repetitive, and boring. And that often leads to respondent disengagement, break-offs, and low-quality data.

Traditional branding studies are based on ratings of multiple brands on the basis of multiple attributes. In the worst-case scenario, respondents are asked to identify the brands they are aware of and, then, asked to rate all or most of the brands they identified on a long series of attributes and other measures. The first go-round isn’t bad, but the boredom quotient quickly rises as respondents realize that they are going to have to go through the same series of rating questions for each of the brands they said they are aware of. And a high boredom quotient leads to lack of engagement and break-offs, which, in turn, compromises the validity of the survey.

To minimize these problems, survey researchers try to get their clients to agree to branding surveys that include fewer brands. However, limiting the number of brands also limits your ability to get a comprehensive view of the market. For example, you may miss rapidly emerging competitors. And it won’t completely solve the problem of boredom. Even if you cut out all but three brands, the respondent still has to respond to the same list of attributes three separate times, a repetitive and boring task.

Those of us who conduct branding surveys need an alternative to rating scales because,

• The use of rating scales requires a separate question for each attribute for each brand being rated. That can add up to more questions than most people are willing to answer.

• People don’t ordinarily use ratings when they make choices between brands. They pick the one that meets their needs best. The others don’t matter much.

Brand Choice: An Alternative to Rating Scales

I first conducted a branding study without rating scales for a B2B client I had been working with for several years. A new CEO wanted to see all of the brand image ratings for all of the major brands worldwide. Initially, we were stumped, but – necessity being the mother of invention – a new idea began to unfold.

We started by doing our homework – interviewing sales and marketing people in the client organization and reviewing the results of a study of decision-making in the industry. We found that the corporate buyers we wanted to reach thought in terms of superlatives: a supplier was either the “best” or “an industry leader” in a certain area or they were not. And a supplier had to stand out on at least one important attribute to be invited to prepare a proposal or give a presentation. Thus, our charge was to map the competitive market in terms of the buyer’s competitive radar screen and to identify the attributes with the greatest impact on both getting the invitation to propose/present and winning the sale.

To meet this challenge, we dumped the brand image scales and simply asked which of the many possible brands “stands out” on different attributes. We then asked respondents to identify the brand they would recommend asking to prepare a proposal and, based on what they know “now,” which brand they would recommend purchasing. We call this methodology Brand Choice.

In this, and other applications of Brand Choice, we have found several important advantages.

Brevity. Surveys take less time to administer and traditional branding surveys.

Data Quality. There is typically little missing data, break-offs, or inconsistent responses (which indicates a high level of engagement).

Comprehensiveness. Results include a competitive radar screen score for all suppliers, including those that were not mentioned (they get a score of zero).

Predictive Validity. Regression modeling reveals strong relationships between key brand image attributes and desired outcomes like purchase intent.

Relevance. Results directly address the questions our clients want to answer, i.e., how can we get invited to propose? what do we have to prove in order to win the sale?

Actionable Results. Results have been very useful in setting marketing priorities, identifying targets of opportunity, and crafting messages.

Many clients resist this complete overhaul to their branding approach because they do not want to lose the tracking information they have built up over the years. When tracking is a major concern, we recommend using the Brand Choice method to get an overview of the entire market and, then, asking a limited number of questions about the client organization using key brand image ratings from prior surveys. This temporary measure can be repeated until the client is ready to start a new Brand Choice tradition.

I would be happy to discuss how Brand Choice (or another approach customized to your industry) might help your organization get more out of your branding studies. Contact me here.

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