Market research: an important component of a holistic brand approach.

When developing a new brand, name or logo, it may seem like there is one obvious choice of decision-making criteria that should be the main determinant. In reality, there is a whole toolbox of decision-making criteria that a company should consider and weigh to make final decisions around their brand.

Conducting brand market research

A brand research study, for instance, can give valuable information about consumer and target audience preferences that may go overlooked or undiscovered without it, but there are other evaluations such as internal preferences, legal availability and linguistic evaluations to consider as well. Below we break down these decision making factors, the level of impact they should have in your decision making process and how conducting thorough market research studies can help bring your team clarity and confidence in making brand decisions.

Legal availability and potential regulatory issues (high impact)

A star can have the hottest catch phrase on social media, but that doesn’t mean he or she can own it. Take the recent case of singer Cardi B trying to trademark her popular “Okurr” saying. She uses the phrase in interviews, on Twitter and in recent beverage advertisements.

Apparently, the patent office thought it was a little too popular and denied the trademark based on it already being a commonplace term or expression. While this is a somewhat flippant example, this same determination can also be applied to a product or company’s brand.

The team developing a product may come away from a research study with a strong indication that respondents love a new name or brand, but all that love is not going to make a legally unavailable name available. As is often the case with naming research, people tend to gravitate to the simple and familiar. When a new name or brand is based on common use words, rated simple by research respondents or seems to resonate based on the familiarity with another name or product, there is a good chance that it is already taken or is too close to existing words, products or brands.

Perhaps, more of an “empty vessel” name could be considered. Empty vessel names are names that are not comprised of common use words or may not be existing words at all. While they may not have the same immediate appeal that familiar words or phrases have, a good thing about them is that they usually start out devoid of meaning. This gives a company an opportunity to build the meaning they want around these new words or phrases, making them truly the company’s own. While these types of names may not be top performers from a brand market research perspective, as long as they don’t have a lot of negative reactions from the target audience, the positive meanings can be wove in by a thoughtful advertising campaign.

Legal availability and regulatory compliance are vital to brand name’s success, especially pharmaceuticals, but they alone will not bring a brand success in the market. The legal and regulatory risk evaluations need to be balanced by a marketing assessment. This is where brand market research comes in again: Our team will evaluate the potential brand names across several marketing criteria and use those results in conjunction with safety and regulatory risk to give a big picture view of each brand name for better decision-making.

Linguistic and cultural considerations (medium impact)

In our ever-shrinking world, many brands plan on having a global presence. This means it is essential to consider the results of any language or cultural evaluations that may have been done. Many promising names, logos and brands in a Western context can take on different meanings and connotations in other parts of the world. For example, healthcare brands, particularly those with indications related to high mortality (e.g. oncology) would do well to avoid purple palettes in places like India and Thailand, where this color can be associated with death.

Or we could look at the recent Nike incident that saw the company halt distribution of their Betsy Ross flag sneakers. Perhaps if they had fully considered all meanings associated with the 13-star version of the flag, including more recent ones with racial undertones, they could have avoided being put in the middle of a divisive situation.

While linguistic evaluations are an important check for newly developed names and logos, a good global market research study can also address concerns. If a linguistic evaluation brings up potential issues, a company may decide not to take the names or logos with issues into broader research with the target audience. Or if a company is unsure if something brought up during a linguistic evaluation is truly problematic, surveying respondents who are native speakers or inhabitants can serve as a check to see if the same concerns are brought up by those respondents.

Internal/team preferences (low impact)

Internal team members often have strong preferences for a new name, brand or logo. After all, they’ve been working as part of the team that’s been supporting a product’s development for months to years.

Perhaps the company CEO has a strong affinity for one logo or another. Or one name goes better with a grouping of products already being offered by the company, thus fitting with an overall brand strategy. Maybe one name or logo lends itself better to the brand story that the company is trying to weave. These are valid considerations that should be weighed in context with brand market research results.

Another thought to consider: Is the company bringing a product or service to market that is new and innovative? Is it something people may not have seen before or even imagined they needed?

Recently, in his 2018 letter to Amazon shareholders, Jeff Bezos remarked, “Market research doesn’t help.” Taken out of context, it may sound like he thinks market research studies are useless exercises. But a careful read of the letter clues us in that Jeff Bezos was talking about research on groundbreaking new products and services, such when the company was first introducing Amazon’s Alexa speaker/listening device. Sometimes, it is hard for potential customers to wrap their minds around exactly what benefits a new product or service will offer them or how they could put such a product or service to use for them. In cases like these, where an internal team of stakeholders may have a much better grasp on the offering, market research can be used to focus on different aspects of the brand, such as unique propositions or red flags that the internal team may have missed by being too close to the offering.

As mentioned in the Amazon example above, there may be times when the internal team has a better grasp of a new innovation, but there are also times when the team needs to look to the outside market for insight. A line extension of an established brand, for instance, is a case where internal preference alone would not suffice.

Applying brand market research

In an ideal world, all of the above factors would be taken into account before conducting a market research study. If there are internal or team preferences for a new brand name or logo, we can make sure to test those front and center in a research study to see if a target audience shares the team’s enthusiasm. With the issue of legal availability, pre-screens can be run on potential names or logos so that the ones with a low likelihood of being available are not tested in the market research study.

For regulatory issues, running the names by a small sample of knowledgeable individuals (e.g. physicians, pharmacists) can help head off obvious issues with sounding or looking like well-known drugs or the overpromising of effects. Linguistic and cultural evaluations can be run on potential name and logo candidates prior to testing with a larger audience of respondents to help eliminate unsavory options.

If all these considerations are exercised, it will help a company take only the most promising ideas into a research study. By knowing this information early on in the branding process and seeing the whole picture, it can save time and money in the long run.

A researcher should assess the importance of statistically significant results in the context of his/her research situation and ask the following questions:

  • Do the results firmly support (or refute) a theory or hypothesis?
  • Are they clearly consistent with a prediction or analysis?
  • Do they strongly indicate a line of action in solving some problem?

In statistics, “significance” takes on a very narrow meaning. Significance, in this sense, means that a difference or result observed in the data we collect is thought to be caused by a real world difference or preference between groups, brands or populations and not due to random chance. For example, we might say men are significantly more likely than women to purchase Brand X. Or, our sample felt significantly more positive about Name Candidate A vs. Name Candidate B. By calling these differences significant, we are stating our belief that these reflect true differences or effects in the real world (not just our sample of respondents) and are not just due to chance of our sample make-up.

Whether or not a brand market research study will end up with significant results can depend on many factors. Some of these factors, like size of the sample, can be controlled to a certain extent, while others (like how study participants respond to stimuli and questions) cannot. If time, logistics or a prohibitive cost means the sample must be kept small, we can end up conducting a study with no significant results or differences. Maybe all the names we test perform roughly the same. In cases like that, it’s best to use the research as validation to make sure no major red flags appear for any of the potential brand names or logos.

While it is true that the larger the sample size, the more likely differences or relationships will show as significant, a larger sample size does not guarantee significant results.

However, it can go the other way too. With large samples, we could find a lot of significant differences. Sometimes that makes it just as hard to determine a course of action as it does when we have no significant results. It could be that the significant results are somewhat contradictory. We may end up with two potentially strong brand or logo candidates as a result of market research. Sounds great, until we realize that respondents in the U.S. are significantly more positive on brand A while being significantly more negative on brand B, while in the EU, it’s reversed. In other words, there may be significant differences by geography, gender, age or any number of other important demographic characteristics that we then must weigh to see which views should come out on top.

Just because we have statistically significant results does not mean they are significant or important in any other sense. This is where it is important to work with a dedicated team of market research professionals to help determine when statistically significant results have a meaningful interpretation.