Brands are constructed by companies, but they come to life in the minds of consumers.

Brand Insights Through Customer Research

Brands are constructed by companies, but they come to life in the minds of consumers. Until the brand produces an emotional reaction, it doesn’t fully exist. In fact, a successful brand is the ultimate example of co-creation, with consumers playing a fundamental role in its generation and evolution. That’s why customer research is so central to the task of building a strong and relevant brand. And luckily, today’s companies have never had so many ways of collecting this valuable information.

The golden age of customer research

Twenty years ago, holding a focus group or conducting a survey by phone or snail mail might have been the only customer-research tools available. Today, the toolkit overflows with both analog and digital ways to tap into your customers’ thoughts and emotions on a granular level.

But using the right tools for the right purpose is key. Customer research is powerful, but it needs to be approached thoughtfully. Do it right, and you’ll uncover valuable brand insights: an aspiration, a feeling, an emotion, or a perspective that ignites the brand. Do it wrong, and the brand could actually suffer. The history of branding is full of focus-group fiascos and crowdsourcing disasters. New Coke, anyone?

These are four of the best methods for collecting customer research, along with tips on how to leverage them effectively to drive brand insights:

1- Focus groups — Up close and personal

Focus groups are often seen as expensive and ineffective, but when they’re skillfully managed, they can give you deep insight into the way your customers think, act, and express themselves. No yes/no survey or social “like” can compete with the up-close-and-personal input of a focus group.

But what makes them powerful—their non-prescriptive, open-ended nature—can also make them risky. One loud, powerful opinion can skew results, so an experienced moderator is key. It’s also important to avoid using focus groups as a means of finding “consensus” rather than collecting diverse opinions. The objective is to gauge real-world reactions, not to manage or change them.

Best use? Focus groups work best towards the end of the consumer-research process. Use them to explore themes and data collected through surveys or other quantitative means, gather verbatim input, and hear participants express themselves in their own words and voices.

2- Surveys — Fast feedback

Surveys are a simple, inexpensive means of collecting information directly from a broad spectrum of consumers. But while this method is quick and cheap, it also comes with limitations. Surveys require you to set the agenda, which means you may overlook a meaningful avenue of enquiry and miss the issue that’s most relevant to the market. For example, if you’re asking questions focused on product pricing, you may never discover how much product support influences the purchasing decision. Surveys also tend to overlook nuance: if the survey demands a yes/no answer, you’ll never learn how many maybes are out there, or what’s clouding the decision. And while multiple-choice and open-ended questions can help to loosen up the format, they’ll also significantly reduce the completion rate.

That said, anonymous surveys can be an invaluable source of brand insights when the topic is sensitive or personal. While few people would be comfortable discussing sexuality, relationships, or finances in a group setting, they may be surprisingly forthcoming in an anonymous survey.

Best use? Surveys are ideal for the early stages of customer research, when you need to take a snapshot of your market, their preferences, and their priorities. A well-constructed survey is also a useful baseline tool when time and budget are factors.

3- Social listening — AKA ‘eavesdropping’

No wonder there are now dozens of social media monitoring platforms out there (Hootsuite, Sprinklr, and Brandwatch, to name a few). The ability to eavesdrop on thousands, if not millions, of customer and consumer conversations is incredibly valuable. You’ll see a steady stream of complaints, endorsements, product hacks, and more for both your brand and those of your competitors. Sophisticated tools enable to you analyze the overall sentiment of a high volume of social data to determine the emotional content beneath the words.

But the technology is still immature, and results are not perfect. When someone tweets: “I hate Daisy’s Donuts because they’re so darned delicious,” for example, sentiment analysis may interpret the statement as negative feedback. And social listening only captures social sharing: what about the thoughts and feelings of people who aren’t tweeting, posting, or Instagramming their lives? (Anyone over the age of 50, let’s say.)

Best use? With social listening, you’re tuning in to what’s being said, not guiding the conversation. As a result, it isn’t the best method for learning about a specific element of your brand. Use social listening as a tactic to supplement other, more directed forms of customer research, and for ongoing brand insights and feedback.

4- Behavioural analysis—What they REALLY do

Behavioral analysis has come into its own in the digital age. Now that we’re living most of our lives online, a few well-placed cookies can do the work of a fleet of full-time detectives in tracking your customers’ every move.

Some marketers are abandoning surveys and focus groups altogether in favour of sophisticated tools that track how consumers behave on- and offline on an incredibly granular level. What are people searching for? What terms are they using? What catches their eye on your website? Where do they linger in your store? What price point motivates them to buy? Analytics, SEO, heat maps, A/B testing, sensors, and a host of other tools can tell you all this and more.

Most importantly, it tells you what consumers really do, not just what they say they do. An A/B test may reveal that the father of three who during a focus group, insisted his family’s safety was priceless, is choosing the cheapest home alarm system every time.
Keep in mind that while this is powerful stuff, it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Behavioural analysis will tell you what consumers do, but not how they feel, and that’s the essence of the brand.

Best use? Behavioural analysis can help you identify functional elements of the customer experience, including the keywords they use to find you and the way they navigate your website or brick-and-mortar store, but for real brand insights—the intangible and emotional elements of the brand, you need deeper psychographic analysis and qualitative data.



You customers are complex, and your customer research should be, too. The most meaningful brand insights emerge out of the full spectrum of qualitative, quantitative, and behavioural data. See an example of multifaceted customer research findings here.