by Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls

Hundreds of years ago, Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” That’s especially true today.

As you work on your plan for maximizing business and brand opportunities in the year ahead, a clear understanding of current consumer perceptions can help you focus your strategy, and in turn, your marketing resources. Understanding the market and what your target consumers want and need and how your brand fits into that picture makes it much easier for you to focus your energy and resources on hitting the right target.

So what should you learn by conducting brand research? Here are four critical questions to include:

What first comes to mind when you hear the company’s name? Top-of-mind perceptions can be very informative from a research perspective. Consumers don’t ponder deeply on most purchases. Decisions happen quickly and are often informed by top-of-mind perceptions of a brand. Are the top of mind perceptions positive? Are they accurate? Is there emotion attached to the top of mind perception? How well does the top of mind consumer perception connect with current marketing and advertising efforts?

Why do customers choose you over your competitors? What makes you so special? The perspective from inside your company may not be the same as the perception held by customers and potential customers. What you think makes your business or brand special isn’t nearly as important as what consumers think makes you special.

What makes you special is the core of your brand positioning. Well-defined and clearly differentiated brand positioning is the single most important element of managing your brand. When you have a clearly articulated brand position, you understand what you want to stand for in the minds of consumers, and you can focus your efforts and resources on building that position.

Are you competing in the right category? One way to determine this is to ask your customers who they see as your top competitors. Their perceptions of your competitive set will provide insight into the nuances of how your brand is currently positioned in the marketplace.

Knowing in which category you compete in the minds of customers who know you well gives you an opportunity to strengthen your position in that category, or take steps to reposition your brand.

What trusted sources do consumers use when choosing a business or brand like yours? Consumers do their homework before making a buying decision. They seek trusted sources such as colleagues, online consumer or expert reviews, or advertising.

Not that long ago, there were a manageable number of information sources. That’s no longer the case. You can’t cover them all, so you need to prioritize your resources for the best return on your communications investment. Brand research can identify the most relevant sources for information for your product or service, and the ways in which your customer prefers to interact with them.

What key messages resonate with your most profitable customers? Your best customers choose your business or brand over others repeatedly. Why? What influences them? What do they love about you? Understanding the relationship you have with your best customers provides the insight you need to find more customers just like them.

Ask open-ended questions that encourage those who know you best to talk about why they choose your business and brand over other options in the marketplace. Listen carefully to how they talk about the connection they have with your business and brand. Once you really understand what connects current customers to your brand, use that insight to connect with potential customers who are most like your best current customers. Reflect their words and phrases back into the marketplace for maximum relevance and connection power.

Once you really understand your current brand and the competitive landscape, positioning your brand is a matter of business strategy as much as brand strategy. Use consumer insight to inform your business strategy, making sure the voice of the consumer is always part of your company’s strategic discussions.

In today’s rapidly changing business world, knowledge is still power — perhaps even more than it was 400 years ago, in the day of Sir Francis Bacon. Consumer research makes it possible for your business and brand to gather the insight needed to harness the power of consumer knowledge.

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (www.mindfirecomm.com) in Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. Contact her at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.

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Samantha Kollasch currently serves as Chief Digital Officer at the Corridor Business Journal. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a BS in Management Information Systems....