Research + Strategy Brand Strategy

How to Conduct Brand Messaging Research

By Abby O'Connor

Great brands aren’t made overnight. They’re thoughtfully developed and carefully built, brick by brick. If you’re starting with an empty lot or a concrete foundation – to run with this construction metaphor – it can be difficult to know how to begin building up. Strong brand messaging should start with understanding: understanding of your industry, your competition, your business and its value, and your customers. Otherwise, you’re taking shots in dark and hoping something will reach your target audience.

Research is a critical first step in developing your brand’s message. It’s impossible to resonate with stakeholders if you don’t know their needs or how your company is uniquely positioned to serve those needs.

Let’s start broad and drill down. Here are four types of research you should conduct to inform brand messaging.

Industry Landscape

Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so it’s important to consider its surrounding market. Where is your industry headed? How big, or crowded, is it? Who are the major players? What are the most significant trends within it?

This type of research is likely part of your everyday routine. It involves keeping up with relevant news and research reports, monitoring regulations or legislation that could impact your market, and taking note of significant mergers and acquisitions. Having a pulse on the existing industry landscape is the only way to find your company’s place within it. This understanding helps create a realistic brand narrative and informs messaging that will support your company’s position.

Use market research to identify messaging gaps that your brand can fill – you’re looking for opportunities to take a different stance or lead conversations that other industry players are either ignoring or are less suited to lead.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive research helps identify or confirm the unique value your company brings to stakeholders and informs your brand positioning. It can be difficult to evaluate your competition through an unbiased lens, but when developing messaging, it’s imperative. One way to ensure this is to bring in a third-party to provide a fresh perspective, such as an industry analyst or a marketing agency.

Start by zeroing in on companies that are truly competitive with yours. Which ones offer similar products and services and are targeting the same audience? Which have you lost customers to? Which have lost customers to you? If you’re thinking, “no one does what we do,” then your competitors are probably whatever alternative your target customers have. If they’re not using your solution, what are they doing instead?

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of 3-5 companies – any more and you won’t be able to give each enough time and attention – begin assessing factors such as their market position, capabilities, pricing structure, differentiators, brand voice, and key messages. What can they do that you can’t? What can you do that they can’t? It’s essential to remain impartial during this process – throw out any defensiveness and view this as a learning process that will make your company’s brand stronger.

Company Assessment

Now it’s time to take a look in the mirror. When evaluating your own company, it’s important to have conversations with various internal and external stakeholders, from employees and leadership to investors, partners, and customers. How do they describe the business? What value do they get from it? Why did they choose to work for or with you? Are they confused about anything? What is the company’s biggest selling point in their eyes?

This is another stage in the research process that benefits from a third-party perspective. Stakeholder interviews should ideally be honest discussions free of leading or biased questions. Your goal is to get to the crux of your company’s value.

Audience Research

Building a brand that serves your customers is the key to breaking through the noise and grabbing their attention. At INK, we conduct audience research using a variety of methods and tools including focus groups, persona development, social data mining, and user interviews.

For starters – who is your audience? What do they care about? What are their needs and motivations? What is their lifestyle like? Where do they work? Let these types of questions guide your research, and then begin to think through how your company’s product or services can help them or meet their needs.

With all of this information in your back pocket, you’re ready to build up – to develop brand messaging that matters. But a data-driven strategy doesn’t end here. Make sure to continuously test your messaging and gather feedback. The process is never truly over, but you’re strengthening it with every tweak.