The importance of branding in research

There are many brilliant people in the research and consumer insight business, who advise clients on all aspects of marketing, customer experience, innovation and branding but who often do not apply what they preach to their own businesses.

Now, I know how hard it is to step back from your own organisation and see it clearly, warts and all. It is even harder to put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients and see what they see, hear what they hear about your company. I have run a small marketing agency for six years, and guess what we’re worst at? Yes, that would be our own marketing. We are so focused on delivering brilliant work for clients and trying to make some money that we forget to update our own website, write that blog or tweet that message. So, I feel your pain.

But just because something is hard to get around to doesn’t mean we should not focus on it. So, I am going to write a few short and hopefully helpful articles on different aspects of marketing and communications for researchers.  These will be mostly for agency researchers, but I will also focus on how to communicate insights so that clients can ensure their research makes a difference.

As my starter for ten, I am going to suggest that a strong brand is an asset that researchers should exploit much more than they do at the moment. We all know there are books and books written about brands and brand positioning, but here’s what I think really matters for a research brand:

  1. Be yourself.  What is it about you, your culture, personality or values that makes you, you? It could be what you do but it’s easier to be distinctive in terms of how you do it, or what the overall experience is working with your company.  You need to express and communicate your values (and no more than three of them please!).  Every organisation has something special and different, however small. Build on it.
  2. Stand out. It’s not just for supermarket shelves.  All branding is about being distinctive. Be brave and bold with your brand. This means visually as well as verbally. There are so many hackneyed clichés in research brand imagery – brains/mountains/magnifying glasses/handshakes/ globes/binoculars/grids/charts/ticks….to name but a few. Why do researchers have to be so literal and unimaginative? Break the mould! Look at your competition and make sure you are different.
  3. Be consistent – You can stand out with a fresh name, a distinctive logo, a strong strap line a great website or great advertising or even better, a great product experience. But if the name, logo, strap line, ads, website or the product experience you deliver to clients is inconsistent, customers will be annoyed and confused and lack of conviction will hang around you like a bad smell.  If a brand is a guarantee, a sign of trust, you have to deliver it consistently.
  4. Focus. Back to point one above. You are you. Build on the special and different. If it’s the same as everyone else, don’t talk about it. Stop listing all the products and services you provide, or focusing on ‘hygiene’ factors like honesty, reliability and the fact that you have SPSS. No one is going to work with a dishonest, unreliable bunch of people who do not have the basics they need to deliver research, but you’d be amazed how many agencies talk about these things as if nothing else mattered. Don’t be afraid to prioritise one part of your offer with your branding. If you are an expert in hard to reach audiences, or ethnography but also very good at a bunch of other stuff, focus on your strengths first.

How to go about this? Do not attempt to do this at home!  You need a professional branding design agency that is experienced in business to business branding preferably in the professional services sector.  They will have a process and the ability to create what you need. Just because you are great at explaining data or managing complex research projects, it does not mean you can design a brand.  I will do a piece on how get the best out of agencies later in this series.

A few years ago I worked on a rebrand with a large global research company.  We worked very hard to get the whole company on board with the changes to the brand and what it meant for the business. We focused on ensuring the internal communication was extensive and involving so that people felt they ‘owned’ the new identity. It worked extremely well but what really made my day was the reaction from clients. “If your own branding is so great, it makes me think you will be able to take care of my brand” was the reaction from one.  A strong brand, consistently managed, is a really powerful asset that many researchers would do well to exploit.

 

This article first appeared in Quirk’s Marketing Magazine on 27/Jan/2013.