Audiences don't tell you how to solve a problem. They tell you if you've managed to solve it.
1. Your customer doesn’t know how to design.
A common mistake in brand research is getting caught up in what the public think about a design, instead of how that design influences their behaviour.
People don’t buy logos. They don’t buy creative services. If your more vocal focus group attendees find themselves pronouncing judgements on the typography kerning, dynamic colour palettes and the nuances of art direction then you know something isn’t right.
Leave the design to the designers, and ask what you need to know. How your new design influences their behaviour differently compared to the old one? If they’re more likely to buy it compared to competition? Would they pay more, and why?
Audiences don’t tell you how to solve a problem. This is what you pay your agency for. They tell you if you’ve somehow managed to solve it.
2. Most research is better invested at the beginning, not the end.
Most brand-aware businesses now understand the importance of research. Odds are you aren’t the person you’re trying to talk to, and empathy only takes you so far. Sometimes you just have to pay the money and ask them. And it could be the wisest investment you make.
Yet why do most creative teams deflate at the mere mention of consumer research? The answer: it happens too late.
‘Testing’ has its place, and can be essential. But often research budget is better invested in shaping your strategy and understanding at the start – not the end. Knowing what the market really thinks and is about to do next, not retrospectively amending (and watering down) creative 80% the way through a launch.
If you test your brand extensively at the end, you’ll doubtless unearth gems of insight you’d kill to have known months (and tens thousands of pounds) earlier. But you might have done, if you’d asked before you started.
3. Let your creative agency run the research.
All research is an exercise in interpretation and re-articulation. Listening to the many, so you can distill it down into simple and tangible insights. The problem is, this can lead to Chinese whispers between agencies. Building whole brands or campaigns on over-simplified learnings.
Good branding agencies will want to control, or at the very least heavily influence, the research process. Let them. They’ll often use a specialist research agency as a third party partner anyway, and it’ll mean you can more easily hold them to account on the project’s effectiveness.
Having the team who conduct the research integrated with the creative and digital teams who will execute it guarantees you’ll get work built on what you really learnt, as opposed to what you think you’ve learnt. They’re the ones with the pure, un-interpreted insight locked in their head. Use it.
Otherwise, the real insights (and accountability) could fall between the gaps.