Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Building a Charismatic Brand: Part 4 > Validate

What is a charismatic brand? It's any product, service, or company for which people believe there's no substitute. Charismatic brands have a clear competitive stance, a sense of rectitude and a dedication to aesthetics. Why aesthetics? Because it's the language of feeling, and in a society that's information-rich and time-poor, people value feeling more than information. In this series we will discuss the five disciplines (differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation, and cultivation) of branding that must be mastered in order to have a charismatic brand.


Sender. Message. Receiver. Your company (the sender) creates a web page, ad, brochure, direct mail, etc. (the message) and sends it to your target market (the receiver). Communication complete, right? Wrong. This standard communication model is archaic, because true communication is interactive, a dialog between parties; it's not, nor never has been, one way. Even with a magazine ad, the reader is processing the information and responding; it's just the sender doesn't know what his responses are...unless he asks. Companies need feedback. Brands need validation.

Testing and research, while it may not validate your innovative idea as being great, it can certainly turn a wild guess into an educated one and give collaborators enough confidence to proceed. Several tips on acquiring good research are as follows.
Audience Surveys. Target audiences typically are divided into two groups: those who rely on facts (hard information) to make a purchase and those who rely on feelings (soft information). The former group, "Appliers," gravitate toward precise, realistic and familiar designs while the latter, "creators," are attracted to the lyrical, abstract, and novel designs. Some may refer to these groups as left brainers and right brainers. When surveying your audience, be sure to include questions that qualify which person you are interviewing to sift through the extreme responses you may get.

Focus Groups. Use focus groups to FOCUS the research, not BE the research. Focus groups are particularly susceptible to the Hawthorne effect--the tendency for people to act differently when they know someone is watching. The successful focus group measures both the quantitative items like pricing, product and package design, or elements of messages as well as the qualitative aspects of human nature and responses as long as observation takes place on the sidelines. Because quantitative studies alone can lead to analysis paralysis, you'll need to seek out ideas that lead to breakthroughs by using the qualitative research produced by audience behavior as well.

More Is Less with Research. The truth is, most large studies could be exchanged for a few smaller, more effective ones. The smaller ones save time, money, and are more likely to focus on one problem at a time. Also, it's better to get a broad answer to the right question than a detailed answer to the wrong question.

The Swap Test. A simple test that can be done in your office is the Swap Test. Swap your brand icon, name or logo with that of your competitor. If the results are better, or no worse, then you may need to improve your icon. By the same token, your competitor's should not be better by using yours. A good brand icon is like a tailored suit: it should only look good on you. While performing the Swap Test, be sure to measure your company's brand expressions for distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendibility, and depth.

The Concept Test. To ensure that your company is following through on the communication loop and not simply "talking to itself," test your idea with a concept test. The concept test helps develop names, symbols, icons, taglines, and brand promises. With this test you can get the right idea AND get the idea right. Create a rage of prototypes of the brand element in question. You can start with seven ideas, but whittling it down to two or three best choices helps keep your focus. Choose 10 people from your target audience (outside your company) and ask a series of questions listed below. DO NOT ask, "Which one do you like?" The example below is concerning product names:
  • Which of these names catches your eye?

  • What does this name say to you?

  • What does it remind you of?
Does it sound like any other name you've encountered?
Do you think it says what it means or is there a better choice?
Why? (NOTE: Always ask why. It yields deep insight.)
An important advantage of a concept test is that it's inexpensive and gets real results in a short amount of time.

The Field Test. Realistic situations offer the best feedback, because the reality is easier to comprehend than concept. This is done by placing your packaged prototype on the shelf next to the competition and interviewing shoppers in your category. A good product with great brand promise can fail if the they don't connect with the buyers at the point of contact. A field test can reveal flaws BEFORE the product is actually launched, giving room to make adjustments as needed.
Validation--is the process of measuring brands against meaningful criteria. When decision makers validate their innovations, the breakthrough ideas live, prosper, and multiply like magic.

Differentiation to collaboration to innovation to validation to cultivation, back to differentiation. Each lap around the branding circle takes the brand further from being a listing of commodities and closer to being a force to be reckoned with.*

*Source: Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap (Berkeley: New Riders Publishing, 2003).

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