Advertising Agencies Find Ways to Build Stronger Brands

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Branding has become more important than ever to companies competing in today's marketplace. At a time when battered investors, customers, and even employees are questioning whom they can trust, the ability of a familiar brand to deliver proven value has become extremely important. A belief in the power of brands has spread beyond the traditional consumer-goods marketers, and branding has become a very important part of the marketing strategy for companies in almost every industry. Purveyors of products ranging from Gillette razors to BMW automobiles to Starbucks coffee have been able to use their strong brands to keep growing without succumbing to the pricing pressure of an intense promotional environment. However, many of the traditional big-brand companies are striving to reinvent themselves and to restore value to their venerable brands. And as they do so, many are looking to their advertising agencies to help them determine the best way to build strong brands and connect with their customers.

Advertising agencies often conduct research studies for their clients, using techniques such as surveys, focus groups, and ethnographic studies to help them better understand their customers and determine the best way to communicate with them. However, in recent years a number of agencies have been conducting branding research and developing proprietary models to help better identify clients' customers and determine how they connect to their brands.

DDB Worldwide provides clients with branding insights through its Brand Capital Study, which amasses information on more than 500 brands ranging from Wal-Mart to Yahoo and from Budweiser to Michelin. The proprietary branding research is based on a global marketing study consisting of quantitative surveys conducted among 14,000 consumers in 14 countries. The surveys consist of a battery of questions focusing on consumer attitudes, interests, desired self-image, values, and product use as well as various subjects and issues including family, religion, politics, advertising, and brands. The agency uses the information from the Brand Capital Study to compare the desired self-images and lifestyles of consumers who love a brand with those who have a less strong connection. The study also measures brand magnetism, which is the brand's ability to strengthen its connection with consumers and is based on four factors: high quality, leadership in the category,growth in popularity, and uniqueness in the category. According to the agency's worldwide brand planning director, the success of a product or brand is tied to how it is per ceived in popular culture: "In category after category, around the world, the evidence is clear. As a brand's breadth of connection with consumers increases, its depth of connection increases exponentially." DDB describes this phenomenon of each consumer's feelings about a brand being directly affected by other consumer's feelings as "brand contagion."

Young & Rubicam is another agency that has developed a proprietary tool for building and managing brands, a tool it refers to as the Brand Asset Valuator. The agency has invested over $70 million and conducted over 120 studies in building a comprehensive global database of consumer perceptions of brands. This tool views brands as developing through a very specific progression of four consumer perceptions, including differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge. Differentiation measures the strength of the brand's meaning, while relevance measures the personal appropriateness of the brand to consumers. These two measures together form brand strength, which is viewed as an important indicator of future performance and potential. Esteem is the extent to which consumers like a brand and hold it in high regard, while knowledge represents awareness of the brand and what it stands for and is the culmination of brand-building efforts. Esteem and knowledge form brand stature, which is a more traditional measure of the status of a brand and its current performance, which is a strong strategic indicator of the health of a brand. The Brand Asset Valuator uses measures of these four factors to identify core issues for the brand and to evaluate current brand performance and potential.

The Leo Burnett agency relies on its Brand Belief System to guide its global brand-building philosophy and practice. This system focuses on the development of the brand-believer bond, which is at the core of the relationship between a brand and its believers, and considers four fundamental questions. The first question involves the category and asks, Where does the brand truly belong? The second involves the content and asks, How will the brand inspire belief? The third question considers the culture and asks, What shapes belief in the brand? The final question involves the customer and asks, With whom and how will the brand belong? Leo Burnett uses a set of proprietary research tools to provide information that can be used as part of the Brand Belief System and provide the agency with a basis for brand analysis and planning.

Nearly all the major agencies are conducting branding research and/or developing models or systems that they can use to gain better insight into consumers and develop more effective campaigns for their clients.The importance of building and maintaining strong brands is likely to become even greater in the future. This will put even more pressure on agencies to develop new and better tools and techniques that can be used to guide their clients' advertising campaigns.

Sources: Kathryn Kranhold,"Agencies Beefing Up on Brand Research," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 9, 2000,p. BI4; Brand Asset Valuator White Paper, www.yr.com; "DDB Worldwide Explores What Makes Big Brands Big," www.ddb.com, March 2000.

major agencies are conducting branding research and developing models to determine how consumers connect with their client's brands.

Qualitative Research Input Many agencies, particularly larger ones with strong research departments, have their own research programs and specific techniques they use to assist in the development of creative strategy and provide input to the creative process. In addition to the various quantitative research studies, qualitative research techniques such as in-depth interviews or focus groups can provide the creative team with valuable insight at the early stages of the creative process. Focus groups are a research method whereby consumers (usually 10 to 12 people) from the target market are led through a discussion regarding a particular topic. Focus groups give insight as to why and how consumers use a product or service, what is important to them in choosing a particular brand, what they like and don't like about various products or services, and any special needs they might have that aren't being satisfied. A focus group session might also include a discussion of types of ad appeals to use or evaluate the advertising of various companies.

Focus group interviews bring the creative people and others involved in creative strategy development into contact with the customers. Listening to a focus group gives copywriters, art directors, and other creative specialists a better sense of who the target audience is, what the audience is like, and who the creatives need to write, design, or direct to in creating an advertising message. Focus groups can also be used to evaluate the viability of different creative approaches under consideration and suggest the best direction to pursue.23

Another form of qualitative input that has become popular among advertising agencies is ethnographic research, which involves observing consumers in their natural environment.24 Some agencies send anthropologists or trained researchers into the field to study and observe consumers in their homes, at work, or at play. For example, the Ogilvy & Mather agency has a research unit called the Discovery Group which moves into consumers' homes, follows consumers in their leisure pursuits, or trails them as they move through their daily lives.25 For Ogilvy client Miller beer, Discovery staffers traveled around the country filming Miller drinkers, as well as those drinking competitive brands. They used the tapes to study group dynamics and how the dynamics changed while people were drinking. The agency used the insights gained from the study to help develop a new advertising campaign for Miller Lite beer, which will be discussed later in the chapter. Many marketing and agency researchers prefer ethnographic research over the use of focus groups, as the latter technique has a number of limitations. Strong personalities can often wield undue influence in focus groups, and participants often will not admit, or may not even recognize, their behavior patterns and motivations. However, ethnographic studies can cost more to conduct and are more difficult to administer.

Generally, creative people are open to any research or information that will help them understand the client's target market better and assist in generating creative ideas. The advertising industry is recognizing the importance of using research to guide the creative process. The Advertising Research Foundation recently initiated the David Ogilvy Awards, named after the advertising legend who founded Ogilvy & Mather. These awards are presented to teams of advertising agencies, client companies, and research companies in recognition of research that has been used successfully to determine the strategy and effectiveness of ad campaigns. For example, the California Milk Processor Board, which is a past winner of the David Ogilvy Award, has used both quantitative and qualitative research in developing the popular "Got

Exhibit 8-7 Research helped in the development of the popular "got milk?" campaign

Exhibit 8-7 Research helped in the development of the popular "got milk?" campaign

Got Milk Exhibit Got

milk?" advertising campaign. Focus groups and survey research studies were conducted to help understand companion foods that are consumed with milk and how consumers react to the effect of "milk deprivation," which is the key idea behind the humorous ads in the campaign.26 (Exhibit 8-7)

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