Importance of research for branding

In today’s fast moving and competitive retail market, the role of branding and design is becoming increasingly important, as brands have to operate at the cutting edge and push boundaries. The design vocabulary is constantly changing. Colours come in and out of fashion, minimalism gives way to opulence, and so the story continues…

Most tenant brands have their fingers on the pulse, so if a mall seems not to understand what’s in fashion it can affect how retailers view its ability to understand other aspects of the business. It’s therefore essential that malls stay in tune with style, and show this through the design and branding of their assets.

For an industry dominated by greying male decision makers, often based in countries thousands of miles from their assets, it’s ironic that engaging the young female audiences and understanding local sensitivities is often seen as the key to success. Qualitative research is therefore an essential tool for ensuring brands and marketing communications are positioned correctly, having contemporary validity and local relevance. That said, it is surprising how rarely such investments are made, especially given the high costs (and risks) of developing a new brand. Get it wrong and these can go off the scale, with mistakes sometimes taking years to rectify and affecting sales and footfall.

Consumer research need only take a few weeks, and shouldn’t cost much, especially if you’re able to do it internally.

Samples can comprise of existing and/or new customers from the relevant demographic. We’d normally propose conducting at least four focus groups of 6-8 people, lasting a couple of hours, though one-on-one interviews depth interviews also work well.

The topics covered depends on your objectives but typical areas can include:

– Favourite retail brands (at your mall, if it already exists, and elsewhere)
– Malls visited, likes and dislikes
– Social media, reading and TV habits
– Lifestyle – leisure time, hobbies etc.
– Aspirations – what you’re into, looking to buy (or be bought!) next
– Favourite meeting places, and what makes them special?
– Likes and dislikes of your mall, what type of image does it have?

Research also presents the opportunity to introduce visual stimuli and test proposed brand and/or marketing concepts.

If you’re looking to attract lapsed or new customers there needs to be a focus on why your scheme currently fails to attract them, and what it needs to do to change this.

As well as informing the creative aspects of branding and positioning, research can also influence leasing, operations, facilities, human resources and all many of aspects. After all, a brand isn’t just a logo, it’s the values people associate your mall, which are shaped by their physical experience of it.

Nevertheless, try to keep your expectations in check as findings don’t always offer new insights and sometimes just tell us what we already knew, or at least thought we did. In these situations research acts more like insurance, helping us avoid making costly mistakes, or giving us the confidence to make tough decisions when faced with uncertainty.

All that said, try not to let research stifle creativity or innovation. As Steve Jobbs once said, “it isn’t the consumers job to know what they want”. Often the most valuable (and fun!) research you can do is your own, reading blogs and magazines, trend-spotting, visiting new malls and retail concepts.

By David Kemp