Many years ago in my old neighborhood, a woman around my age moved into the small apartment above the house next door. We gradually got to know each other, and one day the obligatory question about what we each do for a living came up. I explained that I work in market research, and gave her a few standard lines about my job that I typically reserve for these types of situations. Then I paused, waiting for her to jump in and tell me about herself.
“I’m a professional storyteller,” she said. Wait, what? Did she just say she’s a storyteller? I was intrigued. “Oh, so you’re a writer then?” I asked. “No, not exactly,” she said. “It’s oral story telling. I visit area schools and I tell my stories to the kids. The stories are factual and have been compiled by my family over many generations, but I try and tailor them to make them relevant for the kids and the issues they’re facing – for example, overcoming fears or dealing with bullies.”
Well, I thought to myself, a storyteller! That’s miles apart from what I do in the office every day.
Traditional Storytelling vs Brand Storytelling
After some thought though, I realized that what I do really isn’t so different.
As a market researcher, my job is also to help tell stories. Stories about brands, to be more specific. A typical client’s goal – much like my storyteller friend – is to connect with their target audience and to be as relevant as possible to the world that audience lives and works in every day. In other words, find out what issues their target audience is facing, and tell their brand’s story in a way that will make sense to that audience.
How Market Research Fuels Your Brand's Story
Market research, when done well, can be a very useful tool in the storytelling process. Like most storytellers, when beginning a new project I start off in search of answers. I want to know about your brand. Why was it created? What is your brand’s mission? What problems will your brand help to solve? I also want to know about your target audience. Who are they? What are they trying to accomplish? What are their most pressing challenges?
Maybe you can answer this first line of questioning pretty easily. But in some cases, as with a new brand, that might not be so. Broad-based industry research, market segmentation and customer or prospect surveys can help you learn more about your audience’s needs, so you can better understand where you need to focus the most time and energy. Even if you think you know your brand’s story well, it’s helpful to get an outside perspective from people who don’t live and breathe it every day.
Let’s assume that you have a good idea of where you’re brand is headed. You know your purpose, and you know who your audience is. Now, what does your audience think of you? Brand awareness and perception research is one way to get a reading on where your brand stands vis-a-vis your competitors and give you some actionable data in the process. For example, you can measure how your brand performs against your customers’ wish list of important brand attributes, and understand where gaps exist.
The Pattern of a Good Story
All good stories follow a pattern. You get to know the characters and their history, you learn about their intentions and motives. Once you have that information, the story picks up momentum and things chug along pretty well.
But then – plot twist! –unexpected challenges arise. There’s a conflict. For a brand, this could be a bold move on the part of a competitor, a new development in the industry, a data security event, or changes in popular trends or opinions. Now we get to the climax of the story. How will your brand respond to this conflict? How will your customers respond? You’re on the edge of your seat, and you need information fast.
Custom research can be a valuable tool in times of change or crisis. Understanding emerging market trends, as well as customer mindsets and strategies, can help your brand respond appropriately to change and come out looking like a hero. Producing content fueled by third-party market research contributes to the image of your brand as a thought leader and a voice of authority and reason in uncertain times.
There is one big difference between a brand’s story and the kinds of stories that my friend tells. A brand’s story is always evolving. It’s a continuous cycle of learning about and connecting with the people who need your brand right now, in this moment – of discovering who those people are and what their needs are today. Here are some ways in which custom market research can help you along that journey:
- PR and communications – you have great things to say about your brand, and you’ll have the research to back up your claims.
- Syndicated and lead generation – you can gain new followers for your brand to whom you can tell your story.
- Content for events – you can fill a room with prospective customers and give them a sneak peak at the exclusive research you conducted about their industry.
- Field sales – your sales people can get a foot in the door with prospective clients and demonstrate a solid understanding of their pain points.
- Direct marketing efforts – you’ll have something exciting to talk about in that new content piece.
- Educational tools – you can use research for training new hires and arming sales people with the information they need to get closer to customers.
How will your brand’s story end? With the right strategy, it won’t!
Research Director at IDG Research Services