The Dangers of Building Brands on Oversimplistic Research

By Graeme Newell 

Turn on early morning television these days and you will find a zillion lawyer ads. Almost all follow the hackneyed lawyer ad script just like this ad, “Trust us. We will fight for your rights.” But this morning I saw one that impressed me. Take a look at this ad. Sure, the production values stink but the message is custom-designed to resonate with the customer. “When you sue the hospital, it isn’t just a grab for cash. You’re saving children.”

By focusing on the idea of “litigation as public good,” he brings a sense of nobility and trust. Potential clients looking for an attorney will probably have a lot of trust issues. He sends the message “you can trust me” without ever using those words. He proves trust by deed, not by endlessly repeating the phrase “trust me.”

Like most advertisers, lawyers have done their research, and they know the hot-button words and phrases that resonate with their customers: Trust us. Insurance companies will victimize you. Don’t be a chump. But every lawyer has the same research, and most of them foolishly choose the parrot approach to brand implementation. They simply spit back the exact same words that show up in everyone’s research. Everyone looks the same. This ubiquity creates a brand message that sells the category , not the individual business . The takeaway becomes, “you should get a lawyer,” not, “you should choose me over all the other lawyers.”

The same is true for a lot of television marketing. For the most part, we all have the same quantitative research studies. “What are you looking for in a weathercast?” “Accuracy, trust, reliability, technology, power.” Just like the lawyer ads, selling these price-of-entry attributes brands you as just another nameless face in the herd. Just take a look at this example and you’ll see a branding uniformity that is poisoning TV marketing.

I do a lot of research work with cable companies and Fortune 1000 types. Most of them have a finely honed one-two punch of quantitative research followed by qualitative research. Quantitative research can do a fine job finding out how customers feel about your product , but it usually does a lousy job of finding out how your brand fits into their life and their own personal identity . The truth is that most people don’t really know how they feel about the weather. Sure, they will spit the buzz words back at you when you ask them naively simple questions like “is severe weather coverage important to you?” What do you think they’re going to say? Our feelings about weather are all jumbled up inside of us, mixed in with feelings of family responsibility, annoyance, safety, fashion, fun and worry.

There is a saying in the research business that if you want to find out how someone really feels about something, one of the worst things you can do is ask them. Television has a love affair with quantitative research. It is what we know. We have done it for years and we are very comfortable with it. Quantitative research is important, but it has limited ability to help you navigate the tenuous world of feelings that surround brands. When there isn’t much difference between your product and your competitor’s product, that is when qualitative research becomes a necessity.

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Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at gnewell@602commu