Your company’s brand is its reputation among customers. It’s a combination of experiences, feelings, reactions, and exposure to your business. But inevitably, brands need to evolve for one reason or another; mergers, acquisitions, public pressure, and stagnation are just a few examples. For most businesses, the “brand” can be a sensitive subject for stakeholders. That’s why it’s critical to do brand research if you’re considering changing or adjusting your brand in some way.
In this article, we’ll delve into the topic of brand exploration—testing new ideas about your brand. You’ll learn why it’s important to test your brand, see examples of branding mistakes, and different methods for testing your brand. Here are some of the key takeaways:
- Ask yourself three questions: What do you want your audience to think, feel, and do?
- While the Twitter → X rebrand was chaotic and swift, it’s still too early to call the rebrand a bust.
- Tropicana, Dr. Pepper, and HBO should have tested with an audience before making major branding mistakes.
- How to test your brand experience, logo, name recall, and positioning strategy with an audience.
Do you pass the brand test?
There are thousands of ways to ask customers questions or test their reactions to your brand. The Think-Feel-Do framework from Emily Taylor Gregory keeps things simple. The model encourages marketers to think about how they want audiences to respond to their products and services.
Ask yourself these questions:
- THINK: What do you want your audience to think about your brand and its expertise/authority?
- FEEL: What emotional response do you expect from your audience, and how do you want them to feel about your brand?
- DO: What action do you want your audience to take, and how do you hope to influence their behavior?
Once you define these areas internally, the next step is to test those hunches with an audience. Otherwise, you risk sinking precious resources into a direction that won’t resonate with your target customers.
Brand exploration case story: X (formerly known as Twitter)
In a bold move, Elon Musk took steps to rebrand Twitter, one of the most well-known brands in the world, to X. The best part? He is testing his new brand at a scale unimaginable by most product and marketing leaders. He did pay $44 billion for the platform. Why not use the built-in audience to collect feedback?
Like most people, our team was taken aback by the swiftness and chaos. So, we used Helio to survey 102 social influencers to get their thoughts on the rebrand. Here are some key takeaways:
Elon is obsessed with X. Social influencers? Not so much.
Initial reactions to the brand appear much more negative than positive. 63% of our social users feel some type of negative reaction to the name, such as confusion or boredom.
“There’s nothing catchy, nothing that eludes to the brand or mission, and it seems like a name a middle schooler would give a project to sound cool. My fake business is X! No….”Social Influencer via an open-ended text response
The new name may impact user adoption
For people who currently don’t use Twitter (purple bars), the new name may impact user adoption. 59% of non-users are very unlikely to sign up for X, compared to 29% of current users (dotted bars).
Sentiment towards the name change hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive
44% of social media users who have heard of the change had negative comments to share. Is the press influencing people?
“I think it’s unnecessary and pretentious.”Social Influencer via an open-ended text response
It’s too early to make bold predictions on how the X brand will be perceived long term. People don’t like change, so the negative reactions are not surprising right now.
Given Elon’s business success, there’s likely a reason for his madness. We shall see!
If you found this thread interesting and want to run your own market surveys with social media marketers, influencers, and shoppers, check out the X survey data in this Helio report.
Missed brand exploration opportunities
In 2009, Tropicana decided to replace the existing packaging design that depicted an orange with a straw sticking out; a symbol of freshness. In its stead, they replaced the iconic imagery with a generic sunburst (depicted below). After two months, sales dropped by 20%, representing a loss of 30 million dollars. Tropicana immediately announced they would return to the original packaging. Read more details about the branding blunder here.
While they certainly know who this product is not for, it was a risky move to use such bold, exclusive language in Dr. Pepper’s 2011 campaign for their new product, Dr. Pepper 10. According to a 2013 article in The Realtime Report, “In a word cloud analysis of how people felt about the brand, Dr. Pepper was considered ‘nasty’ following their ‘men only’ controversial campaign.” The article goes on to explain how Dr. Pepper analyzed social media signals to gauge audience reception to the new product. In hindsight, it would have been wise for them to test this product with an audience.
HBO literally stood for “home box office.” If any brand was positioned for the streaming era, it was HBO. Instead, they chose a generic, undifferentiated name. Max will have to compete with other streaming platforms like Paramount+ and Peacock. But now, the streaming platform will also have to compete for name recognition with the star character of Maurice Sendak’s award-winning children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.
How to do brand exploration
Feedback is important. But brand research should also include observing target audience behavior. There are many different ways you can analyze customer behavior in brand research. Let’s break them down:
- Brand Experience. Examining how people interact with a brand end-to-end. If your brand experience stinks, people won’t be coming back.
- Test Logo. The more hands touching a brand, the more it alters visually. You can test whether any visual changes still resonate with your target audience.
- Brand Recall. Memorable brands stick with a person for a lifetime. This analysis tells if a brand is unforgettable.
- Positioning Strategy. Ensure that a brand is perceived well by its target audience. This allows an understanding of a target audience and a brand’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their rivals.
A rebrand takes a lot of company resources. Brand research can help companies reduce their risk and focus resources on the right iterations on their brand. Championing this initiative can make you a company hero.
Subscribe to Closing the Gap: A Newsletter for Makers and Doers
A few times each month, you’ll get a collection of frameworks, insights, and stories that will help you connect with your unique audience. This newsletter is designed for makers and doers on creative teams like marketing, product, and design. Subscribe today.