Published February 12, 2024

How to Navigate the Waters of Brand Testing

11 min read

Can you test that gut feeling about your brand?

You sure can. You can also test the actions that drive it forward, like ads, social posts, and onboarding. Gauging people’s reactions to your assets is a way to baseline that gut feeling.

Your brand is your promise to your customer. It’s the essence of what you stand for—the heart of your competitive advantage. Brand testing is not just a buzzword; it’s a critical examination of that promise, a way to ensure that your brand resonates with your audience and stands strong against competitors. But how do you begin this crucial process?

We love Jason Vana’s thoughts on building a brand strategy. Your brand is the gut feeling people have about your business. Branding refers to the actions taken to influence this feeling, and your brand strategy involves deciding what that gut feeling should be. Jason says many of you attempt to build a brand without a clear brand strategy.

Brand Testing Decoded

Brand testing, in essence, is a magnifying glass on your brand’s health. It’s an exploratory mission to understand how your brand is perceived, how it performs, and how it aligns with your business objectives. Unlike general market research, which may cast a wider net to gather data on market trends and consumer behaviors, brand testing is introspective—it’s all about your brand’s place in the consumer’s mind and the marketplace.

This specialized research aims to answer pivotal questions: Does your brand resonate with your target audience? Does it stand out from competitors? Is it consistent across different platforms? The goal is to gather insights to sharpen your brand’s image, strategy, and engagement tactics.

The distinction between brand testing and broader market research lies in the focus. While market research might inform you about what kind of products your target market prefers, brand testing tells you if your brand is the one they recall and choose. It’s about measuring your brand’s vitality and ensuring every touchpoint reinforces your promised brand experience.

Jason suggests every action you take creates a gut feeling:

  • every ad
  • every selfie
  • every post
  • every form
  • every pitch
  • every email
  • every video
  • every comment
  • every emoji you use
  • every discovery call
  • every onboarding step
  • every product or service
  • every post you engage with
  • every page on your website

Where to start? To develop a brand strategy, test your materials using Helio to establish a baseline. This initial step helps you understand your brand elements’ current perception and impact. 

Measuring Brand Experience 

The journey of shaping a brand extends far beyond a logo or a catchy tagline. It encompasses a holistic view of how a brand is perceived and remembered. Let’s explore the key elements that make a brand unforgettable.

The brand experience is the sum of all customer interactions with your brand. It’s about creating a consistent, positive experience across all touchpoints and building a lasting relationship with your audience. 

Positioning strategy

Alongside your brand is your positioning strategy. This defines how your brand is perceived in the context of the market and against competitors. A well-crafted positioning strategy makes your brand distinctive and desirable.

  • Brand Recall: A strong brand stays in the minds of consumers. Immediate recognition occurs when a consumer sees a familiar element of your brand, like a logo, or hears a tagline.
  • Brand Awareness: This is the extent to which consumers are familiar with the qualities or image of your brand. Increasing brand awareness is crucial for growing your audience and market share.
  • Positioning Statements: These declarative sentences clearly articulate your brand’s unique value and how it differs from competitors. They serve as a guiding star for all your branding efforts.
  • Brand Perception: How consumers view your brand can make or break its success. It combines consumers’ beliefs, attitudes, and impressions about your brand.
  • Brand Attributes: These are the core values and characteristics that define the essence of your brand. They form the foundation of your brand identity and help distinguish your brand from others.
  • Brand Tracking: Regularly monitor your brand’s health through metrics like brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. It’s an ongoing process that helps understand the impact of your branding efforts.
  • Brand Analysis: This involves thoroughly examining your brand’s position in the market, its strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
  • Brand Equity: The value your brand adds to your product or service. High brand equity means consumers will pay more for your brand than a generic version.

The Brand Testing Process

When it comes to brand testing, envision it as a strategic operation designed to enhance and affirm your brand’s position in the hearts and minds of consumers. Here’s how you can systematically approach this process:

  1. Define Goals: Start by pinpointing the specific attributes of your brand you wish to evaluate. This could range from overall perception and recognition to your logo’s or messaging’s effectiveness. Setting clear, measurable goals at this stage lays a solid foundation for the subsequent steps.
  2. Select Target Audience and Testing Method: Your target audience should reflect the demographic of your typical or ideal customer. The testing method—be it surveys, focus groups, or usability tests—will hinge on the type of feedback you seek. Are you after quantitative data or qualitative insights? Choose accordingly.
  3. Run the Test: Conduct the test with your audience and method set. This involves presenting your brand materials to the audience and capturing their reactions. The key is to obtain real-time, honest feedback that accurately reflects their perceptions and experiences.
  4. Analyze Results: Post-testing, delve into the data collected. Look for patterns, strengths, and weaknesses in the feedback. It’s not just about what your audience likes but also why they don’t like it. This phase is crucial for translating raw data into meaningful insights.
  5. Iterate and Refine: Armed with this information, refine your brand strategy. Adjust the elements that didn’t resonate well and enhance those that did. Remember, brand testing is not a one-off event but a continuous process that evolves with your brand and audience.

Following these steps creates a loop of feedback and improvement that keeps your brand dynamic and relevant. Brand testing is not a destination but a journey—a commitment to ongoing enhancement and excellence.

The Brand Testing Example

Embarking on the brand testing journey requires a blueprint—a plan of action that guides your every step. Begin by clarifying what you seek to understand through your testing. Is it your brand’s recognition, its perceived value, or how it stands up to competitors? 

Once your objectives are set, you can choose the methods to garner the needed information. Here’s an example using that five-step process to test the brand imagery of a university’s online education program.

Define Goals

The university team felt that they needed an imagery refresh during their site redesign because most of their students were online, remote learners. The previous site imagery had focused on in-person success and learning on campus, so the team developed a hunch:

Using site imagery that reflects students in their current, remote environments at home will better relate to the university’s target audience.

With their goal in mind, the university and Helio team crafted three variations of brand imagery based on different themes:

Test visuals for impressions to support your brand testing.

From there, the university worked with the Helio team to determine what kind of questions they could ask of visitors to determine the right direction for their brand image.

Select Target Audience and Testing Method

Helio’s selection of ready-made audiences allowed the university team to target a group of participants based on their behaviors and preferences regarding their education.

The primary audiences the university tested with included Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and what they call Stopout Students: participants who have completed some higher education but did not finish and have considered returning.

Run the Test

With three variations of brand imagery in hand, the team knew they wanted to maintain the overall appeal of their website while improving certain impressions, such as relevance and success.

The first question asked of each imagery variation asked participants to rate their satisfaction with the visuals on the page:

Likert scales support brand testing by giving direct impression feedback.

Then, to gauge emotional reaction to the images, participants were asked to indicate what impressions they felt from 8 positive and negative options:

Multiple choice questions allow for multiple feedback points.

Along with each quantitative question type, participants were asked to explain their choices:

Qualitative feedback informs brand testing.

This way, the university team understood the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of visitors’ emotional reactions.

Analyze Results

The audience’s quantitative emotional reactions were captured in Helio’s data report:

Filter your data to inspect feedback that supports your brand decisions.

Along with each choice from participants came their qualitative follow-up explanation:

“The pictures make me feel students are happy at this school. It makes me excited to put in the hard work and graduate. This translates to relevance for me and makes me respect the school.” – Graduate Student (US)

With all of their responses collected, the Helio team was able to enter the data into a comparison framework for easy analysis across each imagery variation:

Comparison frameworks show impressions, which makes decision making easier.

With the full breadth of responses in front of them, the university team was able to draw signals from the comparison framework with the help of Helio’s advocates.

Despite V1 images maintaining satisfaction with V2, the emotional reactions favored the Higher Education theme rather than the concept of remote Online Education.

The clear signals indicating success from the Higher Education team gave the university a strong direction for their imagery. Despite having a predominantly online audience of remote learners, the success and respectability shown by the Higher Education team proved more important to the university than direct relevance to their end users.

Iterate and Refine

A new idea from the university team pitched the concept of illustrations rather than images on the site. The Helio team crafted the new visuals and placed them into the same homepage design to test both the concept of illustrations and a combination of illustrations + imagery:

Brand and imagery feedback supports decision making.

The illustrations concept didn’t connect well with participants, receiving the worst emotional reaction out of all the variations. V5, with its combination of illustrations and imagery, maintained decent levels of satisfaction and positive impressions, though it wasn’t able to win out over the previously established Higher Education theme. However, this does solidify the illustration + images direction as a viable concept for the future.

The university team made the most of their brand testing by testing several different concepts and comparing the brand impressions they elicited from their audience.

Diving into Methods of Brand Testing

Brand testing can take various forms, each with unique strengths and focuses. Here’s a look at some of the most effective methods:

  • Surveys and Questionnaires: To truly grasp how your brand is perceived, you must ask the right questions. These tools require a balance of open-ended questions inviting elaboration and targeted queries that yield measurable data. The goal is to uncover what people think about your brand and why they hold those opinions.
  • Focus Groups: This qualitative method provides a platform for deeper insight. By engaging with a small, diverse group of consumers, you can observe reactions and delve into the rationale behind their thoughts on your brand. The art lies in facilitating discussion that yields candid, nuanced feedback.
  • Social Listening: In our connected world, brand sentiment is often freely expressed online. Social listening tools allow you to monitor and analyze these conversations across various platforms. This method helps you understand how your brand is discussed in the wild, revealing the unvarnished truth of public perception.
  • Concept Testing: Sometimes, the smallest changes can have a significant impact. A/B testing involves comparing two versions of a brand element to see which one performs better with your audience. Whether it’s a logo, tagline, or ad copy, this method provides concrete data on what resonates best with your audience and why.

Each of these methods can offer valuable insights, and when used together, they form a comprehensive approach to understanding and enhancing your brand’s standing in the market.

Making Sense of the Data

Analyzing the data from brand testing is like piecing together a puzzle. The key is to sift through the feedback to discover patterns that tell a story about your brand. Start by categorizing the positive, negative, or neutral data, then delve deeper to understand the ‘why’ behind each response. Look for recurring themes or sentiments that could indicate broader trends or issues.

Patterns may emerge around certain brand features, such as your logo or tagline. Perhaps there’s a disconnect between what you believe your brand represents and the public perception. Such insights are actionable; they can guide you to refine your messaging, redesign your branding elements, or even pivot your approach entirely.

The goal is to convert raw data into a strategic roadmap for your brand. This means identifying what your brand is doing right or wrong and understanding how to leverage strengths and address weaknesses. Through thoughtful analysis, you can craft a brand that resonates more deeply with your audience and stands out in the marketplace.

Turn Signals into a Strategy

Turning insights into strategy after brand testing is a pivotal step that involves translating the feedback and data into actionable plans. Begin by developing a brand strategy that addresses the core findings from your testing. If your data indicates a gap in brand perception, consider redefining your brand’s messaging or visual identity to close that gap.

Implement these changes in a controlled, measurable way to track their impact. You might roll out a new tagline to a test market or update your branding materials on select digital platforms. Monitor the results closely using the metrics or KPIs you established during the testing phase. This allows you to compare before-and-after scenarios and measure the true effect of your changes.

Remember, the goal is not just to change for the sake of change but to evolve strategically to enhance your brand’s connection with your audience and its performance in the market.

Common Mistakes in Brand Testing

Common mistakes in brand testing often stem from a lack of strategic planning and a misinterpretation of the audience. To elaborate:

  • Vague Objectives: Without specific goals, it’s challenging to determine what success looks like. Ensure each objective is tied to a key performance indicator (KPI).
  • Non-Representative Sampling: Relying on a sample that doesn’t reflect your diverse customer base leads to skewed data. Use a mix of demographics, psychographics, and behaviors to select participants.
  • Confirmation Bias: Avoid seeking feedback that only supports preconceived notions about your brand. This can blindside you to actual areas of improvement.
  • Overlooking Competitor Comparison: Brand testing is not just about your brand in isolation. Understand how your brand is stacking up against the competition.
  • Ignoring the Customer Journey: Different touchpoints can affect brand perception. Map out the customer journey and test the brand at various points.
  • Lack of Context: Brands don’t exist in a vacuum. Ensure your brand is tested in contexts that mimic real-world scenarios where customers would encounter your brand.
  • Focusing Solely on Quantitative Data: Numbers tell only part of the story. Qualitative feedback can illuminate the reasons behind the numbers.

By being aware of these common pitfalls and actively working to avoid them, you can ensure your brand testing is effective, accurate, and truly beneficial to your brand strategy.

Commitment to Brand Testing

Brand testing is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey towards improvement. It should be embedded as a regular practice in your business strategy, allowing you to keep a finger on the pulse of your brand’s health and relevance in an ever-evolving market. 

Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement, where feedback is sought and actively used to make informed decisions, ensures your brand remains dynamic and resonant. This commitment to regular testing and adaptation enhances your brand’s appeal and solidifies its position as a responsive and consumer-focused entity in the marketplace.

Brand Testing FAQ

What is brand testing?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

Brand testing is a focused approach to evaluate how your brand is perceived in the market. It involves collecting and analyzing data on how customers react to your brand, including various elements like logos, messaging, and overall brand identity. This process helps identify strengths and weaknesses in your brand strategy, enabling you to make informed decisions to enhance brand appeal and effectiveness.

Why is brand testing important?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

Brand testing is crucial as it provides insights into how your audience perceives your brand. It helps understand the effectiveness of your branding efforts and aligns your brand’s identity with customer expectations. By regularly conducting brand testing, you can stay ahead of market trends, maintain relevance, and ensure your branding resonates with your target audience.

What are the key steps in the brand testing process?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

The brand testing process typically includes defining clear goals, selecting a target audience, choosing an appropriate testing method (like surveys, focus groups, or social listening), conducting the test, and then analyzing the results. This systematic approach helps gain meaningful insights about your brand’s performance and perception in the market.

How do I choose the right method for brand testing?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

Choosing the right method for brand testing depends on your specific goals and the type of feedback you seek. Surveys and questionnaires are great for quantitative data, focus groups can provide qualitative insights, social listening offers real-time feedback on public perception, and A/B testing is ideal for comparing different branding elements. Consider your objectives and resources to select the most suitable method.

How can I effectively analyze brand testing data?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

To effectively analyze brand testing data, look for response patterns and trends. Categorize the feedback as positive, negative, or neutral and delve deeper into the reasons behind these perceptions. This analysis should lead to actionable insights that can be used to improve your brand strategy.

What common mistakes should I avoid in brand testing?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

Common mistakes in brand testing include not having clear, measurable objectives, relying on a non-representative sample, confirmation bias, overlooking the competition, ignoring the customer journey, focusing solely on quantitative data, and failing to test the brand in realistic contexts. Avoiding these pitfalls ensures more accurate and useful results.

How often should I conduct brand testing?
Caret signaling that you can click it to open the dropdown

Brand testing should be an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. The frequency depends on factors like market dynamics, changes in consumer behavior, and introducing new products or branding elements. Regular testing helps align your brand strategy with market trends and customer preferences.

Build something your users truly want