Category Archives: Market Research

Positioning research – a two-part process

It’s unrealistic to plan your positioning strategy in a vacuum. Remember, you’re positioning against competitors who also have positioned their offerings – with the help of their customers and prospects.

The idea is to find an unfilled position that is relevant and compelling to your target market. Those people actually position you – but you can only help them through consistent messaging and performance.

So to find the positioning of competitors “owning” the attribute customers find important should be the first step in a positioning program, and that really involves two steps: 1) identifying attributes customers crave, and 2) determining how your competitors (and you) are positioned against those attributes.

Identifying attributes customers crave

My handy desktop dictionary defines attribute as, “an inherent characteristic”. And since we’re talking about a brand, not just the product/service itself, we want to explore all characteristics associated with a brand. This includes impressions and feelings, heritage and reputation, associations and experiences as well as the things marketers control: package design, pricing, distribution channels, customer service, environmental impact and social responsibility. All those and others can be thought of as attributes of the brand, and can be influential in the purchase decision and brand loyalty level.

So first, identify those attributes your marketplace perceives to be most important. Focus groups can help in this effort. But I like to do Internet surveys. I get quick response to structured, sequential questionnaires. There are several providers: Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and KwikSurveys come to mind.

I structure the questionnaire by defining the product category and then ask an open-ended question: What factors are most important or desirable when selecting a _________?
Then I provide them with screens of certain attributes, one attribute at a time but rotated so each is presented first, second, etc. For each attribute I ask them to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how desirable, how important and how beneficial the displayed attribute is for them.

After displaying no more than five attributes in this way, I provide a screen of all those attributes and ask that the respondent rank them in order of importance, desirability and benefit. I also allow them to enter a couple of “fill-in” attributes I hadn’t provided. If there are more than five attributes to measure, I rotate them through so that each attribute is presented an equal and significant number of times.

After analysis of the results – usually three-hundred respondents for each attribute – I am ready for phase two.

Determining competitive positions

This is a second questionnaire and research project, but I’ll use the same list as for attribute identification and ranking. Here I’ll first ask who provides the product/service in the category I’ve defined to get a top-of-mind measure of brand awareness. Then I’ll present the top five most important attributes from round one, one at a time. I’ll ask who provides that attribute. And for each competitor (and our brand, too, if I already have a presence in the category) they list, I’ll ask them to rate them against each attribute on a one-to-five scale. Finally, I’ll list their competitive choices along with other major category participants and ask respondents to rank them for each attribute.

From analysis of this data, I’m usually able to rank and position the players as shown in the star chart below.

attributes to determine brand position
Six attributes measured to determine a favorable position to occupy

This particular study was performed in a small market concerning sit-down restaurants, but any market, brand category or territory can be analyzed in this way.

Who “owns” what attribute?

As Reis and Trout expound in the pioneering book, Positioning: the Battlefield for Your Mind, a brand that “owns” a particular attribute – particularly if that attribute can be stated as a single word or phrase – will almost always be the market leader. This research can determine if such leadership exists in a particular market/category. If a brand already occupies a particular position in the minds of consumers, i.e. Volvo equals safety or Wal-Mart equals lowest cost, then you are advised to base your brand upon another attribute, even if that attribute is not as powerful as the leader’s ownership.

This is more than theory. We’ve seen how successful Target has been since they stopped competing on price with Wal-Mart and made “design” their position.

And it can happen in the smallest of markets. In my restaurant example, a gap was discovered that led my entrepreneurial client to open a family-style all-you-can-eat establishment instead of the linen-tableclothed, high cuisine  restaurant he had first envisioned.

Research really is cheap when it can help you position your brand advantageously.

How important is branding for a B2B service provider?

The BrandingWire posse of pundits are doing their monthly “thing” – all 10-12 of us blog on a single branding topic.


This time, Lewis Green of biz solution plus suggested we all blog on a situation I’ve personally encountered: “how to brand and market a B2B consulting firm”.

That’s exactly what I’ve had to do, and what I do for at least three-quarters of my clients. First, I’ll answer the questionin the headline: yes, branding is important – no, vital – to the success of a B2B service provider.

Now, as I begin writing this I became troubled with a case of déjà vu. Last month’s BrandingWire blog addressed the branding needs of an IT provider who is, of course, a B2B consulting (or service) business. Rather than repeat my comments from September, I’ll just supply this link, This IT company needs to focus.

The major points from that blog are three-fold:

Find a viable niche
Demonstrate your expertise in print and in person
Differentiate your business from competitors

Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll share some additional observations, opinions and suggestions.

A question of personalities.

What’s a better tack: branding the company or the founder?

I personally believe both should be “branded” in the sense that the people of the firm are the “product” the firm is offering. In my particular service category, brand consultancy, Profit does a good job of co-branding people and the firm. Scott Davis and David Aaker are both well-known authors and speakers. Aaker is probably the most quoted branding guru around. Profit encourages its directors and specialist to author articles and become guru specialists in certain aspects of branding and strategic marketing. They fill “niches”.

Now Profit goes after the big clients. But the same approach for a consultancy serving smaller clients can be powerful.

In addition to authoring articles, speaking at every occasion and belonging to niche-related associations and groups, the individual consultants can indeed become known as specialists within the firm. They are part of the team an account manager can call upon to address client problems. Even a one-person consultancy can take advantage of this approach if he/she has a competent network of specialists to call on.

When services become products

A common practice, one advocated by Anthony O. Putman in his highly-valued book, Marketing Your Services: A Step-by-Step Guide for Small Businesses and Professionals, is to “package” your services. Based upon knowledge of the needs of the market segments you serve, package your services to provide a complete solution to a problem your customer base commonly faces. Then, establish another package addressing a second problem and so on.

Incidentally, Putman’s book has been my guide book from its publication in 1990. Several other books and manuals I highly recommend to service marketers are:

All of Harry Beckwith’s books: Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, The Invisible Touch.

C.J.Hayden’s book, Get Clients Now.

Robert Middleton’s website and his Info Guru Manual.

You’ll find other materials abound, but those above will provide a solid base for planning and action.

Building On-going Relationships

This is the key to successful consultancies. And you’ll hear the complaint from some clients that consultants are always trying to sell them something more. What’s a consultant to do?

There are three suggestions here. The first I also recommended last month, and that is to build relationships as far up the organization chart as possible. Speak to those people in strategic terms. Become a confidant.

Second, become the “auditor” or the “educator” in your particular specialty. Accountants and legal firms establish the auditor type of client relationships naturally. On-going education in HR topics and sales are particularly effective for high-turnover employee businesses. If you address a truly valuable function within the company, becoming its auditor is a source of income as well as being a way to continually interact with management.

The third area is to perform on-going research. While an audit is primarily an internal function, research, be it market, technology, competitor, best practices or industry trends, is out-going and can be highly useful to the client and profitable to the consultant. It’s helpful to create a research “product” and brand it.

While working on the Hewlett-Packard account at Tallant/Yates Advertising here in Denver (1974-1978), we conducted benchmark research every year to determine market share trends, attitudes among engineers about electronic products and advertising effectiveness. A great source of income as well as a way to maintain client relationships at the top of the ladder.

Personal experience in relationship building

I admit, I don’t pay enough attention to it. I’ve always been of the opinion that my work speaks for itself. When I end a project I always get a good reference from the client. They are pleased, but they are through with the branding process. I’ll hear from them again in a couple of years to update a brochure or to send someone a logo.

Most start-up small businesses, the niche I’ve targeted, only want a name, logo, tagline, stationery, a brochure and a website. They haven’t the funds for more even if I were to convince them of a need for more.

So what’s the answer?

Find market segments with on-going branding needs. Then develop the service packages and auditing systems they recognize they need. Then I’ll talk and write about those solutions. That’s where I’m pointing my business. It’s a challenge and an adventure.

Now go to The BrandingWire to read the responses from the other posse members. Each site is listed under the blogger’s names in the right column, or go to The BrandingWire blog site to get the overall picture before visiting the various sites. I’m sure you’ll find perspectives, many different from mine, that may be just what your business needs to develop and sustain client relationships.

Martin Jelsema

A group of Dutchmen are watching us

They’re called Springwise BV. Their main purpose is to “scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds from San Francisco to Singapore”.

Their insights can be particularly valuable in developing brand strategies and tactics.

They’ve recruited a global network of “spotters”, some 8,000 of them. All the data collected is classified, interpreted, analyzed, transmuted, funneled, pummeled, condensed and finally reported at two different websites.

The mother blog is, “your daily fix of entrepreneurial ideas”. Its sister (presumably an aunt) is with the purpose of reporting “global consumer trends, ideas and insights”.

Both offer free newsletters and I believe they live up to their own press. It’s a valuable resource for those connected with branding.

As an example, here’s the way Trend Watching classified several new and emerging lifestyles. The website provides detail at On Our Radar 2007.


“Attractive to consumers driven by experiences instead of the fixed, by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions.

“We dubbed these consumers TRANSUMERS in our November 2006 briefing, and there will be many more of them in 2007.”


Especially for younger consumers, participation is the new consumption. For these creatives, status comes from finding an appreciative audience (in much the same way as brands operate). No wonder that it’s becoming increasingly important to hone one’s creative skills. Status symbols, make way for STATUS SKILLS?”


In a post-material world, all that’s left to covet is…. other people? From networking sites to buddy lists to to a boom in members-only clubs, social status 2.0 is all about who you connect to and who wants to connect to you, tribal-style.”


“With the environment finally on the agenda of most powers that be, and millions of consumers now actively trying to greenify their lives, status from leading an eco-responsible lifestyle is both more readily available, and increasing in value.”


One thing you can’t go wrong with in 2007 is to ask yourself how your current and new products and experiences will satisfy a plethora of very diverse status seekers. In fact, once you get rid of the habit of only believing in traditional status symbols, there is no end to the number of STATUS LIFESTYLES you’ll be able to identify.”

It’s worth looking at the sites, subscribing to the newsletters, and for some, investing in their reports and profiles.

I’m adding Springwise to my blogroll.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 25 in a Series

A metropolitan library is still a great resource. Here are just two ways I’ve used my regional library to local brand name candidates and ideas that spur my creative juices.

I look for reference books, text books and industry reports that contain valuable information about the markets they address Within those documents you might find glossaries of terms, one or two of which may trigger name candidates. Also, scan the indexes for terms and characteristics that might lead to naming ideas.

Also, a resource I find stimulating and fruitful in the business reference section of larger libraries are the twin volumes by Gale Research: Brands and Their Companies and Companies and Their Brands. In Volume 1, all registered and active U.S. trademarks of brands are listed alphabetically with references to their owners. The second volume lists companies alphabetically and then the brands each owns.

There are two ways to use this naming gold mine. First, because most trademarks are only registered for one or two trademark categories, it is entirely possible that you could claim one or more from the list if the trademark owner isn’t a competitor.

Second, both volumes provide a swarm of naming ideas. By scanning and picking word parts, prefixes, suffixes and formats you find appropriate, you can generate new word lists you can combine with words you’ve generated from other sources to increase the quantity of naming candidates.

BrandingWire Case Study: Opinions by the Dozen

As promised, here’s the initiation of a monthly series of blogs based on case studies that twelve of us – a posse of pundits – will be addressing through the vehicle called BrandingWire. Our first “problem” was contributed by Steve Woodruff at Sticky Figure. Here’s the company profile he’s presented us:

“Growing A Company from the Coffee Grounds Up”
“A small coffee company in America’s heartland has been in business for 8 years and is ready for real growth. To date, they are moderately successful, profitable, and carry no debt. They roast their own beans on-site and their retail sites are relaxed, and kind-of country-funky. The locals love them but no one outside the region knows they exist.

This is a family business and the owner is committed to doing whatever it takes to create a thriving business. Before they do, however, they have a few “challenges”. Their brand name may be inadequate to go national, their tagline, “Great coffee at great prices!” sucks, and they have no marketing/branding pieces that can carry their growth. Finally, their logo looks like a five-year old drew it. On the upside, they have lots of roasting capability and their coffee sources can deliver all the beans they will need. They also have money to invest in growth, without placing any burden on their operations.”
You can read my ruminations and recommendations below, and the other eleven perspectives by accessing BrandingWire. But since you’re here, please read mine first.:o)

My Concept of Branding

First I should define what I believe branding is. Before the more traditional tasks such as naming a company or creating a logo, branding is a strategic activity that defines the very business to be created. It involves assessing the market, paying attention to trends and positioning the company in relation to competitors. It is the junction where customer desire and company strengths cross. I call it the brand platform.

So I suggest exploring the very nature of the business.

At present, the owners of this company are deeply committed to competing in the “coffee shop” category head-to-head with Starbucks, the semi-successful Peabody Coffee and a few other “me-too” coffee shop chains and local imitators. If as stated, the owners are “committed to do whatever it takes to create a thriving business”, I’d ask them to think more broadly.

I’d want to explore creating a new product category in which there is no significant, organized competition. This is a matter of combining the coffee-making component with another, equally attractive service business opportunity.

How to Create a New Product Category

How would I go about that? First I would study trends. And I would study Starbucks and try to find those areas in which they are not strong.  I’d look at activities in which coffee drinking could be an accompaniment, much as beer is hooked to bowling. I’d then associate with those types of establishments and sell my brew from under their roofs or in co-owned facilities. This is being done in at least one market, bookselling.

Here’s an example of one direction I’d explore based upon my own, very narrow experience in Starbucks, and knowing about one significant trend in American life. I’d want to walk through the financials before exploring it much further than I have here.

Here’s the premise:

There are few places where small groups can meet regularly except in the back rooms of a handful of restaurants where participants are required to eat a meal. And those groups, either business or social, are becoming more popular what with the trend toward social networking. So I’d provide a place where leads groups, master-mind groups, MLM groups, sales networks, plus non-business groups like mother’s morning break groups, retired social groups and charity organizers could meet regularly for a room fee and the cost of refreshments.

I’d have up to five semi-private areas of different sizes, each of which equipped with conference table, whiteboards, sideboard for refreshments and coffee. These “pods” would offer some privacy. Plus the meetings would no longer dominate the entire seating area as they do when groups “invade” a Starbucks. There would also be a “public area” for one and two people seating, and a take-out function as well.

But instead of being known as a coffee house, I’d create a new category: meeting place. I’d call it something like “Rendezvous”

I’d serve great coffee and variations, but the thrust is a place to gather and to come back regularly to meet, even though you could meet with a friend there anytime, and occasionally just drop in for a cup.

The networking propensity of group members will provide word to spread about this meeting place so that when some one asks, “where can I gather with my cohorts?”, Rendezvous comes to mind.

Think Outside Your Existing Category

So, by thinking outside the traditional product category, by creating your own category in which you are the first to reside, by designing the business around a particular type of customer, by targeting niche activists, by combining business concepts, these coffee folks can compete effectively without competing directly with the Starbucks machine.

If the new model has legs, then I’d build a brand platform upon which the traditional branding elements can be created and integrated into a differentiated new business that just happens to sell great coffee.

Now go visit the BrandingWire and read what the other eleven members of the pundit posse have to say about growing coffee shops. (Their individual blogs can also be reached from the “Posse of Pundits” blogroll in the right column.

Martin Jelsema


An early branding mistake by duPont

In the early 1960’s, I was a participant in one of the classic branding failures of the era. No, not Edsel. Not nearly as glamorous or as expensive as that one, but equally embarrassing to the brand owner, duPont.

The brand was Telar, the never-drain anti-freeze. I was an assistant account exec on that account while at BBDO. Here’s the story.

For many years the sale of anti-freeze was falling. Why? Because the “new and improved” anti-freezes of the day, and especially the Prestone brand, kept getting better. People discovered they needn’t drain their anti-freeze every spring even though the “experts” and the anti-freeze companies admonished everyone to do so unless they wanted their radiators to rust out.

Dow Chemical developed a new product they called Dowguard, a full-fill anti-freeze. It contained distilled, corrosion-retarding water and anti-freeze mix. Folks had to completely drain their cooling systems and fill it completely with Dowguard and they were told they wouldn’t ever need to drain and refill their cooling systems again.

This worried duPont, and so they developed and introduced Telar.

Now they’d done some research concerning sales of anti-freeze. They found that about 35-percent of respondents did not drain their anti-freeze annually. Another 30-percent drained their own.

Remember, this was circa 1960. Discount stores were just becoming popular. This was a trend anticipating Pep Boys, Checker and NAPA toward do-it-yourself auto servicing.   “Traditional” outlets like service stations, garages and auto dealerships were feeling the pinch.

duPont had a strong relationship with the auto servicing industry. Their entire distribution system for all their automotive products was as strong as any in the industry. Their relationships were very tight and DuPont thought the best way to market Telar was through this strong network and not through discounters and chains. So they only sold through their traditional chain and advertised as such, both to consumers and to the trade. And to make the deal even juicier for dealers, DuPont priced Telar at about 30-percent higher than their regular Zerex anti-freeze.

But dealers, knowing this was a “never-drain” product, feared they would lose sales (especially from the 35-percent who were still visiting their facilities to have radiators drained yearly). So they weren’t enthusiastic partners, stocking only token amounts of Telar, not promoting it and only installing it if customers asked them to.

Consumers who came in asking about Telar (the ones who rely on their mechanic’s advice) were not getting really enthusiastic endorsements. Thus, because of no dealer support and a product that flew in the face of many years of tradition (drain every year), Telar failed.

What duPont  had not considered were industry trends and consumer behavior. There was some arrogance involved. Mighty duPont, management thought, could buck the trends toward discounters and maintain a viable network of servicing dealers. Based on past innovations, they believed consumers would embrace any new product from the duPont labs, even if priced above comparable performing products.

The moral: be sure to scan and interpret industry trends and consumer behavior before branding new products.

That is why I encourage branders to build a branding platform with one of those planks being industry/product category trends, and another being complete descriptions of market segments and supply chain participants, and the factors that motivate members of those groups.

Quite often these planks are overlooked by smaller organizations because of research costs and the time it takes to gather critical information.

But I believe it’s just as essential to the success of a brand as positioning the product or creating the brand’s identity.

Martin Jelsema