Primary vs. secondary brand intelligence: The right research for the right reasons

April 9, 2014

If you were to ask one of our clients “what are some of CoreBrand’s defining characteristics?” I would venture to guess that aside from saying CoreBrand is populated by very nice and scary smart people (IMHO), they would also mention BrandPower, a proprietary database that measures the impact brand has on business, as being at the heart of what we do. But what they may not know is how multi-dimensional our research capabilities are, meaning that it encompasses all kinds of methodological approaches and data sourcing, including primary and secondary research methods to help develop a 360 degree view of our clients' current and potential branding landscape.

The secondary research is typically done as part of an extensive discovery process that mines documentation and information regarding a client's existing branding strategy, reviews prior research done that touches on how the brand interacts with stakeholders, and explores existing content and data base resources that may shed light on the client organization's place in their market, and that of peer organizations or competitors.

The primary research, which is often built on a foundation developed from the secondary insights, than takes it a step further by obtaining intelligence directly from key stakeholders to uncover their underlying attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about what the brand means, what it should represent, and how it should be managed.

Using both of these data sourcing approaches is a powerful benefit to our current and potential clients. However, it is crucial to know when and how to leverage these research tools effectively so that they provide the complete picture needed for building a successful, and sustainable brand platform.  An example of what can go wrong when this is not done correctly can be seen in a brand loyalty research project for a long established manufacturer of luxury vehicles.

They were seeing several new brands entering the category, and in response they decided to try and enhance their brand loyalty by improving their stagnant initial quality scores, which are ratings compiled by external secondary database providers, to track new car buyer satisfaction for all car brands.

As a first step to improving their initial quality scores, they turned to their internal secondary database of warranty problems and repairs that were reported within the first three months of ownership. They discovered that the most frequent problem reported, by a significant margin, was misalignment of exterior body parts (fender, hood, trunk, etc.). This was followed in order of frequency by the poor finish of the interior (upholstery, carpeting, wood trim, etc.), brake performance (noise or squeal when stopping), and then undercarriage problems (rattling, noise).

Armed solely with these secondary data points of initial quality scores (external) and their warranty repair data (internal), they decided to undertake a massive re-engineering of their assembly processes to address the misalignment of exterior body parts, with the assumption being that since this happened most often, it was likely a main reason for their static quality scores. And while the result was successful in terms of there being a big drop in the frequency of these types of repairs in the first three months of ownership, to their great surprise, the overall initial quality ratings did not change all that much, coming down nominally.

To understand why quality scores changed so little after such a big investment, they than decided to conduct primary research that, in effect, asked new car buyers of their brand how satisfied they were with specific elements of their new car, and then correlated it with overall satisfaction. What they learned, and the reason that fixing the most common problem did not move the needle on initial quality as hoped, was that brake performance turned out to be the strongest predictor of whether or not their new car buyers were initially happy with their purchase. Thus, while occurring with less frequency, brakes that were noisy or squealed were much more likely to drive down initial quality scores than misaligned exterior body parts.

By relying only on secondary research insights, the brand did not allocate their resources as effectively as they could have. Had they used the secondary research insights as a foundation for the primary research before initiating significant and costly process improvements, they would have had a more holistic view of the underlying relationships between the secondary data points of initial quality and warranty repair frequency to guide them.

That is why it is critical for our clients to understand when and why to leverage each type of research data source when it comes to addressing their branding challenges, and to know the limitations and benefits of each before they embark on a re-branding effort, or take action that can impact the brand.

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