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Asking the right questions.

Asking the Right Questions

The world of advertising research is comprised of a broad spectrum of research issues and tools, which the marketing executive visits and revisits in developing the most effective marketing communications. Defining the marketing issues and addressing them with the appropriate research tools are key contributing factors to the development of successful marketing communications for a brand. Grey Advertising and other leading advertising agencies apply a systematic approach which outlines the decisions to be made and the array of research tools from which a marketer can choose in making these decisions. We will present the details of a systematic approach after first exploring the expectations for effective marketing communications today.

New Expectations for Advertising

Advertising as a marketing tool has evolved significantly over the past few decades. Traditionally, advertising through the media of TV, print, and radio was expected to help increase a product's sales by: . Building and maintaining awareness of a brand or product in the consumer's mind . Communicating product benefits . Reflecting the positioning strategy.

Today, advertising is expected to both satisfy these traditional expectations and go beyond them in its ability to persuade. This need has been heightened in recent years due to the increased incidence of parity products and parity marketing ability among competitors.

Going beyond the traditional expectations in meeting today's challengers

involves the consideration of two important ingredients as part of the overall marketing scheme: . The development and nurturing of a strong Brand Character(TM) . The development, where possible, of a fully integrated marketing communications approach.

Developing a Brand Character(TM)

We recognize that going beyond conventional advertising first means the development and understanding of a product's Brand Character(TM). The main premise of Brand Character(TM) is that advertising must not only communicate what the brand is or what it does, but must also communicate a sense of who the brand is, how it looks and feels, and what its role is in the consumer's life. Exploring these new dimensions of a product and communicating them through advertising helps to distinguish it from other products, just like an individual's personality distinguishes that person from any other. To create a Brand Character(TM), an extra bit of insight is needed about a brand and its target consumer to go beyond the expectations of simple positioning to convey a strong sense of what the brand means.

While every brand potentially has a Brand Character(TM), some brands have been more successful in establishing and owning one than others. The important elements in achieving a successful Brand Character(TM) include: . Being competitively distinctive so that the consumer can recognize and internalize, without question, who the advertiser is and what it represents, however brief the actual involvement with the ad might be. The classic example of success in this regard is the Marlboro ad, whose visual elements possess such a unique look and feel that the brand is easily recognizable, even when the brand name is not identified. . Being relevant and appealing to the target audience's emotional aspirations and not just the logical, rational ones, thus forming a close bond with the target consumer. . Staying true to the essence of one's Brand Character(TM) heritage. Although advertising should evolve with the times to remain relevant to the consumer, the essense of the Brand Character(TM) should be modified only through deliberate and careful planning. Brand Character(TM) is as much a part of one's marketing strategy as any other element and careful consideration needs to be devoted to its management in creative development efforts.

Successful Brand Character(TM) advertising creatively communicates the bond which links the essence of the product with the target consumer's attitudes, aspirations, values and lifestyle. It should touch consumers so that they feel: "This is a brand for people like me." In a world of parity products, this tool helps to give brands that something extra, so consumers can feel it is their brand and fits their lifestyle or who they would like to be.

From a pure bottom line perspective, Brand Character(TM) also represents a tangible business asset since it helps to: . Protect margins . Provide competitive insulation . Build equity in a brand name . Create a longer term investment.

Moving from "Advertising" to "Marketing


Another part of the challenge of today's advertising environment is the evolution of the concept of advertising that extends beyond the traditional media vehicles of print, TV, or radio to the more expansive concept of "marketing communications." The marketing world has experienced a surge in the growth of such alternative media as public relations, sales promotion, merchandising techniques and direct marketing efforts. The creation of new tools in these areas as well as the growing use of these methods in everyday marketing practice have added new dimensions to the management of the marketing communications effort. The communications message and tonality should be uniform throughout these many communications forms and must be integrated in terms of space and time in order to have the most impact on the consumer.

The Marketing Decision Making Process

Achieving effective marketing communications involves serious issues and decisions which deserve disciplined consideration. Leading advertising agencies apply a planning process which identifies the critical decision junctures and issues to be addressed at each specific stage of development, working with clients to develop strategy and create marketing communications. A disciplined approach systematically guides the marketing decision maker through the following key decisions: . What should my marketing communications strategy be? . Is my product line/service right? . Is my advertising right? . Is my total marketing communications effort right?

For each of these decisions, we will describe the key issues and questions and the repertoire of research tools from which the marketer can choose to clarify and facilitate the decisions to be made.

What Should My Marketing Communications

Strategy Be?

This first question is the most critical since the decisions made at this step in the process set the stage for the rest of marketing communications development. Research is especially important at this initial phase since the depth and breadth of information needed for planning strategies includes objectives such as: . Uncovering new opportunities for products and services to meet consumer needs . Identifying those consumers who represent the greatest potential.

The key issues to be considered in the creation of the marketing communications strategy must be approached from two perspectives: internal, in terms of business considerations, and external, in terms of the consumer's wants and needs.

Internal Considerations: Introspection and definition regarding the company's mission and goals are at the heart of this first step of strategy formulation. In large corporations especially, key executives often have very different perceptions of the objectives for which specific projects are intended, and even different ideas regarding more general areas such as their company's image, industry trends, and long-range goals.

The company's thinking on the following key questions is crystallized through research during this part of the planning stage: . What are market considerations, such as volume potential, trends, and the competitive environment? . What are the corporate considerations such as long and short term expectations and how is the product compatible with what the company stands for and offers in other areas? . What are the technical product considerations such as advantages or improvements over current offerings?

The research tools that could be employed to answer the questions above include an analysis of secondary source material (situation analysis), in-depth interviews with key members of the management team, and simulation techniques to forecast the impact (i.e., in terms of criteria like volume) on your business under the given marketing conditions.

External Considerations: The consumer is the other important source of information in creating the specific dimensions of the marketing communications strategy. Through primary research, the consumer can help answer such key questions as: . Who should my target be? . Should the target be further divided into segments of people with different needs and aspirations with whom I should communicate differently? . What would my product replace, or would consumers use it in addition to what they usually use? . Why does the consumer find the product appealing in terms of its rational and emotional benefits and what are the product characteristics which contribute to these benefits? . What should the Brand Character(TM) look and feel like to meet target aspirations, be competitively distinctive, and be easily associated with the brand's heritage?

Strategic research among relevant consumers helps to address these fundamental questions. It helps the marketer to understand the consumer's "ABCs" -- their attitudes, usage behavior and demographic and lifestyle characteristics.

Research tools which guide the discovery of answers to these questions include a variety of analytic techniques to help define market structure. Examples of these analytic techniques are: . Marketing segmentation analysis . Competitive framework analysis such as brand mapping or sorting . Analysis of a brand's key motivating appeals and barriers to purchase.

Another set of research tools used during this strategic research phase includes interviewing techniques, which are designed to delve below surface level responses to uncover deeper, emotional levels of meaning regarding consumer attitudes. Examples of these interviewing techniques which help to uncover emotional motivations include: . Benefit probes, where consumers are systematically questioned about the benefits of a particular product's advantage to facilitate understanding the linkage between rational product benefits and their emotional connotations . Brand Character research, which uses pictorial and emotional imagery batteries to help explore the target group's aspirations, the brand's "personality," and what it means to the consumer.

To help illustrate the important information that these research tools can provide, we will briefly describe the significant contribution a sampling of these techniques made in developing relevant marketing communications strategies for some firms.

Market Segmentation Analysis: A strategic piece of research for one client uncovered the existence of distinct segments of consumers within the camera market to which it could direct a different camera model. The segments differed significantly according to their attitudes, behavior, and characteristics. For example, within the segment profiles developed, the desire for sophisticated, complex features was a key differentiator between the kinds of people in one segment versus another.

Through this product line diversification by segment and the segmented communications effort that accompanied it, the company was able to address each target group with the most relevant product message for them. Ultimately, this strategy helped it to expand the market and strengthen its position as market leader.

Brand Character(TM) Research: As a crucial part of an effort to revitalize the image of a cereal brand, the issue of what the look and feel of the advertising should be was explored through Brand Character(TM) research. In this case, we wanted to maintain and leverage the distinctive, appealing parts of the brand's heritage and yet update it as well. With this research, specific visual, non-verbal stimuli were used to help understand how users were perceived and how that imagery related to the target consumers' perception of themselves and their aspirations.

The results confirmed the positive image traits of the brand but also indicated that certain other elements of its personality were not being projected, since the picture of the user and the self-image of its target audience were not in synch. The need for changes such as a more youthful presence was identified and the advertising approach in turn was modified with successful marketplace results.

Is My Product Line/Service Right?

This fundamental decision in the marketing communications development process involves two basic questions: does the product or service perform well, relative to strategic objectives and versus competition; and which styles, designs, etc. do prospects prefer. Research at this stage is dedicated to defining the optimum product offering. Among the product research techniques which can be used to test and perfect the product are: . Product clinics, where a product's advantages and disadvantages are explored . Extended use tests and blind use tests where products are tested for possible superiority claims over current competitive products . Trade off analysis, which exposes a variety of possible product configurations to the consumers, so that the one with the most potential can be developed.

Hearing and seeing consumers' experiences through in-depth product testing provides a useful tool for creative insight. It not only enables you to form a product message with certain claims, but also provides first hand knowledge of how the consumer reacts to and interacts with the product. This provides useful guidance from which to develop believable language and tonality in communications efforts.

Is My Advertising Right?

The strategic and product phases of marketing communications development which we have described enable the marketer to create a "copy strategy." This outlines the objectives for the advertising in relation to its purpose, the main benefits of the product to communicate, and the tonality it should portray. The creatives use this written strategy to develop advertising which embodies the marketing plan.

At the point when marketers ask, "Is my advertising right?," they may have one or more advertising executions in front of them. They must decide whether the alternatives meet the strategic objectives on an absolute basis and then which communicates these objectives in a way that will best serve the brand. On which, if any, of the creative efforts should they spend money to produce and run on-air?

The key questions that should be asked in making this decision include: . Is the advertising persuasive? Does it convince consumers of the product's excellence on an overall basis and on key strategic dimensions? . Is the advertising impactful? Is it memorable and does it communicate the key sales messages intended? . Is the advertising true to the essence of the product's Brand Character(TM)? Is the brand personality projected appealing and competitively distinctive? . How could the advertising be improved?

There are many different copy research tools available to marketers to help them in their decision-making such as: . Syndicated research services, which test the executions in on-air or off-air environments and then evaluate the executions compared to normative data on such measures as recall or persuasion. . Custom diagnostic communication tests, which measure the execution's ability to communicate the key messages and to point out any executional weaknesses . More elaborate copy tests, which go beyond the measurements of a diagnostic communication test to measure elements such as the advertising's emotional appeal and consistency with the desired brand image.

In choosing a testing method, it is most important to have the copy objectives and issues in mind, since this will best enable marketers to get the answers they need. Once the most appropriate method and the proper test sample (target audience) are chosen, copy testing can be a useful tool, not only to evaluate but also to develop and modify the advertising so it can most effectively speak for the brand.

Is My Total Marketing Communications

Effort Right?

In this final phase of the marketing decision process, the marketers must measure the success of the decisions they have made thus far regarding their advertising and other marketing efforts. If each step of the process was carefully considered and no in-market executional mishaps arose, all indications should point to a successful effort. Listening to the consumer was a key planning ingredient at many junctures along the way.

The basic questions marketers face at this final point include: . What was the "effect" of the marketing communications effort on the consumer's mind in terms of awareness and attitudes toward the brand? . What was the effect on consumer behavior in terms of purchase of the brand? . Should the campaign continue as is, be refined and refreshed, or be replaced?

The primary research tool to measure the effect on consumer attitudes is the tracking study among the target audience. These studies usually compare consumer attitudes at a point prior to a campaign's launch to a point (or many) after a campaign has been established. Measures used within the tracking vehicle should be developed according to the strategy and objectives defined in the first phase of the process.

Consumers' actual purchase behavior can also be tested in a variety of ways. These include analyses of real market shipment and sales data, or controlled market testing, such as diary panel data, store audits, or the newer methods now offered by scanner technology.

If used correctly, these research tools should not represent the end of this decision making process. The whole process would be best illustrated as a circular one rather a than linear one since it has no finite end point. From this last phase of in-market consumer feedback, marketers should continue to gain further insight into what makes the consumer tick and what works and does not work in marketing to this target. From this point, they can further refine their strategy or create a brand new one as the process begins again.


One purpose of this article was to explore the new expectations for advertising in an ever more demanding marketing environment. Today, advertising needs to go beyond the traditional challenges of reflecting a brand's positioning, communicating product benefits, and building awareness to establishing a Brand Character(TM) or a personality for the brand. This will better enable the brand to form a bond with its target consumer. Today, advertising is also expected to extend beyond the traditional media into the concept of "integrated marketing communications," including public relations, sales promotion, and direct marketing efforts.

This article also described the vast panorama of research issues that are at the heart of the marketing communications development process, and many of the research tools available to serve as a guide in making key decisions in this process. A systematic approach to this process was described in detail. The four phases of decision making -- strategic, product, copy, and campaign evaluation -- each have separate issues and research tools, which should be considered in the development of the most effective marketing communications. At each stage of this process of marketing products and services, consumer feedback, through research is critical to the entire planning process.
COPYRIGHT 1989 St. John's University, College of Business Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:planning marketing
Author:Chiagouris, Larry; Perrell, Leslie
Publication:Review of Business
Date:Jun 22, 1989
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