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Understanding Thought Leadership: What Does It Really Mean in 2023?

The four elements of good thought leadership, and how to achieve them.

It seems that in the digital realm of 2023, you can find information and content on almost any topic. Virtually every company now has webpages dedicated to sharing their insights or driving more web traffic. However, with the overflowing information this year, what really sets content apart from true thought leadership?
There are four elements to consider: thought leadership is a piece of content that presents a fresh perspective (innovation) supported by evidence (credibility), which is accessible (visibility) and aims to inform its reader (educating).

Now, let’s delve deeper into these elements, understanding how they have been crucial throughout 2023 in distinguishing standard content from genuine thought leadership.

Image source Wikimedia Commons

What is meant by thought leadership?

1. Innovation

Thought leadership in 2023 doesn’t merely scrape the surface or share known information. Instead, it is content which dives deeper and further, building on knowledge and expertise to produce innovative ideas. It addresses the big questions on the minds of your target audience and the biggest trends and influences in your market. Thought leadership is the product of individuals or companies who are committed to a deeper understanding of their market and therefore create insightful analysis and content.

By enlisting on both experience and passion, thought leaders look for unique perspectives with which to view these topics. Although uniqueness is important in thought leadership, what is even higher on the priority list is having the best answer, because ultimately thought leadership is a method of informing.

2. Education

Thought leadership is a product of those wanting to educate and engage with their customers in a commensal fashion. You achieve this by consistently sharing high-quality content openly. The end goal of thought leadership is often not sales or leads. Instead, it is a product in itself, with engagement being the equivalent of a sale. The desired outcome of producing thought leadership is therefore high engagement from your audience, with any other beneficial outcomes being a bonus rather than a given. In this way, an organisation views thought leadership as the door to welcome consumers, competitors, or the general community.

It is a means of educating and sharing knowledge. This commensal relationship, in which the audience benefits at no cost to themselves, builds trust between them and the thought leader. You should avoid using it purely for self-promotion. This approach will not only lose the audience’s interest but also erode the trust you’ve built.

3. Visibility

Those who cannot lead if cannot be seen! Content therefore requires visibility to become thought leadership. Thought leadership in turn then increases visibility of the thought leader, accelerating their influence, and taking them closer to their goals.

4. Credibility

Thought leadership is content which influences and creates change. Therefore, it is important that it’s based on credible information. Although experts can of course have expert opinions, to be effective it must be backed up with data and underpinned by facts. This is where thought leadership research comes into play.

Why engage in thought leadership in 2023?

Navigating through 2023’s digital age, the advantages of emerging as a thought leader have never been clearer. Such individuals stand at the frontier of innovation, setting new standards and guiding their peers forward.

Builds trust between a company and its audience

Customers are going to trust companies who can explain how to solve their problems clearly. And they are going to trust companies who do so consistently without asking for anything in return. By producing thought leadership pieces that show they not only know their market, their audience, and the challenges which both face, but also an advanced thinking on these topics, thought leaders can build trust in their audiences.

Builds brand strength, visibility, reputation

Not only does being knowledgeable increase trust, but it looks pretty good too. If a company is producing thought leadership, showing it is ahead of the game and aware of what is going on around them, it sheds a positive light on the brand. Becoming part of the conversation and becoming more visible means the audience will get to know them – things feel more relatable, more accessible and more social – which is good news for a brand’s reputation and affinity.

Provides opportunities

Becoming a thought leader opens a world of opportunities for a company in terms of business, such as:

  • Sales/partnerships
  • Generating demand
  • Exposure/access to people who can propel or develop new ideas
  • Build relationships with other leaders in their fields/in your field
  • Reach new audiences and grow current ones

Provides power, status, and authority

Of course, being a leader in your field instinctively puts you in a position of authority. When others seek you out for knowledge, expertise, and insight, they also see you as a persuasive figure and follow you in decision-making situations. People view producing thought leadership as the pinnacle of authority in a B2B setting.

What forms can thought leadership take in 2023?

Thought leadership can take many forms, it can be written or spoken, online or offline, long or short, independent or collaborative – the list goes on. But the main premises remain; it is informative, it is credible, and it offers insight or innovation from an expert.

Generally, a thought leader should use various types of thought leadership and strategically choose their platform.

Post TypeDescription
BlogpostsBy posting thought leadership content to your own blog regularly, a thought leader can build a strong repertoire and get their message out to their followers
Guest postsWriting and publishing an article on someone else’s website or blog. This is a great way to connect with new readers and get your message to an audience outside of your usual followers
Articles in industry journalsA great destination for when you want to reach other experts within your industry
Contributed contentThis is content written by a non-journalist and published somewhere other than your own platform, such as a news website or paper. It generally does not require journalistic neutrality and can have a clear opinion. It can be one-off, or a regular occurrence and it allows you to reach a wide audience to get across your point of view
WhitepapersA persuasive and in-depth report on a specific topic, used to educate an audience or promote a strategy. With this method, the writer can present their philosophy on the issue at hand
Press mentionsExactly what it says on the tin: a mention of you or your company in the press, in the form of quotes, case studies, being used as a positive example or even a feature of an entire article
Social media posts (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, InstagramThis is a platform not only where you can share their existing thought leadership content, it is also somewhere where you can get involved in conversations circulating around the topics they are experts on and where they can connect with others in their industry
WebinarsGiving presentations, lectures, workshops or seminars over the web on a topic of your expertise will show that they are someone to look up to in the industry. This is an example of how someone can engage in the educational aspect of thought leadership
Speaking engagementsWhether this is through public media such as TV, and radio or podcasts, giving talks to others in your industry at an industry meeting, or delivering speeches in the community, this form of thought leadership gets your name and face known in the industry
AwardsWinning awards that matter in a specific industry is a strong sign of being a thought leader in that industry

Who is a thought leader and what do they do?

  • Inspire people/future generation
  • Have innovative ideas
  • Turn ideas into reality
  • Lead the thinking of their field of expertise
  • Create revolutionary advances in their industry/influence the development of their discipline
  • Create foundations for others to build on

What is thought leadership research?

Conducting your own research can give a huge advantage within thought leadership. It can give new insights that can be applied to existing challenges, and it creates new material to include in content and share with others.

To be effective, particularly in B2B markets, thought leadership has to:

  • Answer questions that customers and potential customers want answered
  • Offer a unique perspective on topics that are relevant and interesting
  • Put the thought leader / organisation at the centre of conversations
  • Ensure the thought leader is leading those conversations
  • Stimulate engagement between prospects and the organisation
  • Be part of a wider content marketing strategy

Why do research for thought leadership?

To be an expert in your area 

Content is only thought leadership if you can ‘establish authority’ by showing expertise on the topic. Expertise comes from in-depth knowledge. And while in-depth knowledge comes from experience,  it can also come from research and having insights that others may not have.

To guide topics and angles to take

You want to communicate about topics important to your audience and you want to take a unique perspective. But how do you know what is important to your audience? How do you know what is fresh and what has been done before?

By doing research, you can answer the questions such as:

  • What challenges are customers facing?
  • What do customers want answers to?
  • What hasn’t been looked at before?
  • What are customers interested in?
  • How are customer opinions changing?
  • Who are your current/potential customers?

To flesh out content with cold hard facts

Being an expert in your industry looks good. But an expert’s opinion backed up by cold hard facts looks even better.If a piece of thought leadership incorporates statistics and data in support of its aim, it can only benefit:

  • Improves credibility
    • It looks more reliable and trustworthy, especially if done with a third party.
  • Increases chances of gaining media coverage
    • Including facts and figures can often make content more relatable and therefore more engaging.
  • Longevity
    • Facts and figures can be cited over and over. This means a piece of thought leadership content can get more mileage over time and will be less likely to become outdated.

How can you conduct market research for thought leadership?

Collaboration between thought leaders and market researchers

The relationship between thought leadership and market research can be seen as a symbiotic: thought leaders can add to better market research, while market research can raise the pedestal of thought leaders.


When conducting market research, it can be useful to have input of thought leaders to the research and findings. In collaboration with market researchers, experts in their industry can guide the angles to take, the type of research to conduct, and the questions to ask. They can also add valuable inputs to the findings of that research and the reports made on that industry based on these findings.

Market research allows thought leaders to find who customers are, what they like and the challenges they face. Those key findings and additional knowledge will enable the thought leaders to:

  • Guide future thought leadership pieces in terms of the strategies to take, topics to discuss and the angles with which to approach them
  • Create data points that support what they do or that highlight the problems which they are going to solve
  • Turn them into thought leadership media campaigns and provide newsworthy stories. Instead of waiting for news to happen, it creates news stories of their own, empowering the thought leader in that area and putting them / the organisation at the centre of that conversation

Building the right approach


  • Uncover facts, headlines and trends
  • Measure opinions, attitudes and behaviours
  • Reveal insights for editorial angles


  • Gather anecdotal stories and information
  • Produce quotes
  • Bring numbers to life
  • Gain more in-depth insights

Desk Research

  • Provide real-world context to support auxiliary research
  • Conduct early explorations of topics to shape the overall program or approach


  • Engage your audience by letting them know how they measure against their peers


  • Create insights that capture headlines and promote media coverage

Thought leadership strategy

In order to become a thought leader and create thought leadership content, you should always have a strategy to stay focused and effective.

Thought leadership research should be a critical part of any content strategy:

  • Build it
  • Deploy it
  • Convert it

How to make a thought leadership strategy

1. Make goals – what story do you want to tell?

Start at the destination – Decide what headlines or angles you would like to make and let that lead the way backwards as to what questions you need to ask and who you need to ask them to. From here, define the goals you want to reach from your thought leadership strategy

2. Do your research


  • Using a third party – By conducting market research with a third party, you can ask the questions you don’t know the answers to, to find data you didn’t know existed. Collecting data in this way ensures that the findings are credible and validated
  • Collect existing thought leadership – Look at what you have already done to ensure consistency and to see what needs updating to fit in with your new strategy


  • Know your audience – Research will help you to define the challenges your customers face. You will better understand your audience, shaping the content you create and determining how you share it

3. Bring together goals and research to:

Decide whom you are targeting with your thought leadership.

  • Even though everyone should access thought leadership, you should write each piece for a specific audience. Therefore, you need to decide who you are trying to reach. If you want to reach niche outlets related to your specific industry, B2B may be the way to go.
  • Want to connect with the general population and gain widespread media attention? Then it might be best to go with B2C research.

Develop a content/visibility strategy 

  • Decide what areas you will communicate about and what unique angles you will take on those topics
  • Decide where to share your thought leadership – where does your audience look to for inspiration and information?

Ensure harmony in your strategy 

  • Ensure your thought leadership strategy aligns with your business strategy and that it is something that your audience would find interesting
  • Ensure that you can bring together all your thought leadership pieces in a way that is harmonious. Lots of content that is not harmonious will not be influential

4. Tell the story

Creating the content:

Choose one or two core points related to your goals/strategy and centre your story around these points . On top of this your content should be:

  • Informative and insightful – Incorporate opinions and recommendations as well as facts
  • Providing a unique point of view – Make points which add something to the conversation, or something the media might find interesting

Sharing the content:

  • Make it last – Although you might want to create one centre almighty piece of content, a hero piece with the information gathered from all your hard work, that doesn’t mean your thought leadership on this area stops there. You can buffer this centrepiece out with auxiliary pieces, such as small blogs, infographics, social posts, and byline articles, over time to prolong your thought leadership presence and maintain momentum. Recycle content in creative ways, but always ensure there’s a clear purpose for every piece within your strategy
  • Be present – Keep the stream of thought leadership content consistently over time, as consistency will create a presence that cannot go unnoticed.
  • Be diverse – Make sure mix it up regarding the content itself so your thought leadership addresses various issues your audience faces, and keep it varied with the formats you use to reach a wider audience
  • Make it visiblePublish content through channels which align with the target audience, then reinforce the primary content through social media


Without data you’re just another person with an opinion” – W. Edwards Deming. Make yours a good opinion with evidence.

Speak to Sapio’s about its polling services, among hard or easy to reach audiences. You can find our top tips for designing a questionnaire to generate headlines and create an impact here.


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Why would a company do Market Research?

The key to any successful business is to understand what it is that your customers want and giving this to them in a way that is profitable for you.

The key to any successful business is to understand what it is that your customers want and giving this to them in a way that is profitable for you.

To find out what exactly it is that your customers want you must undertake a process called ‘Market Research.’

Why would a company do market research?

Market Research provides consumer needs & wants

Market Research helps firms discover consumer opinion on a whole host of issues: e.g., views on product pricing, packaging, and feedback on advertising campaigns.

Market Research reduces the risk of product & business failure

There is no guarantee that a new idea will be a commercial success. Therefore it is invaluable that businesses make informed decisions using accurate and up-to-date market information. This market understanding is critical to providing products that consumers want in sufficient numbers to achieve commercial success.

Market Research forecasts future trends

Not only does market research provide knowledge of the current market state, but it can also be used to anticipate future customer needs. Businesses can then make the adjustments necessary to their product portfolios and levels of output to remain successful.

Types of Market Research

There are a variety of market research methods; primary vs secondary research, quantitative or qualitative research, and syndicated research.

Secondary Research

The most common type of research is Secondary Market Research. Published, publicly available, and free; Secondary Research encompasses information from websites, magazines & publications, the government, census data, and of course search engine results. These (often cheap & easy) sources make secondary research is hugely time/cost effective. The big downside of Secondary Research is that the data may be quite generic and therefore not specialised to your purpose.

What is Primary Research?

Primary Research is knowledge collected straight from the source. Typically, it is customised to the specific project and includes surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Primary Research is targeted & specific to its purpose, but is typically time-consuming & costly. However, conducting surveys has become more straight-forward with the use of online polls.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative Research uses open-ended questions and is typically carried out via interviews or focus groups. This personal engagement allows you to discover more information with a smaller number of people which may be less expensive. However, due to a lack of statistical data, it is difficult to make widespread assumptions.

What is Quantitative research?

Quantitative research uses statistically significant sampling and closed-end questions (typically surveys). A large sample of the population must be studied which means more statistically accurate results, but a higher cost.

What is Syndicated Research?

Syndicated Research sees specialist research agencies conduct the research. These firms sell their research to several users on a fee or subscription basis. By syndicating their data, the cost is spread amongst the subscribers; making it cost-effective. However, the research’s buyer has little control over the data collected by the research agency.

Market Research methods

Despite many ways to perform Market Research, most businesses will use a selection of these five common research methods: 

  1. Surveys
  2. Focus groups
  3. Personal interviews
  4. Observation
  5. Field tests.

How much you’re willing to spend, and the type of data you need will determine which techniques you choose for your business.


Concise and straightforward, survey questionnaires allow the analysis of a sample group that represents your target market. The more significant your survey sample, the more reliable the results.

  • In-person surveys are one-on-one interviews conducted in high-traffic locations such as on a busy street. The personal contact allows you to present people with product samples, packaging, or advertising and gather immediate feedback. In-person surveys generate response rates of over 90 percent, but they are costly. Time and labour costs are higher, in exchange for improved accuracy and detail.
  • Telephone surveys are cheaper than in-person surveys but costlier than Mail. With response rates of 50 to 60 percent, they remain a useful option. However, telemarketing (or cold-calling) has gained an awful reputation. Thus, convincing people to cooperate in phone surveys has grown difficult and – poorly done – can be a detriment to your brand.
  • Mail surveys are an inexpensive way to reach a broad audience. Much cheaper than In-person and tele-depth surveys, they only generate response rates of 3 percent to 15 percent. Despite this low return, mail survey’s cost-effectiveness makes it a sensible choice for smaller companies.
  • Online surveys are a great way to get a high number of interviews from a wide range of countries, relatively quick. An online survey is a simple, inexpensive way to collect anecdotal evidence and gather customer opinions and preferences and consists of a variety of open and closed questions.

Focus groups

In focus groups, a moderator uses a scripted series of questions or topics to lead a discussion among a group of people. These sessions take place at neutral locations, usually at facilities with videotaping equipment and an observation room with one-way mirrors. A focus group usually lasts one to two hours, and it takes at least three groups to get balanced results.

Personal interviews

Like focus groups, personal interviews include unstructured, open-ended questions. They usually last for about an hour and are typically recorded.

Focus groups and personal interviews provide more subjective data than surveys. The results are not statistically reliable, which means that they usually don’t represent a large enough segment of the population. Nevertheless, focus groups and interviews yield valuable insights into customer attitudes and are excellent ways to uncover issues related to new products or service development.


Individual responses to surveys and focus groups are sometimes at odds with people’s actual behaviour. When you observe consumers in action by videotaping them in stores, at work, or at home, you can observe how they buy or use a product. This gives you a more accurate picture of customers’ usage habits and shopping patterns.

Field trials

Placing a new product in selected stores to test customer response under real-life selling conditions can help you make product modifications, adjust prices, or improve packaging. Small business owners should try to establish rapport with local store owners and Web sites that can help them test their products.

Pros and cons of primary research

Primary issues are addressed the company has complete control over which issues they want to find out more aboutCost conducting primary research can get quite expensive depending on the type of research you do
Interpretation collected data can be interpreted depending on the needs of marketers instead of how researchers interpreted the dataTime it can take up a lot of your time as qual sometimes can be more time consuming than quant
Data recency primary data is more accurate as it is recent and collected for the purpose of what is being testedTarget audience it can be quite difficult to recruit the right respondents.

Pros and cons of secondary research

Time – Compared to primary research, secondary research takes less effort to collectAssumptions – secondary researchers have to assume the definition of terms and hypotheses, it might not mean the same to them as it did to researchers
Cost – usually secondary research costs next to nothing to gatherAccuracy – secondary researchers cannot not be certain that the research was not biased, the accuracy will remain questionable
Foundation of primary research – secondary research is great in terms of forming hypotheses for primary researchIt’s not specific – you might not get answers to specific questions that you could get from primary research

Things to look out for when doing research

  • Picking the right audience – it’s essential that you choose a sample that is representative of your target audience
  • Sample size – Again, you want to pick a sample which will be representative of your target group
  • Hypotheses – before designing the questionnaire or choosing the research method, keep in mind what you are trying to find out as it’s very easy to get carried away
  • Research method – it’s extremely important to choose the right research method based on what you are trying to find out, for instance, if you want stats then you might want to focus on quant research (surveys) whereas if you want to find out what people think of your product, you can go with focus groups
  • Questions – choosing the right questions is vital! It might be worth going through a few versions of drafts till you finalise on the questions, as the questions determine the result of your research
  • Open questions – as great as it is to get quotes and opinions from respondents in surveys, it is best to limit to a couple open questions in surveys and if you want elaborate answers opt for interviews
  • It might also be worth asking your agency how they detect dodgy data and if they carry out quality checks
  • Panel users – if the agency you are using uses panels, it’s a good idea to ask them if they are able to collect the sample you need.

Why is Market Research key to business success?

The key to any successful business is to understand what it is that your customers want and giving this to them in a way that is profitable for you.

Many entrepreneurs make a mistake early on in thinking that they know what their customers want without ever asking them. These presumptions can result in some costly mistakes later on.

To find out what exactly it is that your customers want you must undertake Market Research.

Do I need Market Research?

By now, we hope you understand the importance of market research for your business. Understand your audience to sell products and services people want to buy. 

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What is a brand map?

Also known as correspondence maps or perceptual maps.

A brand map is a visual display of data that shows prospect or customer perceptions of brands, relative to their competition.

Several brand descriptors (or attributes) are used to build up these perceptions – these often differ by the type of brands and market. The maps are in effect 3D data displayed in a 2D format.

Brand mapping or brand maps are also known as correspondence maps, but the term ‘brand map’ is occasionally used by marketers and researchers to describe ‘perceptual maps’.

Why is brand mapping important?

Brand maps provide a myriad of information, which can be used to:

  • Identify perceptions about a brand
  • Understand how brands compare to the competition
  • Identify the closest competitor
  • Identify the biggest differentiating factor
  • Identify the extent of negative as well as positive associations
  • Find the areas of “white space” and “clear air” where brands can move in to, and stand out from the competition
  • Reduce data complexity (see table 1 below)

Knowing how a brand is perceived can help to understand:

  • Who the main competitors are
  • If current marketing messaging is having an effect on perceptions
  • What changes need to be made to messaging in order to differentiate the brand from competitors
  • What products or services a brand is most well known for

Brand maps (sometimes called Correspondence Analysis) can really help to bring to life data which can otherwise be overwhelming.  Their uses are manifold.  The information provided by the brand maps can then be utilised to provide actionable plans to move the brand forwards and cement their (new or current) position in the market.

On an ongoing basis, brand maps can be conducted at regular intervals (e.g. annually), or after major events within the brand itself (such as a large campaign) to track changes and assess the impact of the brand’s activities within its ever-changing landscape.  Brand maps go beyond auditing a brand in isolation and identify how it is perceived relative to the competition.

How to do brand mapping

A brand mapping exercise can be conducted in isolation, although it is usually included in a wider research project.  These are the typical steps required to produce a brand map: 

  1. First, the brands to be included must be agreed upon. The ideal number is between 5 and 10. It’s always worth prioritising key competitors.
  2. The list of brand attributes should then be decided, which should include both negative, positive and neutral attributes which are relevant to the brand and market in question. There should be more attributes than brands, so we would suggest between 8 and 15.
    Alternatively, when looking to test which services or products are associated with different competitors, then these can be included instead of attributes. We still suggest between 8 and 15 where possible.
  3. The questions can then be constructed, asking which attributes (or services / products) respondents most associate with each brand
  4. Put the questions into field
    1. 300 responses are a minimum, but ideally 1,000 responses would be collected
  5. Once finished in field, the data is cleaned
  6. Clean data can then be put into a suitable format for analysis
  7. Data is analysed to produce a brand map

A brand map example

The best way to demonstrate the benefits of a brand map and what it can show you is with an example.

Let’s assume that Brand 1 wants to compare itself to other big name competitors in the IT market.  Brand 1 wants to talk to IT decision makers to understand their position as B2B IT providers.  They have decided which brands should be included (seven in this case), and the attributes they want to measure against (we have ten here).

The brands and attributes are then placed into a questionnaire with questions such as “Which of these attributes (e.g. Reliable, innovative … etc.) do you most associate with Brand X”.  

The questions are put into field with IT decision makers.

Once sufficient number of responses are collected (300 in this case), the data is cleaned and tables are produced, such as the below.  

Brand 1 Brand 2 Brand 3 Brand 4 Brand 5 Brand 6 Brand 7
Focused on customer wants75%60%61%55%62%61%64%
Outstanding customer service87%74%86%74%85%76%76%
Good value pricing77%67%70%66%71%70%72%
Smooth sales process84%68%79%68%81%73%68%
Visionary thought leaders83%73%81%69%79%67%65%
Essential for business growth87%71%82%69%80%67%69%
Great social responsibility80%71%78%62%76%64%67%
Easy to work with89%81%81%73%86%74%74%

Table 1 – Data showing brands and associated attributes

The data is then analysed, using correspondence analysis and a map is produced.
In some cases, there might be insufficient responses for certain brands (perhaps because they are just too niche) and the base numbers are too small to include them reliably in the brand maps.  However, a key benefit of a brand map is that it reproportions the data in such a way that brands are compared against each other equally.  For example, a very well-known brand might attract high percentages on all of the attributes simply because they are more well known and have in general more positive associations.  Yet the brand map will reduce this overdominance of larger brands and allows analysis of how smaller brands are performing alongside them.

How to read a brand map

Figure 1 – Brand map of seven brands against the ten attributes
  1. Differentiation: The longer the attribute line, the greater the importance of that attribute is in differentiating offerings in the market. Here we see that “Leading experts in CRM” has a relatively short line. This means brands scored similarly for this factor, so it’s not an important differentiator.
  2. Associations: The closer a brand is to the end of a line the more associated it is with that factor. For example, here we can see Brand F is strongly associated with ”Quality products and services” and Brand E is seen as having “Great social responsibility”. To determine how strong an association is (i.e. how far along the line a brand is), an imaginary perpendicular line can be drawn from any brand to any attribute. The associations also work in the opposite direction; if a brand is on the opposite side of the map to an attribute’s line, then we can say it is not associated with that attribute. For example, Brand A is not associated with “Outstanding customer service” relative to its competitors.
  3. Me too: The closer a brand is to the centre of the map, the more likely it does not have many differentiating factors compared to the competition. Brand C and brand D are the closest to the centre on this map.
  4. High competition: The closer brands are together, the more similar they are. For example, Brand A and Brand B are both seen as being somewhat “professional” and “understanding business”.
  5. Clear air messaging: If the list of brands is comprehensive, blank spaces on the map can show where no brands occupy certain characteristics. For example, no brand on our map is very strongly associated with having “outstanding customer service”. If a new brand entered the market with this attribute, it would likely successfully differentiate itself from the competition.

It is important to remember that just because a brand isn’t strongly associated with an attribute on the map does not mean that it lacks that attribute, rather if you asked someone to name a brand with that attribute, they would more readily associate it with another brand.

Complex brand map – associations with the most important criteria

We can go beyond the basic map depicting a brand’s association with any attribute and judge how strongly it’s associated with the most important aspects to customers. By understanding customer needs at the selection stage we can then judge the extent to which the brand is associated with the most important factors.

We can also overlay propensity to purchase or consideration figures onto each brand and add a future dimension.  So, the example below shows that Sony is in a very strong position;  it is the most strongly associated with the most important customer need, trustworthiness. 

Figure 2 – Complex Brand map of ten brands against ten customer needs, overlaid with their scale of purchase consideration


Brand maps are entirely customisable. It is possible to include a range of brands and attributes or even services/products. 
Brandmap customer research can be enhanced by asking the importance of each attribute, which provides another dimension to the map and allows decision makers to really understand which space they should be occupying.

They will give you a wealth of information on one concise slide.  A single brand map will tell you:

  • How your brand is perceived
  • How your competition is perceived
  • Messaging and attributes not currently “owned” by brands in the market

This insight gives you the ability to go away and confidently make decisions, build strategy and refine messaging.

Download Brand Map Explainer

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What is a market opportunity assessment?

Market opportunity assessment, what it is and the growth strategies taken by some household name brands.

A market opportunity assessment is the process of synthesising bespoke research and client data to identify opportunities for growth in a specific market or business area and formulate an actionable strategy to realise this growth.

Opportunities come in many different shapes and sizes. Therefore the pivotal first step towards success is to identify them. Maximising opportunities in a constantly shifting environment and market requires a creative, flexible and methodical approach. Few organisations – no matter whether they are start-ups or corporations – have the time, the resources or the expertise to conduct a broad and thorough market opportunity assessment.

A market assessment will utilise a pragmatic approach that is tailored specifically to the client and the market they operate in, while leveraging tried and trusted research and analysis methodologies.

What kind of organisations should undertake market opportunity assessments?

Market opportunity assessments can (and should) be conducted by all organisations. Any organisation can benefit from identifying opportunities of where and how they can grow their reach and client base.

A good market opportunity assessment is always tailored to the needs and goals of an organisation. It aims to provide as much objective data as possible to verify or signpost growth strategies with the greatest potential. Additionally, when market opportunity assessments include an audience research component and strategic analysis, they will not only identify growth opportunities, but also provide a detailed roadmap of how to achieve these.

Goals/aims…Identify and evaluate… to create comprehensive strategyWho can benefit…
Revenue growth

Increase profit/operating margins

Diversification of revenue

Business expansion / growth opportunitiesStart-ups and growing businesses

Established businesses


NFP organisations and charities

Public and government institutions
Best ROI for any business development activity (from marketing campaigns to M&A due diligence)
Short- and long-term risk exposure: Evaluate viability of a business going forward (support a diversification strategy and business strategy / Model TAM/SAM/SOM, market share and potential projections given specific company or economic scenarios)
Evaluate and improve current business performance (supports specific product/service delivery and operations improvements, and strategic support for general business improvements (e.g. as a tool to identify which parts of a business should be sold off)

What type of market opportunities are there?

  1. Grow the existing business
  2. Create new business(es)
  3. Grow the reach of existing business
  4. Pivoting during crisis

Although expanding the business is the aim of most organisations, it can be challenging to identify the best strategy to achieve this while sustaining current success.

Market opportunity assessments lay the foundation to identify growth with the highest ROI (return on investment), whether that is through a single opportunity or several.

1. Grow existing business

This is the most straightforward type of growth; relying on a sound understanding of an organisation’s market, customers and competition to identify the areas where an organisation’s prospective growth is well-placed to succeed and the strategy to realise it. This growth may come in the form of an increase in market share, a shift in pricing or geographical expansion.

For example, a market opportunity assessment could identify the locations and merge & acquisition targets for a successful expansion. This research also succeeds in highlighting consumer pain points and competitor performance issues for a gain in market share. On the other spectrum, the assessment can uncover customer needs and behaviours as well as the messaging for a change in pricing that increases margins.

Case Study: Starbucks’ growth strategy

Over the last 5 years Starbucks has leveraged a number of strategies to continue driving growth within their existing, core business. They have achieved this by creating digital initiatives, introducing a new loyalty scheme and continued physical expansion – all underpinned by market and customer research insights. In this way, Starbucks has successfully managed to grow global sales by ~3% and revenue by ~10% year on year in an incredibly saturated market.

Case Study: Lidl’s growth strategy

Lidl’s fast and successful expansion across Europe over recent years, driven by a combination of fierce discounting, effective marketing and an exceptional understanding of their market, is a perfect example of geographical growth. Lidl has done this through optimising its entire operation to be scalable and making strategic decisions based on granular and high quality insights.
At times this has meant doing things differently. Employees are paid a comparably high salary for the retail industry, but have to meet specific performance indicators. In 2017 Lidl’s international operations represented over half of their total revenue with sales of €46 billion and had grown by ~11% per annum since 2012.

2. Create new Business (es)

Growth can be achieved by diversifying and offering new products and services (connected or unconnected to the existing business). Such growth can, for example, be realised by entering uncontested markets (Blue Ocean Strategy ) or through the merger or acquisition of other businesses.

This approach can also ensure a significant diversification of an organisation’s revenue. It has the added benefit of increasing the organisation’s longer-term resilience by limiting revenue exposure to changes in demand for products and services. Typically, this is also the most investment heavy and highest-risk growth, as bringing a product to market or purchasing another business usually requires a sizable outlay, which sometimes fails to provide a return.

Key to success is a thorough market opportunity assessment that formulates a detailed business strategy for the new product or service.
Market opportunity assessments can provide a detailed model and projections in various economic scenarios to quantify the likelihood and rate of returns, as well as detailed roadmaps for marketing strategies, prime M&A targets and flag any major risks (e.g., due diligence).

Case Study: IBM’s growth strategy

In 2010 IBM began a three-year buying spree, driven by an aggressive M&A growth strategy. During this time IBM acquired 43 companies, with each acquisition costing an average of 350 million USD. By integrating and pushing the offering of these companies though their existing, global sales channels, IBM was able to significantly accelerate the acquired companies’ revenues – sometimes by nearly 50% within the first two years of the acquisition.

Case Study: Procter & Gamble’s growth strategy

 The merger of Proctor & Gamble with Gillette in 2005, is a perfect example of growth through a multi-facetted M&A strategy. This merger not only made them the largest consumer goods business in the world, knocking Unilever off its top spot, but also added a number of new products to their portfolio, while also driving global operational and sales growth. As it so happened, Gillette’s and Procter & Gamble’s existing global sales structures complemented each other; Gillette being stronger and better set-up in some markets than Procter & Gamble and vice versa. By combining and leveraging these existing operations and sales channels, Procter & Gamble drove a 25% net sales growth in 2006.

Case study: BMW’s growth strategy

In 2011 BWM launched the car-sharing business DriveNow. Since then, it has grown its operation across 31 cities throughout 14 countries with more than 4 million users. Early 2019, BMW established its service as the market leader through a merger with Daimler’s Car2Go and a rebranding to ShareNow. While the car-sharing model is still in its infancy and profitability requires scale, BMW and Daimler sees this new business as an investment the urban mobility market of the future and have invested €1 billion into developing multi-modal mobility as a service (MaaS) platforms

3. Grow the periphery/ancillary of existing business

With this approach, businesses can achieve growth by identifying value on the edge of existing business (Edge Strategy). This type of growth may come in the form of monetising the existing offering differently, offering variations of current products and services, or creating ancillary offerings.

The aim is to leverage the existing investment in a creative way to minimise risk and maximise ROI for future growth, and thereby maximising potential profits. The identification of edge-opportunities depends on a deep understanding of the market/industry as a whole, the needs and behaviour of the organisation’s customers, as well as the value of the business’s existing offering and assets.

Case study: Amazon’s growth strategy

A significant part of Amazon’s meteoric growth over the last decade is driven by the way it has monetised the periphery of its business. In fact, Amazon’s success is a great example for Edge Strategy [TM] growth: Founded in 1994 as a bookselling website, it is now an e-commerce giant with over 300 million users and worth more than $800 billion USD. While more recent growth has been acquisition-based, the early transition from an online bookstore to general marketplace, as well as their current digital assistant, Alexa, are great examples of successful peripheral growth. Alexa is expected to generate around $19 billion of sales revenue (~5% of Amazon’s total revenue) by 2021.

4. Pivoting during crisis

In early 2020 the process were being redefined quickly due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This meant going back to basics, defining what companies were good at and spotting the signals of the market changes that could be used.

What does a market opportunity assessment entail?

A market opportunity assessment, like all strategic support, is tailored to the specific circumstances, industries, reach, etc. of each client, and can entail all or a mixture of the following elements

Description Commentary
Identifying growth opportunitiesMarket assessmentTAM (Total Available Market)Quantifies the total market demand for a product or a serviceMarkets can be assessed in volume and value

Market assessments can be conducted bottom up, top down, or, ideally, as a combination thereof (with a both validating each other)

TAM SAM SOM have different purposes: SOM indicates the short term sales potential, SOM / SAM the target market share, and TAM the potential at scale.
SAM (Serviceable Available Market)Quantifies the segment of TAM within an organisation’s geographical reach and targeted by its products and services
SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market)Quantifies the segment of SAM that an organisation is likely to capture with its products and services
Trends & driversUnderstanding how the market will perform over the next 2-5 years
Market and performance modellingModel future market movement and growthBringing together all available data (client data, market data, competitor data, trend and driver data) to model an organisations future growth
Increasing resilienceRisk assessmentEvaluate short- and long-term exposure to risk (at market and operational level)Define a strategy for business resilience and sustainabilityFuture-proof an organisation beyond the usual, 5-year planning horizon (e.g. by improving resilience of operations, diversification of revenue, etc.)
Description Commentary
Insights to realise / generate growthCompetitive assessment / benchmarkingHow an organisation performs compared to its competitors and what the drivers / differentiators of these performances
Audience understanding / customer satisfaction researchUnderstanding customer satisfaction, behaviour, create customer personas
Marketing messages for growth / win market shareActionable insights that inform marketing strategy and ensure a maximised ROI for marketing expenditure

What type of marketing and messaging will be most successful with specific customer (target) groups?

Which marketing channels are most successful?
Customer base mapping / databaseDuring a bottom-up TAM analysis, it can often be cost effective to map potential customers and create a database that can be directly leveraged by an organisation’s business development and marketing teams (targeting potential customers)
Competitor mapping / databaseDuring a market assessment or competitive benchmarking exercise, mapping / creating a database of competitors can be a cost effective exercise
Identifying and shortlisting of M&A targets or potential partner companiesWe can also create databases of potential customers, business partners, and shortlist acquisition/merger targets, etc.

Research Methodology Elements: How do you conduct a market opportunity assessment?

The type of research used to identify and evaluate these market opportunities and their various elements breaks into two segments: primary and secondary research. Typically, most market assessments will employ a combination of these two insight generation methodologies.

Primary research:

Qualitative research 

o   F2F

o   Focus groups

o   Tele-depths:
– Sessions can be recorded/viewed by client. Possibility to create montages for presentation, internal training or other purposes
– Can be used to gain a very broad understanding of a subject (markets, customers, etc.)

Quantitative research

o   Surveys (online, phone):
Closed questions, targeted objective (validate specific hypotheses, etc.)

o   Existing client data analysis

Secondary research: 

o   Desk research

o   Tapping into reputable sources to collect:
– Data
– Relevant research/reports conducted recently
– Articles / industry publications to provide colour and underpin things like trends/drivers

The questions to ask yourself to see if you should conduct market opportunity research

Are we basing our current and long-term strategic decisions on objective data?

Are we confident that we are not missing out on market opportunities?

Is my organisation currently facing a challenging market?

These are the questions any organisation should consider. A market opportunity assessment can help with all of these. It provides hard and objective data to underpin strategic decisions, identifies and quantifies new opportunities and creates growth in challenging business environments.
As market opportunity assessments are always bespoke and can be as broad or as specific as a client needs them to be, they not only fit every budget but also add direct and significant value to any organisation.

If you have any questions or wonder whether a market opportunity assessment may help you and your organisation, please get in touch. We’re always happy to hold discussions to see how we might be able to help.
Also don’t worry – for us, a market opportunity assessment has to add specific and actionable value, so during our initial discussion we will be honest and clear about how we can or can’t help you.

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What is audience understanding research?

Audience research is any research conducted on a specific sample in order to find out about their attitudes, behaviours and habits - i.e. to understand them.

What is audience market research?

Audience research is any research conducted on a specific sample in order to find out about their attitudes, behaviours and habits – i.e. to understand them. The sample can be made up of any group of interest – whether this is nationally representative or focused on a particular age, gender, region, ethnicity, or specific characteristics they have (e.g. gamers, those who buy from a specific brand, etc.).  

The purpose of audience research is to answer a range of business questions, such as to find out what interests them, who influences them, what problems they have, what they think of existing products or how they feel about branding and service. Audience research can also help identifying which channels are used and how to best target those individuals.
Ultimately, audience understanding research helps companies communicate with their audience and integrate their views and opinions into their products and services.

The difference between audience research and market research

Quite often ‘audience research’ is confused with ‘market research’. The main difference between the two is that audience research is conducted on specific audience segments (people) to obtain information about them.
On the other hand, market research is conducted to gather information about the market within which the product or service aimed at the audience operates in. It can include competitors, pricing, PEST analysis etc. However, the phrase ‘market research’ is commonly used as the term to encompass both types of work.

Audience understanding vs audience research

Audience understanding and audience research is, in effect, one and the same. It can come in many guises with audience understanding being the bed rock of techniques such as customer discovery programmes, customer insight programmes, influencer mapping, UX or customer experience reviews, innovation research and so on. 

Reviews of non-users is also considered to be audience research or understanding.

Importance of audience research

  • Deeper understanding
    Conducting audience research will enable you to get a better understanding of your audience, which in turn will help you connect with your customers, communicated better with them and help your company grow. It enables you to be customer-centric, rather than product led in your thinking, for example.
  • Decision making
    Audience research can help you prioritise how best to meet their needs or decide who to focus on, how to reach them, or what to offer them.
  • Proving hypotheses
    It can also help provide evidence for marketing claims that you may want to make but (as yet) have no evidence to support.

Defining the audience research problem

When designing an audience research project, it’s always useful to distil your business problem into a single sentence and check that each question goes some way to answering it.

Ask yourself the relevant questions: “what am I ultimately trying to achieve? What do I need to know to make a difference to what I’m already doing or I’m aware of?

Matching the audience with the right questions

It is crucial to ask your sample audience the right questions if you want to get relevant, useable outcomes.

There are a few demographics to keep in mind when conducting audience research, some of which include: age, gender, education, income, region etc. They tend to be objective labels, which are often called standard demographic questions.
Demographic questions are often used at the beginning of the survey to make sure you are talking to the right people, excluding those considered not relevant.

Knowing these traits and characteristics will help you make sure you’re asking a relevant group of people.  
For instance, if an independent school asks those who don’t have children about their views on school entrance criteria and the appeal of extracurricular activities, it will give irrelevant results. That group will not be making decisions about which school their children should attend; hence they’ll end up with the opinions of people who have little influence of the final decision and design marketing collateral to appeal to the wrong people.

Finally, aside from ensuring a relevant sample, demographics are also frequently used during analysis to dissect and compare results, and narrow down the sample into smaller groups (e.g. those with one child vs. those with multiple).

Choosing the right audience research questions

There are generally two types of research:

  1. One that is more historical and reflective, looking at ‘why’ and ‘how’ something happened
  2. Then there is predictive research, which looks at the ‘what ifs’ and possible futures

With historical research, more descriptive and analytical research design is needed.  Whereas with predictive research, questions need to be designed in order to connect A with B and make associations which often requires more stimulus and/or qualitative questioning techniques.  

Examples of audience research questions

Every project is of course unique, but there is often commonality among the themes explored. Besides demographic descriptors, typical areas might be:

  • What is the audience trying to achieve? E.g. escapism, time saving, knowledge etc.
  • What are their pain points, or unmet needs?
  • How does the product or service fit into their lives?
  • What are some of the key attitudes and behaviours that differentiate them?
  • What prompts the need (for the product or service)?
  • What has been their experience of a specific situation or product?
  • Who or what do they turn to for information or advice?
  • Where do they look for said information?

Audience research methodologies

  1. Primary research – First hand research conducted by you or your agency
  2. Secondary research – Reviewing information from sources already published, also called desk research.  Data journalism is a form of this.  

Types of primary and secondary research

Quantitative audience research – Research focusing on statistics and facts rather than emotions, for instance questionnaires/surveys.

  • Original information – typically collected in ad hoc online or telephone surveys, but can also be longitudinal in nature, collecting answers to comparable questions over time. Exit interviews, eye tracking, diary studies, large hall tests and omnibus surveys are further examples of ad hoc or longitudinal surveys.
  • Transactional data reviews – this could be identification of behavioural segmentation patterns within website visits and e-commerce transactions.  Typically the data is collected without the overt questioning style of a survey. However, the data collected within registration databases (for example) are more of a survey style of data collection. Transactional information is often internal information held by a brand and not directly collected for audience research purposes.
  • Web analytics – Similar to transactional information and good for monitoring and tracking online behaviour. Often tends to be held outside or on the edge of brand’s domain signposting paths to digital interactions.

Qualitative audience research – More open research in the form of telephone, face to face or online interviews, often focusing more on feelings and emotions and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind things, rather than collecting numbers. These techniques are more in depth compared to surveys.

  • Focus groups or individual in-depth interviews (IDIs) – This consists of a group of people or an individual sharing their thoughts and information about a service, product, campaign or a topic. This is particularly useful as body language can be observed and offers the opportunity for an open, free-flowing conversation.
  • Case studies – An ethnographic method for studying the complex interactions between an individual, product or system within in the context of their environment. Although case studies are particularly useful in situations where a variety of research methods are needed, a disadvantage is that case studies inevitably rely on the interpretation of the researcher, hence potentially affecting the validity of the findings.

Social media analytics – A post on social media can reach millions of followers within seconds, hence observing the analytics of your social media feed is useful.  This can be both quantitative and qualitative in nature.  Quantitative in terms of the sheer scale (an example of big data), and qualitative in terms of ‘free range’ responses to any given question.

Bulletin boards or chat room/forums – This can also be both quantitative and qualitative in nature.  Quantitative in virtue of length of programme or number of members, and qualitative in terms of ‘free range’ responses to any open questions.

How to choose the right audience research method for your project

In order to achieve valuable audience research, it is important to first think about what you are trying to find out and what type of data you will need to present useful insights i.e. qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic or observational.

  • Qualitative data – if a deep understanding in a small number of areas is needed from the research, or the topic is new (or new to you) then it’s best to use qualitative techniques such as: focus groups or individual in-depth interviews
  • Quantitative data – if strength of opinion is needed then its’s best to use quantitative techniques such as: online, telephone and face to face surveys, postal surveys, email surveys or web analytics
  • Ethnographic or observational data – if usability or service use is being studied then ethnographic or observational methods should be used: diary studies, task-focused scenarios, accompanied browsing or user generating scenarios

Sampling techniques

Picking the right sampling technique is crucial in order to get respondents who are representative of the people you are trying to understand or influence. There are several sampling techniques that you can choose from, of which we have detailed five below:

  1. Random sampling – everyone in the target population having an equal chance of being picked
  2. Stratified sampling – this is slightly more complicated; the researcher figures out the different groups of people that make up the target population and then identifies the percentage needed to make up the sample in relation to the groups
  3. Opportunity sampling – this method is based on convenience; the sample is made as you find people who are willing to take part
  4. Systematic sampling – this sample is created in an orderly manner, for instance picking every 6th person on a list
  5. Quota sampling – this is probably the most pragmatic and commonly used approach. It’s a form of stratified sampling that doesn’t necessarily take into account the potential universe size. It selects a minimum or target number of respondents within sub groups, e.g. different job functions, different geographies, regardless of the size of the potential universe.  Assuming the minimum number is large enough this enables comparisons between the groups, as well as observing overall trends when the data is combined   

Avoiding sampling bias

Sampling bias can be created when certain individuals are more or less likely to be picked. This can often happen if the wrong sampling method has been chosen, or you don’t have access to the full sample universe. There are two ways you can reduce such bias:

  1. Avoid using opportunity sampling
  2. Define your target population before choosing your sampling methods, so use the stratified sampling (or quota) approach

Audience research advantages

The main strength of audience research is that you are confident that the campaign or claims that you have published are directly relevant to your target audience, as they are from the demographics that you are aiming towards. Hence, you are at some level assured that, for instance, the product or service that you are introducing or have modified will be well received by the target population.

Another positive is that it helps to somewhat confirm thoughts, emotions and general ideas of your audience. Maintaining a relationship with your customer base is crucial and audience research provides you with the feedback that you require to meet customer needs.

The range of audience research techniques is an advantage as it allows you to completely tailor the research to your need. If you want more detailed information, you can go for qualitative methods, whereas if you want statistics then you can go for quantitative.

Finally, depending on the method you choose, audience research can be very time-efficient.

Audience research disadvantages

As successful as audience research can be, it does have a few limitations. One such limitation might be not defining the audience sufficiently enough.  As a result you may end up with respondents who are not fully relevant or representative of your target audience. Although you will receive valid results, the findings will not be representative of your target audience and thus will be of limited, or no use.

It’s also essential to be clear from the outset about the research aims and what you want to get out of the research. Without this you get carried away with the ‘while we are there let’s ask them this’. In this case you will again end up with valid results but it might not give you any usable insight, rather it might replicate what you already know or didn’t need to know in the first place.  Adding extra ‘want to know’ questions also risks diluting the respondents concentration (and thus response quality). Good, firm stakeholder management can be an antidote to this, as can the ruthless application to each question of ‘so what if I know this?’

Audience understanding research checklist

  • Review completed questionnaires – having a quick read through the questionnaire is always useful, either to make last minute changes or just for the interviewer to familiarise themselves with the questions. For each question set ask yourself:
    • ‘Does it answer the brief’, and
    • ‘So what if I know this?’
  • Analysing focus group / in-depth interviews – when undertaking such research, it’s harder to analyse data since you’re having conversations. So, it’s best to make as many notes as possible during the sessions and then finish making the notes straight after the session as to not forget any important details
  • Time for analysis –  audience research has quite a few steps from choosing the sample to writing a report etc. Therefore, it’s crucial to leave ample time to complete the research.  The best insight happens when there is enough time for reflection.

And here are a few more things to think about when setting up an audience understanding project:

Keep the objectives focusedInclude lots of ‘nice to have’ questions
Check what internal knowledge you have before embarking on a new programmeForget about the non-user or potential future customers
See what you can learn through an internet searchExpect to do a good thorough job in a matter of days or possibly weeks
Keep the questions as clear as possible, avoid any jargon
Test research documents before launching the programme fully

Table 1 – Do’s and don’ts of audience understanding research

Audience research in practice

Audience research is a huge part of business’ strategy and is used widely across all sectors to improve their brand. A few examples include:

Lego – After research, the company found that just 9% of the consumers were female, which resulted in them developing products that would be more appealing to girls.

McDonald’s – Following research, it was identified that a common question was regarding serving healthy or organic food. They then decided to incorporate healthier options and launched campaigns to show where their meat is reared.

Nest – Nest is another innovative company which bases its decisions on customer surveys, asking questions on functioning of current products and how they can improve them.

Flight Club – A modern experiential social club who informed both its offering and launch strategy through audience understanding

Audience research is essential to stay relevant to your customer base and to be an innovative and successful company.

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What are personas?

Sapio’s guide to the different types of personas and what you should include in yours.

Personas are created and used by organisations to gain a deeper understanding of their customer base and target audience.

Graphic template by PresentationGO.com

The purpose of creating personas is to identify, understand and address the needs, motivations, attitudes and behaviours of a specific audience, typically customers or prospective customers. This understanding of an existing or potential client base can be leveraged for a number of different purposes. They can help organisations tailor and improve their products and services, determine marketing strategies and messaging with the highest ROI, identify potential growth opportunities, as well as supporting a general business strategy. – They help to bridge the gap between a brand and its buyers.

How do you identify a persona?

Personas are one possible output of audience research and there are two methods with which personas can be created. They can be

  1. Indicative and based on assumptions: pen portrait personas
  2. Representative of a specific audience and based on data: data driven personas

The first type of persona provides a general overview of the type of people an organisation is dealing with, while the second is based on audience data points that are segmented to identify specific and key customer or audience groups to understand and quantify their typical needs, attitudes and behaviours.

What is a buyer pen portrait?

Indicative (or pen portrait) personas that are created based on assumptions and a limited amount of research often turn into stereotypes and add little value to an organisation. They often tend to be heavy on the job title, and low on emotional needs & drivers. Moreover, making strategic business decisions based on pigeonholing your target audience can easily backfire and project a damaging lack of social awareness.


What is a data driven persona?

Data driven, evidence based buyer personas are created through a systematic and objective approach, using tried and trusted research methodologies . As such, a data driven persona can, for example, be based on data gathered through an online survey conducted with a representative sample of the target audience. Running a cluster analysis on this data can provide organisations with a clear, needs based segmentation of their audience that is quantifiable and actionable.

Sapio’s data driven personas

Download Data Driven persona Explainer

How do you use personas in marketing?

Mostly personas are employed by organisations to inform a marketing strategy, campaigns, content and business development activity. Data driven personas can support a number of key marketing and business development aspects. Overall, they help organisations understand, target and capture or grow a specific and high value audience segment.

Marketing or business development activityPersonas add value by identifying…
Defining a marketing strategy…the marketing efforts with the highest return on investment
Evaluating marketing channels…the most effective channels for capturing or growing a specific audience segments
Developing marketing messaging…the messaging that will resonate most with specific audience segments
Creating a business development plan…the audience segments with the greatest short- and long-term growth potential

Customer segmentation using data-driven personas, depending on their design and objective, can be used to target and enable growth with existing customer, as well as new customer segments. They can be leveraged to increase existing customer satisfaction, drive repeat business, grow market share by winning new customers and to successfully launch new products.

Data driven personas not only break the audience into manageable chunks but enable you to size, value and prioritise each market segment, as they are based on real data that can be grossed up to the universe. Depending on the objective personas are usually developed from a sample of customers and service users, prospective customers or the population at large (or a specific segment thereof). Personas record a detailed snapshot of a customer or prospect group and as such, it is important for organisations to continue to evolve these, as they themselves grow and evolve.

What should be included in user persona?

A user or customer persona for a B2C or B2B business typically contains a mixture of the following elements.

Persona elementsDescription
The traits that define the groupThis typically includes selected demographic and background data and depending on the type of personas being created can cover:

Basic demographic data, e.g. age, gender, type of employment, household income, level of education, etc.Specific background data, e.g. the amount of budget they or their department has to spend, their level of responsibility, the industry their business is active in, etc.
The group’s interests and goalsA B2B customer persona might include things like the current objectives and goals of their business or department, as well as their organisation’s fundamental values.

A B2C or consumer persona might include their relevant interests, hobbies, leisure activities and life-stage goals.
The challenges they facePersonas will typically always aim to identify any relevant challenges these groups may be facing, which will be specific to the context and brief of the research. These are usually relatively fundamental, often representing the underlying reasons for specific behaviour, including purchasing decisions.
Their pain pointsAn audience’s pain points are elementary to data driven personas, as these can easily be translated into opportunities for any organisation.
Their attitude towards a specific product, service or businessPersonas will capture a group’s view of an organisation and their offering or of an industry or market as a whole. The objective is to identify those personas with a favourable or unfavourable perception.

Capturing a view on a number of competing products or businesses can be the basis of competitive benchmarking
The reasons they would consider using a specific product, service or businessPersonas can identify the explicit and potential drivers behind making a purchasing decision or switching to a different product, and how these differ across different audience segments.
The issues that would drive them to switch or stop using a specific product, service or business
How they typically find out about specific products, services or businessThe way a group finds out about a product or organisation identifies the best way they can be reached. This allows organisations to leverage the right channel (with the right messaging) for each persona.
What messages resonate most strongly with themIdentifying the kind of messaging with the greatest impact for each group is usually constructed by analysing their interests and goals, challenges, pain points and views. This can be supplemented by exploring and testing different messaging approaches.

How do you define user needs?

Understanding the different needs of the key groups within an organisation’s current or potential customers is the central aspect to audience research and personas.

Consumer or user needs are the underlying driver that assign value to a product or service. These needs not only vary significantly depending on the type of industry and organisation that is segmenting its audience into personas, but also between the different audience segments themselves.

For example, a standard bank will offer its services to a large customer audience, servicing businesses and individuals, the asset rich and poor, old and young, etc., through a number of different channels (e.g. in branch, over the phone, online, via their app). Many of these groups will have fundamentally different needs and preferences around the products and services they use, the way they can use them and so on. Data driven personas and cluster analysis can unravel this complex set of variables and identify the groupings of that are core to an organisation’s success.

How data driven personas are created?

Robust analysis uses needs-based segmentation or k-means clustering analysis to index the characteristics that define the personas.  

Alternatively, latent class analysis can be used if a Max Diff study if conducted.

What can personas do for my company?

There a number of brands, whose success is based upon the deep understanding of their target audience that can be achieved by leveraging personas.

Example of persona use : Seventeen

One of the first businesses to leverage personas for marketing, growth and development purposes was the American magazine for teenagers Seventeen. Shortly after Seventeen was launched in 1944 its promotion director used a persona named Teena to sell ad-space. The persona Teena introduced the advertisers to the lives of teenage girls. The magazine continued to regularly survey its readership, continuously aligning and optimising its strategy and content. Seventeen flourished on newsstands for more than half a century until, in 2018, the magazine moved online.

Example of persona use : Lush

Lush has managed to record continuous growth in an incredibly saturated market place. This success is based on understanding their core buyers’ values that centre around social and corporate responsibility as well as high quality, chemical free product. Knowing what drivers their target demographic has enabled the company to grow their profits, as well as an international expansion. In 2017 Lush reported $530 million USD in sales in North America.

Example of persona use : Apple

Apple has always been known to do things a little differently. At first this was just based on Steve Job’s hunch, but as the company’s success and product portfolio grew Apple began making business and product design decision based on detailed knowledge of their target audience. Their level of insight into their customer base is demonstrated by their successful ad campaigns that leverage persona-type insights to speak to customer groups.

Take the TV advert for Apple’s iPad 2, for example. Here the narrator scrolls through stock prices, analytical graphs and even brain scans, alongside some of the more expected, wholesome family-feel-good images. These clearly reference activities, which Apple knows appeal to one of their core customer groups. : Download Data Driven Persona Explainer

In Conclusion

“It is superiority of knowledge which can alone lift you above the heads of your competitors, and ensure your success.”
Thomas Jefferson”

As the prior examples demonstrate; success for all types of organisations is based on and driven by their superior knowledge of their market and customer target groups. And data-based, objective personas can help provide the foundation of insight for this success.

Are you wondering how personas might be able to help you and your organisation? Get in touch, we would be happy to discuss it with you!

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What is brand research?

Providing objective evidence to harness abstract concepts for leveraging brand strength and persuading customers to curry favour.

What is brand market research?

Brands are not defined just by their products or services.  A brand is made up of much more; it has its own personality (contributed to by its employees), its own mission statement, its own goals, its own ethos, even its own humour (see Innocent drinks for an example).  However, a brand’s perception is not owned by the brand itself, rather it is owned by the customer, based on how they see and feel it.

A clever brand will spend time understanding how its communications and messaging alter brand perception, and much of this is done via communication with its customers.

Brand marketing research aims to provide a form of conversation:

Figure 1: Brand Market Research Conversation Cycle

Conversation is not simply a two-way process, but also a continuous process.  Brand research enables brands to ask the questions and listen to their customers, allowing them to keep their finger on the pulse and adapt appropriately.

Brand research definition

Brand research specifically assists in the creation and curation of strong, distinctive brands.

Brand market research helps achieve competitive advantage through objective, insight based ideas and recommendations on product, service or customer service strategies. 

Marketers, planners and strategists are then able to make confident, informed judgements on the endless decisions around target markets, pricing, positioning, distribution, partnerships and so on.

What is brand analysis? 

Brand analysis specifically focuses on understanding what drives business and brand value, hence it’s often a potentially wide sphere of activity.

Manufacturing or product driven companies will often start the value creation process from a functional or physical stand point, viewing life through the lens of ‘how can we apply what we have?’. Marketing or service driven companies will start from the opposite end of the spectrum viewing life through the lens of ‘what do customers want, how can we deliver it?’.  Traditional marketing text books tend to favour the former approach, but a surge of more customer-centric activities are currently taking place in the real world.

Inevitably both outlooks will meet in the middle somewhere, talking of brand identity, value or equity. Most organisations want to overcome the barriers of negative perceptions or leverage the positives they have, whether it’s for survival or ambitious growth. Or they might simply want to keep checking they’re projecting an authentic, consistent image and manage risks.

What’s the difference between a brand audit and brand analysis?

The comprehensive, systematic and independent review of a brand can also be called a brand audit and typically has the aim of assessing the equity of a brand. Brand audits shouldn’t be confused with marketing audits though.  The latter tends to be an internally focused exercise, while a brand audit is more externally, customer focused, even if it incorporates the review of financial metrics too.

The analysis itself is the process of developing appropriate strategies, evaluations and metrics for managing and measuring a brand’s success.

Fundamentally each brand analysis or audit exercise needs its own objectives (e.g. to drive loyalty vs change positioning etc.) and can choose to use the scope (e.g. current vs non customers) and emphasis that best suit it.

Brand analysis is most commonly executed once a brand is established. Although marketing research can of course be used to inform brand values from the off.

What is a brand association, attribute or perception?

We’ve already come across a number of interchangeable or similar terms used in the world of marketing and brands, so it’s probably worth having a look at what some commonly used branding stages and phrases mean.

Marketing termDefinition
Brand identityHow an organization seeks to identify itself.  It represents how the brand wants to be perceived in the market, as communicated through its branding (such as logos and colours), service and marketing strategies.
Brand attributeThe portrayal of an organisation’s brand characteristics.  Attributes may be personality specific or derived from the brand’s products or features.  Brand attributes help in creating brand identity.  They can be both tangible and intangible features of a brand. Tangible features might include visual or semantic assets that make up the visual vocabulary or the messaging of the brand.  Intangible aspects might be customer relevance, preference, recognition, loyalty or brand promise.
Brand associationImages and symbols readily identified with a brand or a brand benefit, but they’re not specifically a reason to buy.  Brands typically aim to have elements of differentiation that are not replicable by competitors.  Brands tend to manipulate the brand associations which result in customers’ perception of the brand. Favourable brand associations are thought to drive preference.
Brand awarenessThe degrees to which customers associate the brand with the specific product or service. Brand awareness includes both ;Brand recognition (i.e. customers can clearly remember hearing or noticing the brand) and Brand recall (i.e. customers can state the specific brand when the product category, buying scenario or need state is mentioned).  Brand awareness is generally considered indicative of its competitive market performance.
Brand visibilityAlso a form of brand awareness. However, it is more related to desirability and specific share of mind, market, wallet, sponsors etc.  For example, one can be aware of something and not want it or need it. Visibility speaks of it ‘being out there’, being seen, or aspiring to have it
Brand perceptionBrand perception resides with the customer, and is not determined by the brand. Regardless of an organisation’s message, it’s what people are thinking and saying about the brand that defines it within the market. Perceptions are based on experiences and hearsay.
Brand imageAlso known as brand perception.
Brand considerationConsideration is defined as the percentage of potential purchasers who would consider the brand for a given purchase occasion.  A commonly used KPI or tracking metric.
Brand penetrationPenetration is defined as the percentage of potential purchasers in a market who go on to buy a particular brand in a given year.
Brand positioningAn activity owned by the brand to ensure all brand activity has a common aim; is guided, directed and delivered by the brand’s benefits/reasons to buy.  It should focus on all points of contact with the customer.
Brand promiseIt articulates an idea that goes beyond the rational benefits and  seeks to underline the (progression, regression or reparation) value received from the product or service. It’s not a slogan or advertising headline, nor public statement.   A brand promise is a natural extension of the building blocks of an organisation strategy: mission, vision, and values with its customers at its heart.
Brand loyaltyThe extent to which a customer consistently buys the same brand within a product category and potentially fears purchasing a product/service from another brand which they do not trust.  A way of validating the appropriateness of brand positioning.
Brand advocacyCustomers doing your marketing for you. People who love the brand will continue to support the organisation and promote their services or products to new customers organically, so reducing the need to spend on advertising or other paid for marketing initiatives. Often considered the highest level of brand loyalty.
Brand equityThe value of having a well-known brand.  A well-known brand name may simply be able to generate extra revenue from the association with its brand recognition.  Sometimes expressed in accounting terms.


What’s more important, understanding the tangible or intangible elements of a brand?

While many brand attributes are tangible such as the name, logo, features, customer touchpoints etc. it’s how they come together to create psychological triggers or stimulus that create the brand value. On the way to doing this many intangible assets or situations are created.

It can be argued that these intangible brand elements such as relevance to the customer, preference, recognition, loyalty or brand promise are the most important as they drive brand reputation and perception. 

Tangible assets are more readily identified in general, and by the brand owners specifically.  However, external expertise can be invaluable in defining and evaluating the intangible aspects, particularly when reviewing the less familiar territories of non-customers or new geographies.

The importance of brand perception

Given that brand perception is owned by the customer (or conscious non-customer) and not the brand, it’s pertinent to make an effort to appreciate what’s going on there. Brands rarely exist in isolation, so measuring the brand perception of your competitors can help you understand where strengths and weaknesses lie.

Brand perception is how consumers think, feel, and respond to a brand as a result of their interactions and experiences with it. A brand experience can encompass everything from talking to a family member, reading online reviews, to seeing a magazine advertisement. Gossip and reputation is a very powerful thing, the University of Chicago even have a study to prove the correlation.

Once a brand has an understanding of their own perception, they can drive changes in brand positioning, leading to increased brand loyalty and a more relevant brand identity and improved brand equity.

Figure 2: The importance of brand perception visualised

Understanding and measuring brand perception

We can either view brand perceptions in terms of:

1. Brand sentiment:

  • Positive: due to positive experience with the brand it has become a preferred choice for the consumer
  • Negative: negative experiences have led to negative perceptions, which in turn leads to an avoidance or dislike of the brand itself
  • Neutral: the consumer has not had an emotional experience or response to the brand, and thus feelings are indifferent

 or in terms of

2. Brand visualisation maps:

Brand perception mapping identifies the closest competition and their differentiating factors. It also measures positive and negative brand perceptions and associations. More details about the consumer or B2B brandmaps can be found here.

When reviewing the perception maps (or any feedback for that matter) it’s important to be open to the definition of the attributes identified, as what a phrase means to you may be completely different to customers.   Download Brand Map Explainer

Figure 3: You just haven’t seen life from my side. (Original source unknown)

There is a growing social science movement concerning the interpretation and use of signs and symbols within marketing called Semiotics.  As a brief introduction you might want to think of it as three main layers of brand meaning, starting from the outside and working in. Each layer infiltrates the ones inside it and can influence or be influenced by the others.

  1. Cultural Meaning: This is the broad context in which customers come to appreciate what a brand stands for and respond to it, either influencing or responding to popular culture, for example
  2. Community Meaning: This doesn’t just denote a local community, but any group of associated people: colleagues, family, people who support the same club or pursue the same hobbies and interests. Corporate culture can be a manifestation of this.
  3. Individual Meaning: This is probably far more motivating than the collective meaning and it drives the growth in personalisation. A few small differences can be notable enough for someone to choose the brand and pay a premium. That meaningful difference may be something so small or immaterial that even the person purchasing the brand doesn’t fully acknowledge it.

Why it’s important to focus on the relevant audience

It’s not just about what people are saying and thinking about the brand, but also who is saying it. Established, new, lost or potential customers, old or young will all have a different perspective.

Make sure you understand who your audience is, or could be, both in terms of demographics and drivers when scoping brand analysis.

Brand research methods

There’s a variety of ways to measure the relationship between brand name and specific concepts. They fall into two main techniques: scaling and sorting:

  1. Scaling techniques which determine if there is an association between a brand and an attribute, together with the strength of that relationship e.g.:
    • Customer surveys, which might include perception maps
    • Customer SATisfaction surveys
    • Net Promotor Scores (NPS)
    • Product surveys
    • Social media listening
  2. Sorting techniques allow firms just to know if there is an association e.g.:
    • Website traffic
    • Google analytics

How to do brand analysis

Although the customer holds the balance of power in terms of perception, brands can take steps to leverage brand perception more effectively. Here are six steps to follow when assessing, measuring and adapting brand perception:

  1. Identify the right project objectives and metrics for measuring brand perception in your target audience
  2. Understand internal brand perceptions within the organisation and how they may be translating externally
  3. Learn more about customers and the customer experience through tailored research
  4. Understand perceptions through each stage of the customer journey: awareness, trial, consideration, purchase, favourite, and loyalty
  5. Compare performance and brand perceptions in the competitive space to better position strategies
  6. Learn to adapt to changes in brand perception when they arise by frequently assessing brand performance and allocating marketing spend more effectively

And of course you could think truly long term and integrate marketing research, investment, market and financial metrics into a single insightful model to track performance over time and against competitors.Download Brand Map Explainer

In conclusion…

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” – Anais Nin

Perception is reality.  Consumer purchasing decisions are significantly impacted by perceptions of brands and their competitors.  It’s no good sticking your head in the sand, or a finger in the air – strategic and well thought out analysis is required to ensure brands are on top of their game.

Undertaking brand analysis is a key tool in the armour of managing your brand positioning. You can be left behind quickly when you’re not part of the conversation.

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