Mind the gap

With every product sector highly competitive, identifying market opportunities and developing a brand for success can present a significant challenge.

We’re all familiar with the expression ‘a gap in the market’ but it’s vitally important to know whether there is ‘a market in the gap’.

Taking a helicopter view of a particular range of products may indeed identify previously missed potential development areas but preparing a brand for market success requires diligence and background work.

There are 8 key reasons for undertaking research activity:

  • To understand the current market.
  • To identify the criteria for success for a new entrant.
  • To quantify and identify the size of the target audience.
  • To develop routes to market.
  • To maximize the price potential.
  • To validate or challenge product or brand ideas.
  • To optimize the concept.
  • To help shape the marketing communication strategy.

So whilst brands work on an emotive, intangible level, a key role of research is to help develop a truly differentiated and unique positioning.

Because we choose products, services and brands based on our perceptions of how they are different rather than how they are the same, ensuring that new brands and products have distinct differences from their competitors is key.

Achieving this can only be made possible by forensic interrogation of every aspect of the competitive landscape:  how the product sector is performing, sector brands, consumer targeting and most importantly the opportunities for growth rather than cannibalisation.

This process also aids development of an understanding of consumer needs, thinking and desires in relation to existing category brands and products and what they might look for in new market entrants.

And it can future-proof the investment in the brand by not only looking at the market sector today but by predicting how emerging trends will influence consumer behavior and how broader societal changes will impact on the relationship between consumers and brands.

There are a number of different research resources and techniques that can be used to create the foundation for the various stages of a brand creation programme.

  1. Macro Economics. Understanding how the shape of our society is changing is key as we can build a picture of how changing lifestyles and aspirations will shape future consumer demand.
  2. Desktop research. There are a number of large research businesses that evaluate an enormous range of product sectors and produce highly detailed reports often running into hundreds of pages. Typically these will detail the size of the product category, whether it is in growth or decline, the major brands, market share by retailer, purchasing consumers and an analysis of the future potential for the category.
  3. Consumer panels. Other research specialists focus on having large numbers of pre-selected consumer panels, chosen to accurately represent the socio-demographics of the UK population. Typically they collect data based on the actual purchasing behavior of their panels, with each individual purchase logged using dedicated software so they can build very detailed models of the shape and size of the shopping basket of 1,000’s of consumers.
  4. Store audits. It’s vital to have an understanding of what the consumer sees at point of purchase so visiting target stores, analysing the fixture and creating a planogram is another key part of the research jigsaw.
  5. Buyer interviews. Depending on the project it may be appropriate to talk to retail buyers to gain an understanding of the kind of products they are looking for which are not being met by current brands.
  6. Food service. Chefs are always at the forefront of new product ideas and often unique food ideas or twists on traditional dishes that start life in restaurants will emerge in retail in the future.
  7. Focus groups. Consumers are recruited against specific lifestyle and demographic criteria to take part in open group discussions. Typically these are 1.5 to 2 hours in length and provide an opportunity to ask in-depth questions around a whole range of topics. These can be structured in a number of different ways to provide a range of outputs – for example groups could be asked to create mood boards which represent how they view a particular brand, or they might be asked to evaluate a product idea or brand concept.
  8. Using information gleaned from a range of research data sources it is beneficial to group consumers by their response to a brand idea whilst taking into consideration their socio-demographic profile and purchasing behavior. This allows the creation of ‘identities’ for
    like-minded individuals and the ranking of these groups in order of importance in relation to the product or brand.
  9. Street interviews. An approach which is being used less now with the advent of online research but a useful technique if some consumer feedback is required very quickly and cost effectively, particularly where visual presentation of the product or brand is important.
  10. Online research. A tool which uses pre-recruited consumers to respond to a range of closed questions, usually derived from focus group open discussions. A very effective way of gaining responses from a large number of consumers quickly and effectively.
  11. Hall tests. The most-used method for gaining large-scale sensory feedback from consumers on new product ideas using a relatively simple scoring method.
  12. Taste profiling; Highly sophisticated organoleptic analysis can be used if detailed sensory profiling is required which can be provided by commissioning expert panelists.

Where new product development is part of the programme of work, I very much advocate a parallel development strategy by which I mean having gained an understanding of the attributes that can be combined to create a winning product or brand, these are then incorporated into an ongoing research programme providing sequential feedback and outputs.



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