The last MarketResearchNews article was on the efficiency of brands.
On this occasion Marie Laurence Juan Lallier (Head of Repères Qualitative Research) and Catherine Schutz (Managing Partner at Repères) had the opportunity to express our perception of the nature of the link developed between the consumer and the brand: a link which is fundamentally emotional and individualised and cannot easily be understood by using traditional marketing study approaches.
Here is a transcript of their joint interview conducted by Thierry Semblat (*):
Thierry Semblat:The issue is that of the efficiency of the brand.But maybe this is not the approach you adopt spontaneously?
Marie Laurence Juan Lallier and Catherine Schutz: It is true that we raise the question from a slightly different angle, by defining what it means for a brand to be loved... Working with some of our longstanding clients, such as Moet Hennessy for example, or Heineken, led to our addressing the two following questions together: What establishes the difference of my brand compared with competing brands? And how is it possible to get an understanding of the emotional link between my brand and my customers?
Terms are never neutral… Posing the question from an emotional standpoint implies many things…
Indeed. The first point is that this question does not only concern the major brands, those that target huge market volume or who seek to be the leader in their segment, such as Danone or Coca Cola. Being loved is something that is relevant to everyone!
We therefore take inspiration from certain scientific breakthroughs we see as major and which clearly reveal the decisive importance of emotions in the way the human brain functions and therefore in the decisions people take. The breakthroughs concerned are in neuroscience, with Antonio Damsio for example, and they may be applied to marketing. The research challenges the opposition between rational and emotional aspects. The human being’s perception of reality is an emotional construction. The way brands are perceived does not escape this rule… The challenge for brands is to know how to capture and nurture this emotional link.
Consumers also choose their brands according to precise needs, and therefore according to the offers and to the characteristics of the products… Is there not a risk of only focusing on the emotional variables by forgetting the transactional aspects which are nevertheless essential?
Such a reality, which is that of the products, services, and of their characteristics, clearly fits in with this pattern. It becomes a part of the consumer’s emotional construct to which he or she associates the message and the values expressed by the brand. Basically we are saying nothing more than that: consumers as a human beings reinterpret reality, whether it concerns the reality of the products or of the brand, by associating one with the other. They do not take reality at face value but reconstruct it in a process in which everything interferes, including personal parameters such as their needs and wishes, but also their past, their experiences, their values, and their beliefs. All of this is a part of a highly unconscious process.
Emotions are ever-present; they are always involved, this has now been proved scientifically. And the more the emotional dimension is involved the stronger the memory.
Does the way our society evolve appear to you to be consistent with this importance of the emotional link between brands and consumers?
There is a societal dimension that needs to be taken into account. In short, there is a rearranging of values, with on the part of individual people a very strong need for reassurance, a search for meaning, for references. And brands are references. The story the consumer builds in his relationship with a brand activates many different dimensions. There is of course the experience of the product or the service. There is the imaginary dimension of the brand: where does it take me, and with which values? This will also have an impact on the relationship that is established with the brand: what the consumer is ready to sacrifice in order to buy the brand. And this will also have an impact in perhaps a more unconscious manner in terms of identity. What image of myself does the brand represent for me, will this image be positive? Using a brand has an impact on a person's identity.
We need to reassure ourselves, we need references, and the brand provides these, whether it is a major brand or a less well-known brand. Because I have a link with the brand, it transforms me; it is always there and therefore reassures me. It represents a reference that is valid through time. It reassures me whereas society today generates a great deal of anxiety. This means that it is crucial for brands to get a feel for this link and to build it up.
And at the same time consumers are increasingly prone to switching brands, isn’t that so?
That’s the other side of the coin. The greater my confusion, the more I seek meaning, and the more I look for it everywhere. And that is the strength of certain brands, their ability to vary their offers while adopting a posture which is basically very stable. People may change, but they know their brand is always there, a bit like a mother. The important thing for the brand is to know in which respects it needs to be stable.
Let’s talk more specifically about the nature of the studies that seem to you best able to help brands in this quest for efficiency, or for being loved more...
With a subject such as this one and using these reflections as a starting point we developed a specific monitoring approach, our Emotional Monitoring, that we use as a complement to tracking methods and which is specifically aimed at assessing and analysing the brand’s emotional impact on the person. This is what we use to study the soul of the brand.
Classic approaches don’t enable this?
No. That’s what the Moet Hennessy teams told us several years ago. Some research work enabled them to get an understanding of the personality of the brand, its inherent identity, but this was never reflected in image assessments through the sets of items usually used. Quantitative approaches completely “flattened” what they perceived through qualitative research and, on the contrary, qualitative studies presented a limit in that they did not sufficiently order the information and, by definition, did not produce figures, thus possibly hindering decision-making.
These brands with whom we work needed to integrate the quality of this emotional link in their image tracking or image evaluations, and to monitor it so as to measure the impact of the actions taken by the brand. They also felt the need to make this a part of their marketing strategy, so as to define how to project the brand into the future.
Conventional tools do not address emotional aspects?
Most quantitative tools don’t because the respondents are asked to rationalise their emotions. Qualitative approaches seek to identify these emotions; they present this projective vision of the brand. But they also have their limits. With focus groups at a given moment we lose the individual story.
The effects of seeking a consensus and achieving consistency make it impossible to know what people think individually. Emotional monitoring works precisely on the individual perceptions of each respondent, and among a great many people.
What is this tool and what is its aim?
It doesn’t do everything. It isn’t there to provide confirmation, or to measure how the brand evolves according to items. It isn’t intended to be used as a method for measuring change on a continuous or daily basis. It’s a tool that's a bit like a sponge which will absorb two or three years of PR and marketing actions. It serves to measure the impact of a medium-term strategy on the brand and the link it establishes with the consumers. The idea is to measure what has been established over time.
This tool is intended to bring to light the identity and the anchoring of the brand. The terminology is highly qualitative. We talk of the way the brand functions and its dynamics… The aim is to know what the public interprets from the signals emitted by the brand, with the possible "misinterpretations" that may occur.
The aim is not to seek a confirmation, but to list in order of importance the threats and opportunities of the brand…
That’s exactly right. While finding out whether over a period of several years the brand has worked in the right direction. This tool doesn’t seek to define the strengths and weaknesses of the brand in relation to the competition. This is done in a different way. The central issue is to know what is special or unique about the brand and what it can use to build on. We are very monadic, however, this doesn’t prevent us from looking at others to gain a better understanding of who we are, and of measuring which brand establishes the strongest emotional link with its customers.
Your approach seems very qualitative, doesn’t it?
It is qualitative and quantitative! But we don't seek to establish an opposition between two different techniques. Our philosophy is to provide a “market research” answer rather than a technique.
The tool we are offering is resolutely projective, to avoid a rational perspective and to gain access to emotions. Each person expresses himself in his own words. But there is a quantification aspect involved since we work on samples of at least a hundred people. This gives us the solidity and reproducibility of the approach. But it also allows us to go into fine detail because we have many individual answers. We don’t do a simple coding of a verbatim transcription, we analyse the answers of each respondent to get an understanding of his vision of the brand.
In other terms, they are monographs?
That’s exactly right. We take different “stories” told by individual people and proceed by interpreting the answers of each respondent. But although each point of view is unique, there are "types of perceptions" which emerge. We know how to position each individual in relation to these perceptions and obtain a distribution or quantification among samples of at least a hundred people. We aren’t conducting a mechanical type of study but a process which requires a significant amount of time to analyse.
In the end, we obtain a quantification of the types of perceptions of the brand according to major routes that structure these representations.
How do I measure the global performance of my brand, and how do I know what to work on?
We know how to position each respondent according to a "type of perception" of the brand, but we also know how to measure his or her degree of implication via projective indicators. Does the person wish to remain in the world of the brand as he or she has described it? This is very different from a global perception which corresponds to a sort of abstract average, a rational position which is basically of little use.
And these figures will be very interesting to complete the qualitative perception in one direction or another. In other words if there is a perception of the brand which is very negative and very present on the market it will be necessary to reduce its impact, the advantage being that we know very precisely what this is based on, including in terms of consumer experiences. It’s of course true in the other direction, we know which experiences and which parts of offers are associated with a positive perception of the brand and must therefore be developed or highlighted.
The tool is original, how is it perceived by PR agencies?
We don’t use this tool only with the people we usually work with when doing market research. Exchanges are greatly facilitated with the teams in charge of marketing or of brand image and the agencies because we don’t intervene with an approach that seeks confirmation as is often the case with market studies. We give them elements that they can relate to and which are nevertheless quantified and ranked in order of importance. And we can safely say that even PR agencies like us. And we’re like everyone else, we like to be loved!
(*) This text was reproduced here with the permission of MarketResearchNews.You will be able to find the five other interviews on this topic on the site: Jean-François Levionnois (LH2), Mériadec Blegent, Marion Luro Zayati et Marcel Botton (Nomen), Michael Bendavid (Strategic Research), Danielle Rapoport, Georges Lewi.