When blinded by passion, seek objectivity: The Whiteboard

As we watched the focus group, the participants were comparing Brand A to Brand B across a wide range of attributes.

Brand A, the leader in a certain food category, was winning for having better flavor and texture, better packaging and way stronger brand loyalty. This wasn’t overly surprising; the consumers in this group had been selected for their preference for Brand A. So naturally they had a lot of positive comments about the brand. What might seem unusual is that the client for this focus group was actually Brand B. And they were taking a beating.

Even on product aspects where Brand B was sure they had an advantage, they were seeing comment after comment that showed that these Brand A loyalists had a different perception. After two hours of what felt like a very cold shower, the focus group was finally over, and Brand B had learned some invaluable insights into its brand’s weaknesses.

As hard as it was to listen to the criticism, Brand B had made a very smart move by seeking out Brand A’s loyalists and enduring a barrage of criticism. Listening only to your best customers may give you a good sense of what people like about your brand, but heeding only your admirers can ultimately result in a false sense of security.

It’s likely that brand myopia helped lead to the downfall of General Motors as the leading car brand in the country. Having reached nearly 60 percent market share at one point, the company’s product quality began declining, yet little was done about it.

It has been theorized that one reason for this was the free maintenance program that GM executives had for their cars. Any time they wished, they could ask for service on their car and have it waiting for them when they were ready to go home. The GM cars they drove rarely had serious problems, and these executives were left with the perception that their products were of higher quality than what their customers were experiencing.

GM certainly had many other issues, but failing to see how poorly they compared with other brands that were taking market share every year was clearly one of their problems.

It’s natural to be passionate about your brand, its products, and the people and processes that keep your business running. But it is critical to regularly inject objectivity into the mix as well. There are numerous formal and informal ways to gather market research about your brand. Focus groups are one choice, but surveys, secret shoppers and even random conversations can be used to ask for unfiltered opinions.

Certainly you should seek praise for your brand, but seek criticism as well. Ask people what you could do to make your product or service better. What do they like about competitive brands? What are the key attributes they compare to make a choice between brands? If possible, try to isolate their perception of brand from individual products or services. For instance, you can ask which brand they would choose (and why) if the products were identical and cost the same.

If a dominant brand like GM can run into the problem of brand myopia, so can yours. Enduring a healthy dose of criticism can sometimes be the best move your brand can make.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

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