I always advise brands that I work with: “Seek out and listen to your target market. You will likely find your best strategies from insights based on what they say to you.”
“I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is to fund research and learn the basic facts.”Bill Gates
The bedrock of any strong brand is its brand positioning.
However, any brand would be foolish to cast its brand positioning without listening and deeply understanding the very people that the brand is trying to attract and engage with. Moreover, specific marketing strategies employed by a brand to support its positioning are more compelling if these are based on insights from customers themselves.
This is where Marketing Research comes in.
Any brilliant brand must always rely on proper marketing research as an indispensable hidden weapon before it goes into battle in its chosen market segment.
Shah Mohammed writes that in Starbucks: “(CEO) Howard (Shultz) would very often visit his stores as a customer and observe others for hours. His observations translated into several successful ideas, opening up new ways to solve problems and support him in decision-making. Without sound research, Starbucks would not have been what it is now.”
For example, the system-wide rollout of non-fat (skimmed) milk in Starbucks is one specific example of a product strategy that was based on insights from direct consumer feedback collected during in-store marketing research done by one of its executives.
Marketing Research comes in many forms, but it is generally categorized into two major buckets: Quantitive (i.e. surveys, polls, digital metrics, etc.) and Qualitative (focused group discussions, one-on-one interviews, etc.). The source of data is either primary (first-party data) or secondary (third-party data).
Whatever form is deployed, good research will always be able to provide answers to the question: ‘What emerging customer needs and trends point to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats relating to my brand?’
One brilliant brand which heavily invests in marketing research is 77-year old, 40-Billion Euro Swedish brand IKEA, one of my personal favorites.
Their website clearly states its positioning as follows:
To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low, that as many as people as possible will be able to afford them.IKEA business idea
IKEA’s positioning has the hallmark of a brilliant brand: narrow singular focus (i.e. home furnishings products at a low price), similar to the example of the 1,400 year old brand, Kongō Gumi, which is primarily focused on Buddhist temples and shrines in Japan.
And it comes as no surprise that IKEA keeps its ears very close to its customers. For many years, this brand has invested heavily on market research.
Years before COVID-19 hit all of us, starting in 2014, IKEA embarked on a yearly study which they call “Life at Home Report”. This entails speaking to tens of thousands of people across the world, always in search of new customer insights and trends which could help develop new marketing strategies for the brand to keep it fresh and relevant to its ever-growing target customer base.
For a brand that has always been focused on the home, the year 2020 was a particularly unique one, in view of the still ongoing global pandemic which has limited the activities of people around the world to the confines of their own homes.
“This year families changed kitchens into schools, bedrooms into workplaces, and backyards into amusement parks. Together we’ve rediscovered home as a place to work, relax and socialise.Jon Abrahamsson Ring, CEO Inter IKEA Group
These are uncertain times. We’re all more careful with our wallets, and we’re spending more time in our homes. That’s where IKEA comes in. Our passion is to help people with functional home furnishing products and solutions at low prices.”
So in 2020, IKEA embarked on a special study which led to a report which they call “The Big Home Reboot”. The report can actually be downloaded from the their website.
The research entailed being virtually connected in real time over a period of eight weeks with twenty real households from six countries and territories including Sweden, Italy, mainland China and Hong Kong SAR, Australia, and USA. In addition, IKEA also conducted a massive global quantitive survey which involved 38,210 respondents from 37 countries, or an average of more than 1,000 people per market.
“We have an opportunity to learn from the pandemic – to set a new standard around what defines a ‘healthy home’…”The Big Home Report Report of 2020
One of the key highlights of the report is ‘The Healthy Home‘. The report states: “The pandemic has put health and wellbeing at the front of our minds, both at home and in public places…For the first time, we’ve had to intensely think about the impact these have on our physical and mental health – and it’s become obvious that homes haven’t been designed as a fundamental principle, with our wellbeing in mind. With hygiene and health now top priorities, our homes of the future will need to be ready for the next health crisis, as well as meet our emotional needs…We have an opportunity to learn from the pandemic – to set a new standard around what defines a ‘healthy home’, and to insist that all of us have access to this…The healthy home of the future won’t simply be about physical functions, but it will be a vital tonic for our mental and physical health.”
As a result, its CEO says that during 2020 IKEA introduced more that 2,000 new products that promote a healthy, safe and multifunctional home.
One notable product range introduction in 2020 is dubbed “The OMTÄNKSAM Collection“.
“OMTÄNKSAM means ‘thoughtful’ or ‘caring’ in Swedish, and to me, the word includes the small things you do to look out for the comfort or welfare of others,” says Britt Monti, the design leader in IKEA behind this collection.
“This is a collection that adds extra comfort and functionality for all individuals with different kinds of functional needs – from children, pregnant woman, people with back pain or suffering from rheumatism or arthritis to the elderly,” she adds.
An integral part of Britt’s work in IKEA is to look at its annual research and identify trends that could point to areas where the brand can contribute in making the home a better place, especially for the shifting world demographics. She’s always on the lookout with respect to how the brand can meet future needs of people in view of the fact that their yearly reports show that people prefer to live longer in their homes.
In addition to what their yearly studies were saying, it took a personal struggle of Britt to further look into product design in a whole new light – she had a stroke.
With her own struggles at home, this gave birth to the more thoughtful and caring designs of Omtänksam.
Their website says that: “The OMTÄNKSAM collection—including, for example, cushions that provide support, table and chairs, an easy to grip vase, and jar grippers that help you unscrew lids—is developed in collaboration with ergonomists and physiotherapists. The products have lots of hidden features to add comfort, function and safety and is the result of looking at the needs that might arise when our physical circumstances change, temporarily or permanently.”
Britt calls it inclusive design.
“When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm.”Elise Roy, a deaf human-centered designer, former lawyer, and TED speaker
IKEA’s Omtänksam Collection is just one example of how research, coupled with the designer’s personal experience, are turned into insights, which are then turned into product strategies and designs that support the brand positioning.
While IKEA has chosen the narrow and singular focus of the home for its brand positioning, it has gone deep into its category and has established a solid footing in the mind of its customers with these kinds of research-based product innovations.
But without meaningful and sustained marketing research, any product strategy of a brand will simply ring hollow in the customers’ minds thereby providing no real added value, neither to its brand positioning nor to its customer.
IKEA teaches us that brilliant brands need to be intimately and consistently attuned to the needs and aspirations of the people in one’s chosen market segment through marketing research. By doing so, a lot of magic can happen when a brand, based on carefully considered insights, deploys its various marketing strategies in support of and consistent with its brand positioning.