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Often the unique characteristics that separate competitive brands in consumers’ minds are subtle and highly subconscious – yet deeply important. Brands rely on these differences to set them apart from the crowd and entice consumers to buy. So how does a brand dig deep to discover what unique aspects set it apart in their customers’ minds – especially when consumers often cannot articulate these themselves?

This was the challenge a leading beverage manufacturer brought to C+R. They had conducted prior research showing that consumers often preferred to consume their beverage over a key competitor at more atypical use occasions. But, for more typical ones, they lost out (consumers preferred competitor’s beverage) yet had no idea why. They asked us to speak to some of their consumers, as well as their competitors’ consumers, to probe deeply to uncover subconscious beliefs about the brands. The client also wanted to understand how those beliefs influenced when consumers chose to consume one brand over another and how particular situations influenced choice. The client hoped to use this knowledge to create marketing and communications that would set their brand apart in a highly competitive marketplace.

The C+R team developed a hybrid qualitative market research approach utilizing both asynchronous and live methods to glean as much detailed information as possible for how consumers viewed their brand and why. Our client was able to use the results to both better understand how the brand landscape intersected with usage occasions – and how to use these findings to develop strategies for differentiating themselves from competitors.

Problem

Our client, a leading beverage manufacturer, had conducted prior research that found more consumers preferred their brand during what would be considered ‘atypical’ usage occasions, but lost to a key competitor in more typical occasions for the category. The client wanted to know why this was. They hoped to leverage this information to develop a new marketing campaign and supporting communications leveraging their brand’s unique points of difference.

Result

As a result of the research, our client learned the typical and atypical consumption occasions are not entirely divorced from one another, yet consumers have unique product needs in each moment. Although consumers often bought their beverage intending to use it during more usual occasions, the fact that they had it ‘on hand’ at home encouraged its use in the more atypical moments. We found that taste is the key driver in the more atypical occasions, whereas functional and emotional benefits were both at play in the typical uses. Finally, the client learned that, in relation to competitors, consumers see their brand as an underdog – a relatable position our client could leverage for marketing and communication purposes to resonate with consumers and inspire them. 

Solution

To help our client probe deeply into the usage occasions for their brand, C+R utilized a two-stage research program with both asynchronous and live online qualitative methods. For both phases of research, we recruited 19 consumers, including those who used the client’s brand and those who chose competitive brands. Because the research took place entirely online, we were able to recruit a national representation of participants: males and females; ages 13 to 34 with a good mix of teens, twenty-somethings, and those in their thirties. We were also able to get a mix of ethnicity, employment status (for the adults), education levels (for adults)/grades (for teens), and household income.

The first stage of the research was a usage journal to understand how drivers of brand choice varied by the situation. Using a mobile platform, we asked respondents to keep track of when they consumed category beverages over a week-long period and to note what kind of usage occasion it was – their context, and their goal both functionally and emotionally. The platform allowed them to upload pictures and videos of them using both the client’s and competitor’s brands as well as answer additional questions. This information provided the moderator and the client with greater contextual understanding for when people consume beverages; it also provided stimuli for the moderator to utilize during Stage 2 of the research to probe deeper into their motivations.

Stage 2 consisted of one-on-one webcam interviews with the participants that lasted 60 minutes. To delve deep into the functional and emotional nuances of the brands within the category, we used a variety of projective techniques, including metaphorical imagery, personification, and animal archetypes. These exercises gave participants the tools to describes important points of differentiation between the beverages, as well as drivers that were most important for choosing their preferred beverage across the various situations captured in their journal. These projective exercises aided consumers in thinking metaphorically so they could more easily and clearly articulate their perceptions of both our client’s and competitors’ beverages – and importantly, unique differentiators. With this information, we were able to tease out relevant differences our client could utilize to separate them from their competitors. 
 

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