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Providing a rationale for why brand preference matters

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Kevin Randall is director of brand strategy and research at Moveo Integrated Branding (www.moveo.com), a brand consulting and marketing communications firm that counts Careerbuilder, Littelfuse, Molex, Motorola, Siemens and U.S. Robotics as clients. BtoB recently asked Randall to talk about the relevance of brand preference.

BtoB: Why is brand preference important for b-to-b companies?

Randall: In b-to-b, the sales process often is long and complex. It involves lots of money and lots of people. If the customer doesn't have a singular impression of what you do and a sense of familiarity and comfort, it's hard to break through. Brand is a singular framework for building that face, reputation and trust. Strong brands, especially in commoditized b-to-b markets, allow brand owners to command a price premium and drive incremental margins.

BtoB: Is it important for companies to actively monitor brand preference?

Randall: It is, and let me make a distinction. Campaign performance monitoring is a short-term measure that focuses on ROI for each specific campaign. Then there's longer-term brand preference monitoring; a once-a-year survey is fine for surveying the landscape for brand awareness and preference versus the competition.

BtoB: Why do relatively few b-to-b companies actively monitor their brand preference?

Randall: In a bottom-line environment, all emphasis is on short-term ROI. Often clients have no money budgeted for research. They want all their money dedicated to outbound communications to drive sales in the short term. Brand preference tracking studies are for supporting long-term strategies, and it can be challenging to carve out the budget and attention needed to resource them.

BtoB: What are the pitfalls of not tracking brand preference?

Randall: Not really knowing where you stand in the market and what drives your customers. You tend to get mired in basing campaigns and messaging on features or attributes that are not distinct over time. You're not driving differentiated value in the minds of the customer.

BtoB: What are your preferred tools for brand preference monitoring?

Randall: The basic tools are tried-and-true Web surveys and telephone surveys. Most of our customers prefer Web surveys over phone because they're fast, easy, more cost-effective and there is evidence that people answer more openly. Although with phone, you can control your sample and follow up on a comment. Within the surveys, we track brand performance overall as well as performance against specific attributes. Attributes include things like price and reliability. Often, we see a gap, with lower scores on specific attributes yet high overall scores. When that happens, it's a testament to brand strength.

BtoB: What's the first step when starting a brand preference monitoring initiative?

Randall: These brand preferences surveys are about more than testing logos and headlines. They're about testing your business model. Before you get out in the marketplace, you need a set of goals and assumptions to test that are actionable and measurable over time. For example, a particular company was spending a lot of time and money communicating that it was financially strong and had the broadest line of products in the industry. When we talked to customers, they didn't value product line breadth, and they considered financial stability a given. But the company did poorly in "intangible" areas of ease-of-use, product information and responsiveness, which were the greatest areas of need for customers. Now, the company has a responsiveness initiative in place, including rebuilding its Web site to be more informative and easier to use.

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