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Your Brand Guidelines Aren’t Enough: 4 Ways to Test Customer Perceptions

| October 13, 2014
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As a teenager, I wanted to make the world a better place. And I wanted to do so while looking the part: tie-dye t-shirt, pink hair, with a reusable water bottle in hand. Over time, people associated me with my appearance and goal, but there was one inconsistency.

I was a tie-dye wearing, pink haired… cheerleader.

This mismatched lifestyle caused people to respond with, “But you don’t seem like a cheerleader.” While I had cultivated a personal brand based on my actions and appearance, it crumbled whenever someone mentioned my double life.

Unlike my high school persona, your company’s brand should be rock-solid, clear, and consistent.  And while we often jump to logos and slogans, branding is so much more. Your brand includes every name, symbol, piece of collateral, product, design, and customer interaction. It’s how you’re identified, how people feel about you, and how you’re differentiated from your competitors.

Although many companies have brand guidelines, they aren’t always enough. While important, you also need to check that your assumed brand identity is how people actually see you. Marketers traditionally use methods like focus groups and surveys, but did you know that you can get these insights almost instantly through user testing?

If you’re ready to quickly learn how customers perceive your brand, here are some things to test:

1. Brand awareness: What do customers know about your industry?

Before testing your brand, you need to take a step back and ask:

  • What does my target demographic think and feel about my industry?
  • When my industry is mentioned, do they think about my company?

As an example, we asked a few Californians what they thought of the healthcare industry and what companies they associated with it. Without sending them to a website, we asked:

  • What qualities or words do you associate with the health care industry?
  • What companies or organizations come to mind when you think of health care?

In the video below, the user provides an honest list of qualities that she associates with the health care industry.

Asking this type of question is helpful because the qualities listed will refer to your whole industry, and may provide a competitive advantage. By asking the user to name companies in your industry, you’ll find out if you’re top of mind, and where you rank in comparison to your competitors.

2. Brand association: What do they already know about your company?

Once you understand what your target demographic thinks about your industry, it’s time to see how familiar they are with your company and brand. In this section, you can figure out what assumptions the user already has about you, without any influence from your website. These questions may also answer how they differentiate your company from others:

  • How familiar are you with [company name]?
  • Please describe what you think [company name] does.
  • Have you seen [company name]’s advertisements? If so, where? What do you remember about them?
  • What adjectives or qualities do you associate with [company name]?
  • What color do you most associate with [company name]?
  • If you are not currently, would you become a member/customer of [company name]?

3. Brand perception: Is your brand clearly communicated through your website?

After finding out how your users perceive your industry and how familiar they are with your company, you’ll want to find out if your brand is effectively communicated through your website.

Many companies utilize brand guidelines so that their message and design are consistent across all platforms and collateral. They often cover topics related to color, logo, typography, tone, and more. However, you also need to validate your brand guidelines against how your users perceive your company.

As an example, we reviewed UNICEF’s brand guidelines. We wanted to see if it accurately represented what users experienced when they interacted with UNICEF. We created the following test for the users:

  • Upon initial review, what words or emotions do you associate with the homepage?
  • What color stands out the most on the homepage? What words or emotions do you associate with that color?
  • Please take a moment to look at the logo. Describe your impressions of the logo. If anything, what do you associate with the logo?
  • What words or emotions do you associate with the fonts on this webpage?

In the video, the users note the following:

  • The homepage evokes empathy, sadness, and an urge to “do something.”
  • The main color is a light blue, which is a calm color.
  • The logo uses lower case letters, which makes it feel approachable. It involves a globe, a parent and child, and a connection to the UN through the color blue.
  • The font is clear and doesn’t draw attention.

In comparison, the UNICEF brand guidelines include the following:

  • Brand attributes: Simple, optimistic, bold, contemporary.
  • Colors: Main color is cyan, which is a link to the United Nations. Primary palette includes pure, bold, optimistic colors.
  • Logo: Lower case letters are friendly and approachable, laurel leaves connect UNICEF to the United Nations, shows they stand for children.
  • Typography: Univers sans-serif, which communicates simplicity, clarity, legibility

Other than the emotions evoked by the homepage, the users collectively identified most of the brand guidelines. By running a similar test, you can ensure that your company and users are on the same page.

4. Brand consistency: Does everything match?

    After testing your brand on your website, you’ll want to check for brand consistency across all platforms and collateral. Test the following to understand where your users see inconsistencies:

    • Mobile site or app
    • Social media
    • Ads
    • Marketing collateral

    User feedback is key, so having users review your brand consistency across all platforms will help you to continually improve the strength of your brand.

    As marketers, it’s our responsibility to cultivate and protect the company brand. And as Scott Goodson (founder of StrawberryFrog, an agency dedicated to movement marketing) put it, “No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability.”  By testing your brand with customers, you’ll be able to ensure consistent and powerful branding that your users understand.