Understanding what consumers know about brands and what marketers want them to know is essential to effectively building and managing brand equity. These ideas, feelings and attitudes fashion the buyer’s motivation to “pick and stick” to a brand.

Many companies conduct exhaustive research studies to learn as much as possible about consumers and the associations they link to brands. Sophisticated research techniques abound—both qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative research is fairly unstructured. Quantitative techniques, on the other hand, permit more defensible strategies. Qualitative research elicits verbal responses where quantitative employs scale question so that numerical representations can be made.

As a first step in the exploration of consumer brand perceptions, Young & Rubicam ad agency conducted an in-depth examination of two popular imported vodkas, Absolut and Stolichhnaya (“Stoli”). The multiple qualitative techniques used in this study were unbridled.

With the creative application employed by Y&R, consumers were asked to name the best and the worst thing about each brand.

They were told to imagine the Absolut and Stoli bottles are talking to each other and asked:

What are they saying?

If the bottles became a person, how would you see them?

What kind of cars would they drive?

What kind of clothes would they wear?

How old would they be?

What gender, etc.?

Findings indicated that the Absolut brand personality was “cool” and “stylish.”

The associations came from user imagery of Absolut drinkers as young, hip people, from the stylish, contemporary bottle and from Absolut’s memorable advertising. “Stoli” was seen as older, stodgy and traditional.

Qualitative research methods are a creative means of uncovering consumer perceptions.

It’s prudent to be aware of the drawbacks, however.

A number of practices are utilized by researchers: free association, projective techniques, brand personality and values attribution and an approach called the ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique).

One thing is for sure. Having an understanding of what consumers think of your brand is fundamental to building and maintaining that brand. Absolut-ly clear?

By Wendy J. McGowan for the Business Examiner

Wendy J. McGowan is founder and president of McGowan Advertising in Lakewood