About The Author
Amanda O'Brien

In her role as VP of Strategy, Amanda is responsible for driving strategic thinking on behalf of Phase 3 clients. She works closely with members of Phase 3’s multidisciplinary team to build effective marketing strategies and develop strong and uniquely identifiable brands. Relentlessly curious with a perpetual love of learning, Amanda has immersed herself in a wide variety of industries, from road technology and real estate development to diamond jewelry and dental insurance. Both a writer and visual thinker, Amanda has a knack for distilling complex challenges into simple and powerful ideas.

Research: The Secret Weapon in Branding

By Amanda O'Brien
September 24, 2021

In today's modern marketing landscape, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of your brand.  A brand is more than just the collection of colors, fonts and images that represent your company. As Seth Godin defines it a brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. Your brand exists in the minds of your customers and your employees, so when you are considering an update or a refresh of your brand, it is imperative that you understand what your brand stands for today and what you want it to stand for in the future.  This is accomplished through research.


At Phase 3, research, both primary and secondary, is the foundation of the branding work we do. A company’s decision to update and change their brand is a major decision that is both costly and potentially risky. Consequently, we take these assignments very seriously and we use research to understand the company’s culture, vision, values and positioning in the marketplace so that we make our very best recommendations for the brand.


Here's a list of the six methods we use most often when approaching a branding assignment.


1. Communications Audit

A communications audit is a comprehensive evaluation of your existing marketing assets and channels – print materials, website content, distribution outlets, social media, and marketing campaigns. We use the audit to get an understanding of how you present your company, who you are currently targeting, where each asset falls within your sales and conversion funnel, gaps in your communications and most effective engagement outlets.


2. Competitive Audit

During a competitive audit, we analyze the set of your most relevant competitors to evaluate their approach to the market. We identify how they are positioning themselves, the expertise they feature, their brand tone, their content strategy and more. We use this information to create a positioning map, looking for any “white space” that could represent an opportunity for your brand.


3. Stakeholder Interviews

We love stakeholder interviews because they help us to gain a true picture of your company’s internal beliefs and philosophies, and how the stakeholders understand and embody your brand. We have one-on-one conversations, preferably in-person, with people who are related to your organization – people like owners, founders, board members, key customers and employees. Our experience is that each participant answers the same question a little differently, and we find a depth of insight and richness in these slight differences. They help us to understand how leadership wants the brand to be perceived, how customers feel about your brand and how employees live your brand every day. The result of the stakeholder interview process is a picture of where the brand lives today and where it wants to be in the future; and what it will take to get there.

4. In-Depth Interviews

Similar to stakeholder interviews, In-Depth Interviews, or IDIs, are direct, guided, one-on-one conversations with people you identify as significant to your organization. The difference is, however, that IDIs are used to understand your brand’s perception in the marketplace. The participants are more likely to be consumers of your product or service and removed from the day-to-day workings of your brand. The conversational nature of this technique allows us to establish rapport, generating more insightful and authentic responses.

We use IDIs to gain a better understanding of your customers and their motivations. What problem are they looking to solve? What prompts them to seek a solution? What factors go into their decision-making? We also document their job function, title, authority, likes and dislikes that we use to create customer segments or personas.

5. Online Surveys

At Phase 3, we typically use online surveys as a primary research technique to validate what we learned in either the stakeholder interviews or the IDIs. We use a survey tool such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to collect data from a representative sample list. The list can come from our client’s own database, a panel of anonymous consumers that fit our criteria, or sourced online via social media or a service like Amazon’s MTurk.

6. The Brand Vision Workshop

Our favorite, and most beneficial, research technique is The Brand Vision Workshop.  The workshop is a half-day brainstorming session designed to gather feedback and opinions that will define the brand’s values and attributes and inform the development of a unique, engaging value proposition, positioning and brand narrative. It is also an opportunity to align all key internal stakeholders on project goals, objectives and success criteria.

During a workshop, our Brand Strategists lead the group in a series of creative exercises to explore opportunities around the brand’s positioning, brand values and attributes, brand personality and differentiators.  We use all sorts of tools and props, including scissors, glue sticks, playing cards, post-it notes and games in an engaging session that’s fun and informative for all participants.


When investing in the update or refresh of your brand, don’t forget to include research. The time and energy spent on the research to uncover your company’s uniqueness and value is one of the best investments you can make in your business’s future.


Interested in learning how research fits into your brand strategy? Reach out to Phase 3 and schedule a call with one of our experts to discuss your project.