Secondary research sometimes gets a bum rap. Perhaps because it is named “secondary” marketers assume it has less value. Not true! Research that was done for a different purpose is often referred to as secondary (and can cost much less), but the category goes far beyond that. It can include history, art, literature, archeology, anthropology – just about any source except for primary quantitative and qualitative research. So, just because secondary research is done for a purpose other than the one we are working on is not a reason to dismiss it, as secondary research can give fresh, new perspectives to your thinking about your product or category – and your brand story.
The first step in conducting an effective secondary research evaluation to discover (or uncover, or rediscover) your brand story is to forget you know anything about the topic you are researching. Yes, we mean anything. You want to be a completely blank slate, so you can take in ideas, concepts, imagery, quotes, stories, news, press releases, anything that relates to your topic without judging their value or utility. Open the door to your topic by throwing a wide net – start with an internet search. You might start with your brand, or your competitors’ brands, but don’t stop there. Type in your brand name, your category, or industry. Type in your users or the benefit you deliver to your customers. Think as broadly and as creatively as possible. See what pops up and then start reading.
The best way to get value out of secondary research – and perhaps the hardest part of secondary research – is keeping an open mind. You may be looking at information and ideas very different from those you learned in business school, or that you are used to dealing with frequently. That doesn’t make them wrong – it means they may be opportunities. So, don’t limit yourself to the usual sources – look at history, archeology, mythology, psychology, art, literature. These books and articles are often written by experts in their fields. They have spent significant time researching and reflecting on their topic and tend to have deep insight and a unique perspective on the world. Their perspective can enrich your brand story by giving it a broader connection and meaning for consumers and our culture.
Felton Willis helped a food manufacturing client discover their brand story through secondary research. Because they manufacture food, we wanted to explore their brand within the big picture of food production, not just currently, or since industrialization, but all the way to our agrarian economy and culture. We hoped to develop a deeper understanding on their brand equity that would support their advertising development work with key messaging, imagery, stories, and important associations about the client’s farm heritage.
In the U.S., we have a majority of our population living in urban and suburban areas. In fact, in 2016, only 19% of U.S. residents lived in rural areas. And less than 2% of the U.S. labor force is employed in farming. For the most part, growing and producing food is invisible to Americans. Therefore, in discovering our client’s brand story, it was important to go beyond “the farm” and to explore farming in a much broader context. We asked questions such as: Where does food come from? How many people are involved in growing and making food? What is the role of growing food in our culture? How is farming portrayed currently and historically in art, poetry, and literature? How has farming evolved globally?
The results were inspiring. Some of the themes rippling through the secondary research included:
- The farm’s unique role in the birth and development of the United States as a country.
- “The agrarian myth and yeoman traditions” that are today once again influencing political beliefs and parties.
- The farm as a metaphor for and symbol of life, as seeds are planted, germinate, grow, and are harvested, and the connection of those stages to human life’s birth/grow/decline/ death stages.
- The farm as the source of life-sustaining nourishment.
The secondary research revealed the farm as representative or symbolic of something even bigger than itself, that unconsciously we, as humans, relate to and learn from. By enhancing our clients’ brand story with the heritage, mythology and symbolism of farming, we created new and more meaningful connections to customers’ deeply held values. Additionally, farming as growing food will continue to be an important part of our society, culture and economy, giving our client a robust platform on which to continually grow and build their brand story through the advertising they were developing.
Secondary research gives marketers a unique perspective and a deeper level of understanding that can be creatively woven into our brand stories. By finding the themes that are larger than our brands alone, we can connect more strongly with consumers’ values and motivate their brand-enhancing behaviors. However, you must be authentic. This process cannot be forced – it should be uncovering or discovering a deeper story that has been there all along, just waiting to be transformed into your brand story.
Understand Consumer Motivation! Check out: Would You Rather Persuade, Manipulate or Motivate?