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Identifying and understanding your brand attributes

How to write a brand survey that uncovers what consumers are looking for in a product or service

If you work in marketing, run your own business, or are in the advertising industry, you’ve probably come across the term “brand attributes.”

The term may seem straightforward enough—the descriptive attributes your brand has—but have you ever spent time formally identifying the characteristics of your brand? Do you know what brand attributes your customers look for when buying products in your category? And does your perception of your brand’s traits match that of consumers?

One of the best ways to answer these questions (and take the guesswork out of your market research and advertising efforts) is to give consumers a series of brand attributes surveys—so you can see where you’re meeting their expectations and where you may be falling short.

Brand attributes definition and examples

The term brand attributes actually has several different definitions within the marketing world, so let’s start off by clarifying what we mean when we use the term.

We’ll define brand attributes to mean the associations that people have with a product within its overall category, and the association that people have with particular brands (including yours).

For example, let’s say that peanut butter is the brand category. So in the general category of peanut butter, what types of brand associations do people have? They would probably say that it has a nutty flavor, it can be smooth or chunky, and that it has a lot of protein. When shopping for peanut butter, people will have their own preconceived notions of the type of peanut butter they prefer, and then they’ll pick a particular brand based on the attributes that they find important.

And in order to sell your product or service, you want to meet consumers’ needs when it comes to what they’re looking for in peanut butter. But identifying and communicating your own brand attributes can actually be quite complex, especially if you don’t know how your customers see your brand in the first place. A great way to understand the brand attributes that your customers associate with your brand is to survey them with aided and unaided survey questions.

First, run an initial survey with open-ended questions

Before you jump into asking consumers how they see your brand in particular, find out how they see your brand category in general. We suggest giving an initial survey to a small group within your target market that asks open-ended questions such as:

  1. What are some traits you look for when choosing peanut butter?
  2. When you think about peanut butter, what kind of brands come to mind?
  3. What are some positive words you would use to describe peanut butter?
  4. What are some negative words you would use to describe peanut butter?

When your respondents read the question, “What are some traits you look for when choosing peanut butter?,” they may provide answers like “all-natural,” “low-sodium,” and “no-stir.” Hold on to those responses–you’ll need them to create your next survey.

Next, run a survey with positive and negative brand attributes to learn more about your brand

Now that you have information from consumers about what they expect out of peanut butter—and what they think is good and bad about it—you can run more surveys that are specific to the product or service you offer.

Use the answers you collected from your open-ended questions to ask closed-ended questions. Because closed-ended questions are quantitative (they yield numbers and data that can be measured), their responses are easier to analyze than open-ended, qualitative (descriptive, unmeasurable) responses. For example, you might ask the following question using the top answers you collected from your first survey:

Which of the following do you look for when buying peanut butter? (Select all that apply.)

  1. All-natural
  2. Low-sodium
  3. No-stir
  4. Other (please specify)

And if you want to figure out how consumers view your brand image, use the answers you collected from your initial survey to put together a full list of both positive and negative brand attributes as they could be applied to your product or service.

For example, if respondents answered the question, “What are some negative words you would use to describe peanut butter?,” with “oily” or “unhealthy,” add those to the list. Now you know what people are looking for–and what they’re not–when it comes to peanut butter, so you can write a question like this:

Which of the following traits best describe <insert your brand name>? (Select all that apply)

  1. All-natural
  2. Low-sodium
  3. No-stir
  4. Oily
  5. Unhealthy
  6. Other (please specify)

See how your brand image stacks up

Once you’ve gathered answers based on industry brand attributes, positive and negative brand attributes, and asked about specific traits you think your brand has, you’ll start to see a picture emerge.

Consumers will identify overall category attributes, make brand associations, identify what they personally look for, and give answers based how they view your brand’s image. From this comparison, you’ll be able to identify the gaps between what people look for and the attributes that people see in your brand—and use the answers to understand how loyal customers are to your brand.

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