5 Survey Topics that Challenger Brands Need to Focus On

July 11, 2017

Being a challenger brand is exciting - you’re shaking up the market and giving the big fish a run for their money, but it can also be daunting. How do you cut through to reach your target audience and convince them to give you a try?

This is where consumer insights and primary research can give you the edge. Keeping your finger on the pulse when it comes to current trends and sentiment can provide the insight you need to guide your product development and marketing, and ensure your brand stands out.

This is particularly true when consumer tastes and behaviours, communication channels and technology habits are changing so quickly. Being agile enough to respond to these shifts could give you the edge over slower-to-respond behemoths. Why fight fair if you don’t have to?

To get that unfair advantage on the incumbents, and move from challenger to champions, here are 5 critical survey topics that challenger brands should explore to help you survive and thrive.

From challenger to champions..png


Survey topic # 1: What motivates your consumer’s purchase decisions?

Why? Helps you identify your key differentiator and shape a winning proposition.

Why do people buy the brands they do? It’s something you need to understand if you want to be able to compete and find a niche you can own.

To find out the answer to this all important question, you can ask consumers to rank the factors that are most important to them when considering the type of product or service you’re offering.

Find out the brand they’re currently buying and why they chose it. What qualities do they associate with this brand? Why do they remain loyal to this brand? What would make them consider another brand? What are their frustrations? How could your product or service be done better? How could their consumer experience be improved?

Common qualities that people value might be convenience, location, price, quality, reliability, variety, packaging, customer service and of course various different features and functionalities.

This information will help you find the unmet needs of consumers that you can hone in on, ultimately enabling you to poach customers or open up entirely new markets for unmet demand.

As well as surveying the existing consumers of competitor products, you can chose to question those who’ve never purchased a product/service in your category before. Ask them why they’ve not purchased and see if you can open up the market.

A classic example of this was the Nintendo Wii, which tapped into an unfulfilled market need, which was families who wanted to play casual games together. Prior to this, everyone had focused on ‘hardcore’ gamers within a very specific demographic niche. After it launched, it became a phenomenal global success.

You can take a similar approach.

Study the responses you receive to identify the factors that make your brand - or could make your brand - different.

For example, if all your competitors are closing physical stores and moving to digital-only, could you consider standing out by offering a more robust offline presence, much like the challenger Metro Bank has done to great success?

Of if everyone takes a utilitarian approach to packaging in order to keep costs down, could you make it a desirable feature, and charge a premium for the experience of receiving a beautifully packaged product?

A really handy exercise to do is then map the qualities that your prospective consumers rate most highly against those offered by your competitors, and do this on a ‘Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas’ to see visually where you could offer points of strong differentiation, allowing you to open up new markets and ‘blue ocean’ opportunities without much competition.


Don’t forget to analyse your results in relation to the age, gender, region, income etc. of the respondents so you can identify your strongest differentiators for each demographic.

Survey topic # 2: What traits do you look for in a brand?

Why? To understand how to position your brand in the marketplace.

Once you have identified your core demographic and differentiated value proposition, getting to know these consumers better will help you develop the best brand image to align with their ideals.

Where should you sit in the marketplace? Should you be luxury, masstige, commodity? Should you be known for innovation or for heritage? Should you be young and fun, or mature and serious? Should you have a reputation as the choice for ethical consumers or for the price-conscious?

All these questions can be answered by surveying your target customers to gain their views on various statements in relation to the sector you're operating in.

For example, you might ask how strongly would they agree with the statement: “Provenance is important when considering the purchase of  X,Y,Z product or service,” or “I like to buy X,Y,Z product or service from a brand that is trendy and understands my generation.”

You can also ask respondents to agree or disagree with various statements in relation to competitor brands and/or brands in other categories that you would like to be positioned alongside. For example, if you see your pen brand as the Ferrari of the stationary world, you could pose statements along the lines of:  

Ferrari is a brand....

  • For stylish people
  • I feel is accessible to me
  • I dream of owning
  • I wouldn’t buy even if I could afford it
  • For ostentatious people

If your target demographic identifies as potential Ferrari customers then you will know you too can position yourself as an exclusive, luxury product. On the other hand, if they say they are alienated by a brand like Ferrari, you should chose a different approach.

Survey topic # 3: What brands do you love?

Why? To identify partner brands to work with.

Challenger brands can help establish their place in the market by making strategic partnerships with other brands. Surveying your demographic can enable you to identify the most relevant partners, and which have the right brand image to match yours.

For example, a new energy drink targeted at young socialites might assume that a vodka brand would make a good partner, but which one would be the best fit? To find out, you can ask your audience to name their favourite vodka brand, and then approach them.

natural partnerships.jpgLook for natural partnerships.

If the type of partner you should chose is not clear, try asking more generally about the brands they most love. You can take a free text approach to this question, enabling you to gather unprompted brand recall and ideas for left-of-field partnerships.

For example, if you’re an organic veg box brand and you discover your customers really love Green People cosmetics, you could consider a tie up that enables them to have selected cosmetics delivered in their veg boxes. In return, Green People could promote your brand to their database.

It might be that you end up with lots of different brands being named, but you can select the most popular, or those you feel the strongest affinity to, and survey again with a more limited selection, for a more quantified test of their suitability before you chose which to approach.

Survey topic # 4: What media do you consume?

Why? To find the best channels for your marketing and save wasted promotional spend.

Now you know who you’re targeting and have refined your messaging, you must find out how to reach your target consumers. This means getting a handle on where they spend their time online, which magazines and newspapers they read, and what TV programmes they watch (and whether that’s on-demand or live).

You’ll want to ask them about the social channels and websites they use, but digging deeper, you’ll also want to know how much time they spend on them and when they’re most likely to be found online - is it during breaks at work, on the commute or at home in the evening? Do they access via mobile or desktop at these times? And what type of content do they most like to consume - videos, photos, in-depth features?

This insight will enable you to not only select the most effective digital marketing channels to focus on, but also when you should be scheduling your ads and what format they should take.

You can also take the opportunity to question your target consumers about how they interact with promotional content to increase your chances of engagement.

All of these media habits can be worked out with some simple multiple choice and ranking questions, and then further segmented against your target audience with filtering and cross-tabbing in your analytics dashboard.

Survey topic # 5: How aware of our brand are you, and what is your perception?

Why? To track the success of your brand messaging and overall positioning.

The previous four survey topics are designed to get your brand ready to land a strategic sucker punch on competitors, while this survey will monitor your success at doing so.

This survey needs to be run regularly to keep track of how your brand is being perceived - this may alter in response to different marketing campaigns, promotions and partnerships, as well as global events outside of your control.

For example, if a recession hits, a luxury brand may suddenly seem like a frivolity and you might want to consider a new approach, or target markets that have been less affected.

As a challenger brand, you'll want to track things like NPS, unprompted recall, purchase intent and brand perception. For example, you’re competing to position your product with a focus on the qualities you found from survey topic #1 - but is that how consumers perceive your brand, product or service?

Another smart idea if you’re going to do a large campaign push, supported by out of home / above the line marketing, is to run a before/after brand awareness test and see how much cut through you’ve achieved; and whether your key messaging is sticking.

out of home.jpgUse a brand tracker to measure out of home advertising impact.

If you wanted to monitor progress on a more regular basis (such as quarterly), then you can track unprompted recall by asking questions such as, “What brand of shampoo would you most associate with hair thickening?” and seeing how many people name your brand or product. Of course, over time, you’d expect to see your name cropping up more frequently - if not, you need to work on your brand building.

Alternatively, you could measure your Net Promoter Score (NPS), which indexes the willingness of customers to recommend your company’s products or services to others. It’s used to gauge overall customer satisfaction as well as brand loyalty.

Customers are surveyed on one single question, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or a colleague?”

Based on their rating, customers are then classified as either brand detractors, passives and promoters. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is determined by subtracting the percentage of customers who are detractors from the percentage who are promoters.

In Conclusion

To be a true disruptor you must approach an existing industry from a different angle, and surveying consumers can provide the killer insight you need to work out how do that.

If challenger brands stay flexible and are prepared to change their product, business model or marketing in response to feedback and market demand, then they stand every chance of successfully stealing marketing share from the incumbents.

To learn how you can get all the consumer insight you need to compete (and win), call us on 0330 808 4746 or try out The Consumer Insight Platform for free.

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To bring you answers to these questions (and more), we reached out to 5 experts with very different backgrounds across startups, content, social media, experiential marketing and audio to share their unique perspectives on who are the brands to watch in 2018.

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My first pick is Pepsi. Lets be honest, Pepsi had an awful 2017 from a brand perspective, they created what they thought was going to be a work of advertising art, an ad that would change the world, but instead it turned them into a global laughing stock.
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I’m really interested to see how they come back. The test of a great brand is how they react when they are at their lowest. I will be watching Pepsi closely in 2018 to see what they have planned.

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