Measuring Your Organization's Market Awareness and Perceptions Provides a Solid Basis for Moving Forward
(Originally published in the February 1997 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal)
By William K. Pollock
A service organization's market awareness and perceptions are among its most valuable assets, but they require high levels of maintenance and a great deal of attention. However, unlike other important contributors to an organization's overall market positioning and economic well-being, market awareness and perceptions are almost always entirely out of its control, except for the ability to continually attempt to shape, nurture and cultivate them in the eyes of the universe that comprises the overall service and support marketplace.
Even after utilizing all of the available state-of-the-art marketing and promotional tools; exploiting the full resources of the organization's own marketing, advertising and promotional staffs; and employing the use of outside public relations consultants and the like, an organization's levels of market awareness and perceptions ultimately rest entirely within the minds of the market's decision-influencers, decision-makers, purchasers and users of your organization's products and services.
There is never a "best" time to begin to measure and evaluate your market awareness and perceptions; although, if you have not already established a benchmark assessment, now may be an appropriate time to do so. Too many services organizations wait until after they have launched a new product or service, changed their corporate name, acquired new companies or undergone some other major form of "disruption" before they attempt to measure and assess their now-existing market position.
However, the problem with waiting until then is that there is no basis for comparing the levels of awareness and perceptions resulting from the most recent "disruption" to what the organization's levels were prior to the change. In otherwords, there is no way to evaluate what the impact of a specific change, or event, is to the organization's overall position. This is why most services organizations, and businesses of all types, choose to establish a formal benchmark of their market awareness and perceptions well in advance of any planned, or unplanned, future events.
Program Goals and Objectives
In most cases, the primary objectives for conducting a market awareness and perception study are (Figure 1):
More specifically, the objectives for embarking on such a program may also include the measurement, assessment and evaluation of such market image- and position-related factors as:
First, the organization would acquire new, current and useful input/insight directly from its relevant market base regarding:
Third, this information would contribute directly to the ongoing improvement of the organization's product and service offerings, and could ultimately lead to the development of new, modified or enhanced product and service features designed to meet the total, or expanded, needs of the marketplace.
Undertaking an Awareness and Perception Study
Since the results of the market image and perception study will be used to establish baseline measures upon which all future movement and trends will be gauged and measured, it is clear that the overall quality of the collected data is absolutely critical. Consequently, the program should be based on a design that addresses all of the principal issues of market awareness and market/user perceptions, as well as all other relevant market attitudes, opinions and beliefs.
The ongoing measurement and tracking of market image and awareness represents a critical element of any business's marketing plan. Still, when evaluating the market, many business managers tend to focus very narrowly on either their existing customer base (typically the marketing managers) or the prospective customer base (typically the sales managers). However, a sound marketing plan will incorporate the analysis and assessment of market awareness and perceptions among both of these key groups.
When planning a baseline, or benchmark, study of an organization's market awareness and perceptions, it is generally necessary to conduct the research on a discreet, or "closed" basis in order to attain the most objective and non-biased results. For this reason, most businesses tend to utilize the services of an outside consulting firm or advertising agency to conduct the actual market research under their name, rather than the company's own name. Most of these firms will recommend a methodology that consists of three major areas, each with its own set of specific tasks and activities (Figure 3). These major areas include:
Among the first steps to be taken upon commencing a study of this nature would be to identify any existing internal data, past survey results or other internal and external sources of information that may be available to provide some initial insight into the market. This is typically where the participation of the organization's advertising agency or public relations firm may come in handy.
A meeting between services management and the consulting firm would then serve to identify the key tasks that need to be accomplished before moving forward with the actual survey interviews. As part of this meeting, the client and consultant project teams could jointly identify, establish and refine the overall study design and plan; set the program schedule; identify internal data sources and contacts; and agree on a means for monitoring the progress of the overall program effort.
Further discussions between services management and the consultant should then be held with respect to gaining a comprehensive overview of the organization's internal "mindset" with respect to its market awareness and perception goals and objectives; its internal perceived competitive market position; its desired market targets and performance expectations; its key perceived service differentiators (both positive and negative); and its management's thoughts with respect to the possible ways in which the business could enhance its overall market awareness and position through the use of the data and information that would ultimately be generated as a result of completing the study effort.
These management discussions are very often important in contributing to a greater all-around understanding of the full range of internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which the external (i.e., the market's) perceptions can ultimately be evaluated and compared. As important as it is to understand how the market perceives the business, it is equally important for the business to understand what its own internal perceptions are. In otherwords, changing the business to meet the needs of the market is of critical importance; but knowing what the business will be changing from, is of equal importance in making it all work politically within the organization itself.
Based on the results of these initial tasks and activities, the survey questionnaire and design can be finalized, and the survey can be conducted (preferably by telephone, to ensure a statistically valid and representative market segment sample). The survey questionnaire should be designed to provide management with a full quantitative and statistically valid assessment of the broad array of market awareness and perception factors that define the markets in which it serves, as developed during the course of conducting the earlier qualitative tasks.
Using the Results of the Study
The analysis of the program survey data would provide management with specific market awareness and perception data that would be of great value in helping it to identify specific areas of future opportunity, including:
Merely tracking trends in market awareness and perceptions over time does not, in and of itself, provide a services organization with the information it needs to improve its overall market position. However, without doing so, an organization will not be able to effectively identify where it must make necessary improvements, or where it can most successfully cultivate new market opportunities.
The results of an awareness and perception study, once converted into an appropriate action plan, including specific tactical recommendations, can provide services management with all of the tools it requires to work immediately toward increasing existing levels of market awareness, identifying areas of awareness and image requiring further strengthening; and improving its perceived market position within the organization's relevant services marketplace.
William K. Pollock is President of Strategies For GrowthSM, a Westtown, Pennsylvania USA-based consulting firm specializing in business planning, customer service and customer satisfaction research. He may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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