Case Studies: Some Smart Smart Ways to Meet Your Goals Successfully

  1. BRAND IDENTITY: Premiumize A Distilled Spirits Brand
  2. BRAND EXTENSION STUDY: Home Appliances
  3. NEW PRODUCT IDEATION: Home Appliances
  5. SHOPPER INSIGHTS: Fashion Retailer


Business Goal:

  • Provide rationale for price increase
  • Attract new user segments while retaining the loyalty of core users

Research Goal:

Conduct a comprehensive strategic brand assessment to aid the development of brand communication strategies as the company seeks to premiumize the brand

Research, Phase 1: Determine strategic direction

  • Historical knowledge base: Get to know the brand through the study of 30 internal research reports and other publications dating back almost 20 years

  • Current company perspective: Clarify and synthesize the thoughts, beliefs and opinions of those who touch the brand, to gain consensus on focus of subsequent research phases


  1. 16 individual in-depth interviews
  2. In-person read-out of findings and work session with brand group, Consumer Insights team and senior management

Major Conclusions of Phase 1:

  • The brand's appeal is strongest at a subconscious level rather than at a rational, product quality level. Earlier research also identified brand appeal at the subconscious level of Alpha archetype.

  • Most stakeholders believe brand heritage and five core values are being communicated in a way that downscales the brand and are thus inconsistent with a premium price and image.

Research, Phase 2:

Identify key drivers of "premium" in the distilled spirits category at a deep emotional level of wants and needs across consumer segments:

  • identify the strongest emotional benefits linked to "premium"
  • identify how these emotional benefits relate to emotional need states
  • identify benefits that best connect the brand to premium
  • identify benefits that motivate Core, Occasional and New users to the brand


  • Instead of their standard approach - i.e., core users per segment - recruit core users, occasional and lapsed users, users of other brands in the category and users of other kinds of spirits.

  • Recruit across age, gender, geography and socio-economics, but recruit all Alpha personalities, drawing on the archetype identified in earlier research. This not only ensures commonality but gives the basis for creating a brand archetype. AIR developed the attitudinal test used to recruit Alpha personalities.

Phase 2 Methodology (22 two-hour focus groups)

  • Pre-group: Collage homework assignment

  • Focus group
    • Collages. Debrief what premium means emotionally and the different situations involved.
    • Stories recreating situations where drinking favorite premium mattered. This develops an inventory of emotional benefits sought across need states.
    • Theatre game (proprietary AIR technique). This game gets respondents thinking in terms of brand image and their image of the client brand vis-à-vis a range of premium - non-premium competitive brands.
    • Ladder to the self-image they aspire to. Respondents define the image they want in a premium brand that would reflect on themselves.
    • Image selection. Respondents select the images that best express for them the emotional benefits linked to the self-image they aspire to.

Major Conclusions of Phase 2:

  • Important commonalities in defining key emotionally-based benefits associated with Premium brands/ products were documented across men and women, age groups, socio-economics and different usage segments.

  • Over time, the opportunity to connect the brand to the aspirational self-image can leverage the established heritage and strengths of the brand to premium.

  • There are important emotional tensions in the marketplace that represent unmet needs that the brand can credibly and uniquely fulfill. These tensions are directly related to consumers' self-esteem.

  • The brand can credibly and uniquely communicate the aspirational concept of personal achievement in a manner that...
    • bridges brand loyalists and others.

    • is predicated on the brand's core values and strengths.

    • is applicable across need states and consumer segments.

    • is untenable for other competitive "Affordable Luxury" brands.

Research, Phase 3:

A quantitative study (conducted by AIR partner StrataMark Dynamic Solutions) will follow to quantify findings, explore what strategies are suggested for premiumizing brand activations across segments, and to assess strategic opportunities for ad message content and context, sponsorship, licensing, promotions and media.


Business Goal:

Pioneer into untapped categories to maintain brand position as the leading edge of the industry. A key concern is the tendency of main competitors to follow into the same categories. Ideally the category/ies selected would only be a good fit with this company's brand equity and not fit well with key competitors.

Research Goal:

Determine appropriate new categories for brand extension, by having respondents identify household problems or needs that can match up with the brand equity.

Qualitative Methodology:

In each of three contrasting US regions, conduct two 2-hour focus groups to define brand equity, five 3-hour home visits to explore and expand upon household needs identified by the respondents, followed by two focus groups for the respondents to return to present and evaluate their ideas. Recruit homeowners who are brand users; a mix in age, gender, income, ethnicity and type of dwelling.

Research, Phase 1: Initial Focus Groups

  • Brand Equity Exercises. These exercises use continuous stimuli to achieve increasing depth and specificity about what the brand means to consumers and its expression.
    • Debrief of collages on the respondents' thoughts and feelings about the brand

    • Top-of-mind brand awareness

    • Mindmap to capture and explore the thoughts, feelings and associations that the brand evokes

    • Select the images that they think best summarize the brand image and personality (compare with competitor images)

    • Metaphor exercise to explore brand themes in greater depth and specificity and to stimulate thinking about brand expression

    • Sum of functional/ emotional/experiential/aesthetic themes of brand equity

  • Brand Extension Exercises
    • Sorts to stimulate thinking about ways to apply the brand as it has now been defined
      • Picture sort of a variety of emotional associations to clarify the brand's emotional equity -- relate to metaphors of kinds of products

      • Card sort of variety of household products, re. their fit with brand equity

      • Picture sort of variety of household product innovations, re. their fit with brand equity

    Respondents are given journals with tasks to stimulate their ideas for brand extension during the week, focusing on a different part of the house interior and exterior per day.

Research, Phase 2:

Five in-home visits per market with respondents selected from the focus groups.

  • Review their brand extension ideas. Probe on brand equity and unmet need. Observe to understand behavioral and emotional context.

  • Identify enhancements, related or additional opportunities, e.g., solutions for products/processes/results that require steps, require combining things, require home-remedy solutions, results that they settle for, that they enjoy. Probe on brand equity. Observe to understand context.

Research, Phase 3: Closing Focus Groups

  • Discuss the ideas identified during the week and how they fit with the brand equity. Probe on the needs they serve, how they would fit into people's homes or household activities, the benefits they offer. Assess which ones rise to the top and why, suggested enhancements/refinements to these ideas.

  • Assess concepts developed by the client, using the above criteria.

Major Conclusions:

  • Key Brand Equities were identified, answering both functional and emotional needs.

  • Consumers defined the brand in terms of eight primary characteristics, and expect brand extensions to center on most or all of these primary characteristics. The characteristics carry both functional and emotional benefits. The closer new categories reflect these characteristics, the greater consumers' acceptance, trust and loyalty.

  • Many respondent ideas represent important unmet needs nationally or regionally that the brand can credibly and uniquely fulfill in a manner that:

    • strengthens current brand loyalty and attracts users of competitor brands.

    • builds on the brand's values and strengths.

    • is untenable for other competitive brands.

Quantitative Research Phase: Quantitative testing conducted by AIR partner StrataMark Dynamic Solutions.


Business Goal:

Develop a premium vacuum cleaner that will compete against a leading premium brand.

Research Goal:

  1. Identify the ideal premium vacuum cleaner among targeted segments, through six creative workshops.

    Methodology: Five creative Workshops with users of premium vacuum cleaners (male and female, grouped by age) and one with vacuum store managers who are responsible for the selection and sales of premium vacuum cleaners

  2. Gain insight into customer behavior, distribution channels and promotion in the premium vacuum cleaner market.

    Methodology: Four in-depth interviews with dealers responsible for the selection and sales of premium vacuum cleaners, who represented a range of distribution channels; and three focus groups with consumers: two with consumers who have recently bought or intend to buy premium vacuum cleaners, and one with consumers who have bought the competitor brand within the past year.

Creative Workshop Methodology: Consumer Version

  • Consumer storyboards: Consumers present satisfactions/ dissatisfactions with current premium in different stages of cleaning, accompanied by photos. Follow with stories and probing for further insight -- handouts of different types of vacuum cleaners to assess pros and cons of each type

  • Consumers' lifestyle chart tracing trends and personal changes affecting them over the past 5 years: how these have affected attitudes toward cleaning and cleaning needs, including expectations of high tech capabilities and health and safety capabilities

  • Laddering to identify the emotional benefits and values associated with preferred product attributes

  • Sensory recall exercises to reveal sensory associations operative within the category

  • Ideation - premium vacuum cleaner features and design - based on photo presentation conclusions, top attributes, benefits and values

    • Top of mind responses, doodling and mind-mapping stimulate brainstorming the features that make a vacuum cleaner Timesaving, Powerful, Convenient to operate, Fun (i.e., not just cleaning function), Healthy, etc.

    • Selection of photos of vacuum cleaners whose designs connote premium

    • Presentation of client design concepts to stimulate more design ideas

    • Presentation of 4 existing models to further stimulate feature and design ideas

    • Role playing: two teams, each with one person who designs a premium vacuum cleaner (according to 15 specified elements including price and the main selling point), and one who sells the idea to a company that manufacturers and sells premium vacuum cleaners. The remaining two respondents represent the company and evaluate the presentations: do they reflect the modern consumer; do they address consumer needs and wants in a way that's different from what competitors offer. One corporate rep is the gatekeeper who can require modifications; the CEO chooses only 1 of the 2 final presentations.


Business Goal: The industrial design/human interface division (IDHI) of this office products company wanted to penetrate the home printer market in the US and western Europe, capitalizing on its iconic brand name and the development of distinctive and appealing design.

Research Goal: to identify the printer design that will grab consumers' attention and inspire purchase in the retail environment.


Recruitment: A broad demographic mix. Five focus groups in each market (New York and Paris)

Design: 2-hour focus groups. Integrated qualitative and quantitative instrument.

  • Respondents identify the design criteria for a home printer that are important to them and define what they mean by those criteria. Since this can be difficult for respondents to articulate, they refer to photos they have brought of favorite décor, favorite rooms, and favorite furniture or other favorite objects they have purchased for their homes as examples of what they mean. This gets them thinking in terms of the design criteria they apply to their home purchases and helps establish a working vocabulary regarding shape, personality and color to evaluate printer design throughout the focus group discussion.

  • Respondents evaluate four prototypes against these criteria. Evaluation is both quantitative (they are introduced to the semantic differential through exercises for this purpose) and qualitative:

      1st - Form: respondents view and respond to 4 prototypes in terms of form

      2nd - Form + Color: respondents view these same forms on a specially designed computer program which permits them to see the forms from various angles and in the different body colors and accent colors they choose. Color chips are also distributed to provide a true sense of color. The discussion following this exercise includes whether and how color has influenced their price perceptions and decisions about preferred form

      3rd - Competitor products: respondents view and respond to 4 competitor products (stripped down to be on a more even footing with the prototypes); photographs are also distributed to show competitive product colors

  • Make final choice from among prototype and competitor products, including recommended design modifications. Discussion reveals emotional and functional criteria motivating these choices.

  • Brand equity is explored in discussion of which manufacturer they think makes their first and last choices and least preferred choice, what kinds of people the designers are and what the designers' objectives are.

Major Conclusions:

  • Commonalities in size, material, shade, color and accent preferences were identified in both Paris and New York; these were based on both emotional and rational drivers.

  • The effect of material and color on form and price was identified.

  • Retail strategies for shelf presence and purchase inspiration were identified.

  • Strategy for color and form. Although there was no clear read on a preferred form for a home printer, there was a clear set of differences between the aesthetic criteria of the New Yorkers and of the Parisians. On this basis, we recommended a design strategy for a single size and shape that incorporated competitive features, with suggested color choices and color oppositions used to resolve the different aesthetic criteria in the US and French markets (to be tested quantitatively).

  • A strategy for customization was identified that would allow the most customization in shape and color with the minimum of colors and pieces.

  • We also made recommendations for extending the brand identity to include home products (these recommendations were developed and tested by AIR in a follow-up study in the US and Germany).



A leading retailer that sells its own line of family clothing is over-stored and poorly positioned, and is losing business to both high-end better positioned retailers and to strong value merchants.

Business Issue

Find competitive positioning to attract the desired targets: teens and young parents.

Research Objectives

  • Understand purchase behavior, competitive landscape, and perceptions of this retailer as differentiated by segments, in order to identify the brand image, retail concept and shopping experience that will attract them.

  • Research Solution In-home photographs, media survey, simulated shopping in focus-group format, shop-alongs.

  • Rationale for Mixed Methodologies To address the full complement of information needs, a holistic framework is required that synthesizes insights on shopper needs and perceptions, shopper observation, shopping environment, retailer servicing issues and shopper interviews, offering new thinking to provide actionable research.


  • Pre-Focus Group tasks:
    • Bring in photographs of their closets to show what they like/dislike about their clothes and how they think about and organize their clothes.
    • Complete survey on the media they have consumed, in what combinations and which influence them the most in their purchase decisions. Questions focus on "coolest" clothes they want, magazines they read, who is cool on television, music they listen to, favorite television show.
    • Complete another, brief survey on the sizes they select for themselves at different stores, as a guideline for buyers and sales reps.

  • Focus Groups:
    • Simulated Shopping - Test the types of clothes/brands/styles/ prices participants select under different simulated ranges, layouts, groupings. Discussion of reasons, assumptions, perceptions per different conditions.
    • Exercises on Brand Image - To reach the emotional pull of competing brands.

  • Shop-Alongs:
    • Path Analysis - How customers move inside the store.
    • Purchase Decision-Making Process - Who influences the decision and how

Key Insights

Identified what's important to the target consumers, what they expect from a brand, and their emotional response to consumer touch points and the ways brands reach out to engage them.

Actions Taken

The brand tightened its positioning to meet an unmet need among youth and young adults. The positioning is reinforced consistently in advertising, kinds of merchandise and store environment.



A leading greeting cards manufacturer planned to introduce a new line of lower priced cards via a well-known global retailer.

Business Issue

Understand how consumers shop and interact with the product in order to determine the retail concept and shopping experience that will maximize profit for retailer and manufacturer.

Research Objectives

  • How are consumers interacting with the product overall and in terms of specific features?

  • Identify how shoppers react consciously and subconsciously to changes in simulated variables - layout, range, and packaging - for optimization.

  • Explore multipack vs. single cards packaging configuration.

  • How would consumers react if these new cards were to replace the $0.99 section completely?

Research Solution

In-depth qualitative interviews focusing on simulated shopping exercises followed by in-person consumer structured interviews.

Rationale for Design

  • Qualitative - Permitted testing of the relative efficacy of different organizational and packaging factors, and probing of consumer conscious and subconscious reactions.

  • Structured Interviews - Facilitated quantitative feedback on an array of concepts.


  • Store environments set up in mall facilities in two regional markets. Study sample included both male and female category users:
    • recent shoppers of the specific retail channel
    • lifestyle - Mix of life stage characteristics

  • Data collection:
    • Warm-Up - Participants browsed the card sections, including a section of new concept cards.
    • Mock Shopping Exercise - Select 4 birthday cards they would want to buy. Integrated observation and discussion ensued regarding:
      1. product interactions
      2. issues such as card packaging, pricing, likes/dislikes and any concerns about the cards. Participants also answered questions about their card buying behaviors
      3. variables were changed across interviews

Key Insights

Insights for enhancing retail concept performance:

  • Space management strategies to draw to draw and hold shoppers' attention
  • Product placement in relation to traditional and competitive cards
  • Color coding - what it signified to shoppers, where to use, where it disoriented shoppers - and why
  • Packaging solutions
  • Product information, based on what the shoppers looked for, where they looked for it, assumptions when they didn't find it

Actions Taken

The new product concept will replace the $0.99 section. The overall positioning concept promises convenience, and this will be reinforced by a retail concept and experience of convenience, drawing upon the optimal solutions in the research findings.  

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