Remember the disastrous 1980s debut of New Coke? Coca-Cola did a ton of market research on the product itself, including countless taste tests. But the failure of the product launch proved to be the company’s neglect of brand research. By replacing “Classic Coke” with the new product, Coca-Cola hugely underestimated its customers’ loyalty to both the taste of the original product and the branded look of its packaging.Surprisingly, this famous brand research lesson is often lost on companies seeking to expedite a brand launch – be it a new or reinvented one. Unless you are the chief marketing officer of Apple (renowned for not conducting brand research), you need to do your research.Many businesses seeking to develop a new brand or update an existing one get caught up in the creative process surrounding the production of logo designs, taglines, and color schemes. Oftentimes this leads to an aesthetically pleasing brand – but one that doesn’t necessarily resonate with target audiences. A pre-branding process consisting of thorough and accurately defined market research will ensure your brand achieves top-of-mind awareness among your target markets.If you have an existing brand that needs a revamp, the first step is to analyze it objectively. A brand audit typically includes a review of current marketing plans, budgets and existing strategies (messaging, creative, media, public relations, social media and Web) and their results. Depending on your budget, focus groups and/or online surveys of employees, customers, and/or partners are helpful tools in identifying an existing brand’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. The results of this analysis will provide the necessary direction for your rebrand.The research phaseFor a new brand – be it an original or a rebrand – it is critical to combine both primary and secondary research methods to produce one that will connect with your target markets. Kick off this initiative with analysis of qualitative and quantifiable data available in-house. Examples can include asking customers for feedback about your company (or industry at large if you are just starting up) via online chats, interviews and social media as well as more statistically based online surveys and focus groups.In addition, collecting industry-focused secondary research from publications, databases and associations will assist you in better understanding target market perceptions and any market barriers. This method is also effective in reviewing the current strategies of your competitors, helping you to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.Once the research phase of your branding initiative is complete, you will have created a comprehensive outline of the characteristics and messaging of a successful brand. Along with driving the logo design, this integral research will fuel the creation of a unique selling proposition (USP), which will serve as a uniform message that articulates why your product or service is the perfect solution for its target markets. The logo and USP should be integrated across marketing strategies for brand consistency.When you feel satisfied with your finished product – and you still have the ambition and budget for some extra research – it is a tried-and-true best practice to test your brand among potential customers and prospects via survey or focus group. Your result will be a brand that prospective and existing customers will embrace, remember, and reward with loyalty.