NEW YORK: PepsiCo, the food and beverage giant, believes brand "lovers" should play a more important role in market research than they often do at present.

"The type of shopper who truly loves your brand is a very small percentage of your overall shopper," Brett Townsend, PepsiCo's director of strategy and insights, told The Market Research Event 2013, held in Nashville, Tennessee. (Warc subscribers can read a full exclusive report here: Why brand "lovers" are PepsiCo's priority.)

When undertaking research, he argued, understanding the precise make-up of a focus group or panel is thus essential. "The sample that you use is more important than anything. Who are you talking to? Are you talking to the right people? Are you talking to people who couldn't care less about your brand, yet still are giving you opinions on it?" he said.

Going too wide with a sample, in fact, is a common mistake among marketers – and one which is frequently premised on an inaccurate assumption.

"A lot of people mistake a brand lover as a heavy user. And we know that that's not the case," said Townsend. "Your lovers don't focus on faults. They don't focus on other things because those things don't matter to them."

Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer, is a brand that has remained consistently true to the preferences of its core customer, even though its buyer base is much wider.

"They embrace that and they love it and they're not trying to be all things to all people," Townsend said. "That's what's so great about it: They're not apologetic and they're not trying to be politically correct."

Market researchers also miss their target when they focus on the "what" or the "how" rather than the "why".

Apple – primarily known as a computer company before the iPhone – first convinced consumers to buy a smartphone by building emotional bonds and showing why this device would make a difference in their lives.

Gatorade, PepsiCo's sports drink, pursues a similar strategy, based on the brand lover's desire to win and to dominate. Tie-ups with basketball stars Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade, sprinter Usain Bolt and Peyton Manning from the NFL embody this will to be the best.

"That's the brand message and that's the emotional connection. Every want-to-be athlete, every weekend warrior out there in some way … identifies with this brand's story," said Townsend.

Data sourced from Warc