Tracking performance and positioning is a key element of any successful brand strategy.
The main aims of any brand tracking research programme are:
- Identifying whether challenges lie in raising awareness or converting consideration to purchase;
- Understanding what we stand for and the unique value we offer;
- Measuring the impact of marketing activities.
When implementing a successful tracking programme it is important to…
Know your audience
Effectively managing brand position relies on knowing clearly who we are speaking to. Customer views identify strengths and areas of potential differentiation but offer limited opportunity to grow market share and a broader view is needed. Including non-customers in the programme will highlight what we need to do better, where our offer is less compelling or less well-known than competitors and where we need to focus to win share.
We must also consider the scope of our audience and whether ours is a targeted, niche offer or whether a broader market view is needed. Where our offer is broader, a wider sample of current and potential customers is required and the ease of reaching a representative sample through lists or panels versus the challenges of weighting data will need to be considered.
Keep it consistent
To identify true changes in performance or position we must ensure we are comparing like-for-like. Changes in sample composition, questionnaire structure, phrasing & terminology and methodology can significantly impact results. We must carefully consider these when transitioning surveys from one provider to another or designing multiple waves to ensure that results are comparable.
Include clear performance metrics
Tactical, strategic-level brand attributes that can be affected by marketing teams are an essential part of brand tracking but an effective programme must include higher-level metrics as a barometer of performance. The importance, relevance and actual brand attributes themselves can change but the role of broader metrics such as the brand funnel (awareness, familiarity, consideration etc.), brand value and likelihood to recommend remain relevant in all markets. Using these as a yardstick enables us to track the effect of actions taken at the strategic level.
Get the right balance of attributes
The essence of a successful brand tracking programme are the attributes themselves. Correctly communicating what our brand stands for with those we want to influence relies on a well formed and considered list.
- A clear distinction is needed between brand attributes and product or service features – they are not the same thing. Knowing that a successful brand is a promise delivered, focus should be on testing the higher-level promise and not tangible product features that deliver it
- What we want our brand to stand for must be measured in the wider context. We must be outward looking to track what is important to the market and what promises competitors are making to understand where our offer is strong and where gaps may exist
- The language we use must be relevant. Attributes and values must be communicated clearly and unambiguously and our language must be effective internally and externally. Many brand tracking programmes are multi-country and ensuring that attributes are correctly translated to retain consistent meaning must not be overlooked.
Include a competitive element
We can only truly understand brand position and the effectiveness of our efforts in a competitive context – even if our position is clear, is it more enticing than the competition? Where it is not possible to capture views on all competitors, we must be selective and ask ourselves;
- Do we compete with a small number of larger players?
- What about second-tier competitors?
- Are local competitors strong in certain geographies?
- If grouped together, are the ‘others’ a significant consideration?
In answering these questions, we will need to consider how we position competitors to be rated –randomly assigned based on awareness; natural fallout based on market share; quotas for key competitors; will smaller competitor samples need to be ‘boosted’?
Be clear on who will rate
Depending on the competitive set, it is likely that respondents will rate the performance of multiple brands including those not used on a regular basis. This is key to a broad market picture but there are some considerations.
If rating less familiar brands, respondents must be reassured that their perception is welcomed i.e. what do they think of the brand, even though they have not used it? We must ensure that at the very least, respondents are aware of the brand they are being asked to rate – if they have never heard of a brand, they will not have a perception and whilst we may want all respondents to provide feedback on our brand, raising awareness may be a greater challenge. Finally, when analysing our data, there may be differences between those aware, familiar and likely to consider our brand – filtering and identifying where these differences lie is often crucial!
Keep it focussed
It is tempting to ask many questions in a tracker but we must ensure that surveys remain concise, focused and as relevant as possible to retain respondent engagement and data quality – especially if we want respondents to participate in future waves. Maintaining a balance between questions key to the objectives of the programme, those which provide context and those which may be nice to have will require careful design skills which come with experience.
Timing is everything
Understanding the impact of seasonality on our brand is important. Whether we conduct research at ‘high-season’ (heightened awareness) or ‘off-season’ (advertising and promotional activity may be minimal) is less of a concern but we must be aware of the effect when interpreting results. Seasonality is key to maintaining consistency with previous surveys – being able to compare results like-for-like and knowing whether changes are a result of actions taken or simply the time of year can hinge on whether fieldwork periods are consistent.
Equally important is the impact of our and/or competitor activity. Knowing when marketing campaigns or promotional activities are due can explain potential spikes in results. Timing research to coincide with activities can help to monitor short-term impact but over the longer-term is unlikely to provide a clear measure of changes in performance or positioning and should be avoided.
External events & influences
Although they cannot be controlled or anticipated, the impact of external events on brand performance programmes should not be underestimated. For example, political tensions between nations can affect brand perceptions based on country of origin whilst PR events for one brand can impact all within the category – positively or negatively. Effective and insightful interpretation of results relies on an awareness of the broader environment and an ability to look beyond research findings alone to explain results.
The final consideration in a successful tracking programme is managing the demands of client stakeholders – which can multiply when international programmes are in place! Current and desired brand position may differ between markets/stakeholders, as might the competitive environment and it is likely that different stakeholders will want to provide input. Whilst this is valuable in understanding market conditions and defining actionable insights, it must not be to the detriment of the programmes’ core aims and consistency of approach. Maintaining a close relationship with the core project team and providing material to support them is fundamental to achieving this i.e. demonstrating how individual input has been considered and included but always communicating the wider goals and long-term aims of the programme.
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