The Fundamentals of Brand Tracking

By Ian Marshall, B2B International

Tracking performance and position is key to a successful brand strategy.

Any brand tracking programme should aim to identify:

  • Whether raising awareness or converting consideration to purchase are the main challenges;
  • What we stand for and what unique value we offer;
  • The impact of marketing activities.

To implement a successful tracking programme it is important to know that …

  1. Effectively understanding brand position relies on knowing your audience. From customers we identify strengths and differentiation but a broader view is needed to grow share. Feedback from non-customers will show what we need to improve, where we are less compelling than competitors and where to focus to win share.

Audience scope (whether our offer is targeted or niche), the need to sample current and potential customers and how easily we can reach a representative sample versus weighting data need to be considered.

  1. To identify real changes in brand performance we must keep things consistent; changes to sample and questionnaire design, language and methodology will impact results.
  1. In addition to strategic-level brand attributes, an effective programme must contain clear overall performance metrics. Attributes can change in importance and relevance but broader metrics such as the brand funnel, value and recommendation remain relevant yardsticks of the impact of actions taken over the longer-term.
  1. The essence of a proven brand tracking programme is getting the right balance of attributes – communicating what our brand stands for with the core audience relies on a well-formed list and that we:
  • Distinguish between brand attributes and product/service features – they are not the same;
  • Are outward looking when measuring what our brand stands for so that we track what is important and how well competitors deliver;
  • Use clear language when attributes and values are communicated internally and externally. Where multiple countries are surveyed, attributes must be translated to retain meaning and relevance.
  1. Including the competitive context is crucial to understanding brand position and the impact of marketing activities – even when clear, it is important to know how our offer competes with competitors and whether we are more enticing. Where we cannot capture views on all competitors, we must ask:
  • Are there a small number of larger players?
  • Do we consider second-tier competitors?
  • What role do local competitors play?
  • If combined, are ‘other brands’ a threat?

Here we need to consider how competitors will be rated e.g. assigned at random based on awareness; using natural fallout; assigning quotas; by ‘boosting’ smaller competitor samples?

  1. It is likely respondents will rate multiple brands, and some may not be used regularly so we must be clear on who will rate which brands. With brands that are less familiar, respondents must know their perception is acceptable i.e. what they think of a brand, but we must ensure respondents are aware of the brands they rate – if they are not, they will have no perception to offer.
  1. An effective brand tracker must be focussed. It is easy to ask too many questions and surveys should remain concise and focussed to maximise engagement and response quality. Striking the balance between key questions to meet objectives, those required for context and the ‘nice to have’ requires careful design and consideration.
  1. Understanding seasonality and that timing is crucial to our brand is also important. Researching at times when awareness may be high e.g. following promotional activity or when advertising is minimal, is not the concern; rather we must be aware of the effect when interpreting results.

Timing is also key to consistency with previous surveys and our ability to compare results like-for-like to know whether changes are a result of actions taken or the time of year. Equally important to explain changes in results is knowing when our or competitor marketing activities are due. Research timed to coincide with activities helps monitor short-term impact but is unlikely to provide a clear measure of changes in performance or positioning over the longer-term.

  1. Although not possible to control, the impact of external events and influences on brand tracking cannot be underestimated – for example, political tensions affecting perceptions based on country of origin or negative PR for a single brand impacting a whole category. Accurate interpretation of results therefore requires an awareness of the broader environment and looking beyond the research findings.
  1. The final consideration is the role of stakeholder management to deliver a successful tracking programme and managing demands from within client organisations. Brand perceptions may differ by stakeholder as can the competitive environment by market, and different stakeholders will want to provide input. Whilst valuable in building understanding, this must not deter from the programme’s objectives. Maintaining close relationships with the immediate project team is critical to success here.

By Ian Marshall, B2B International

B2B International is the largest specialist business to business market research agency in the world. It has offices covering Europe, North America and Asia and specializes in developing bespoke market research solutions for global clients, including 600 of the world’s largest 1,500 companies among its client base. Ian Marshall is a Research Manager at B2B International’s global headquarters in the UK.