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  • Suzanne Lugthart

Why we need to be nicer to our brand trackers

With every research job I take, my heart sinks a bit when I find out I’m going to have to look after a brand tracker. It’s not that brand trackers are in themselves bad things – there are many excellent ones out there based on solid thinking about how brands work. It’s just that businesses’ -and often clientside researchers’ - expectations of what brand trackers can do are verging on insane. I want that insanity to stop. Here are three and a bit things I’ve gleaned over the years from wrestling with trackers and being in the company of some really smart people who get brands.

Brands are like people: once they’ve been in your life for 20 years or more they’re unlikely to surprise you

If you’re an established brand in a mature market don’t expect your brand tracker to deliver exciting new insights every week/month/quarter. So don’t report on your brand that often. Brainjuicer once advocated asking people how they feel about your brand once a year. I’m sure not many marketing directors have had the courage to follow through on that one. But, back to the people analogy, think of someone you’ve known for a while. Have you changed the way you feel about them in the last week, month, year (assuming they haven’t commited some heinous sin)? They may look a little different than they did five years ago but I doubt much else has changed. The place brands hold in peoples' minds doesn't change much either so the cadence of your tracker should reflect the rate of change or dynamism in your market, and not the marketing world’s obsession with minute by minute data.

Brand trackers track brands NOT ad campaigns

Increasingly I hear researchers ask how they can tailor their tracker to measure all the different marketing channels their brand earns, owns or pays for attention in. You can’t and even asking the question suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of brands.

A brand is what results from every promise you make (marketing) and every promise you keep (your product or experience). Your tracker reveals the composite impact of all that effort but you can’t dissect it to a channel or product feature level. To attempt to calculate the impact of a social media campaign on your NPS score is tantamount to tracker abuse. If you really want to do that you need to invest in an econometric model. And even then it’s not an exact science because you can’t ignore the fact that creativity can play a pretty big role in a brand’s success

Trackers are actionable – but only if you set them up with that in mind in the first place

One of the most common complaints from my peers is that their brand tracker isn’t actionable. So they fire the agency. That’s usually unfair. The reality is most trackers aren’t set up with a specific business question in mind which makes finding “actionable insights” really rather hard. It’s a particular issue for some of the proprietary models offered by big agencies. I get why people like them: they’re intellectually robust, they offer norms and often trend data. But it’s unlikely any of them will be able to reflect the issues affecting your brand and market better than a bespoke approach could.

… which means you need to define your brand challenges and track those

The mantra for all quantitative research is, quite rightly, to work out what matters and measure it. Do the work up front and establish where you want to be as a brand. A good starting point is to identify the reasons why someone might use a brand in your category - territories or consumer needs if you like. Byron Sharp reminds us that the more useful things a brand can be associated with, the healthier it will be. And because those needs will almost certainly be at the centre of your marketing and product development strategy, track your competitive positions on those things

It’s hard to live without a tracker, they are our window on our brand’s world. So if you have one, be kind to it and respect its strengths but also its limitations. Just don’t expect it to walk your dog or empty your dishwasher. Although if you've come up with one that does the latter, let me know ....


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