Three steps for your right-sized brand tracking

It almost feels a bit reactionary to write an article about brand tracking in 2019. What is the relevance of data gathered from old-school questionnaire surveys to agile marketers in the fast-paced and Big Data-rich world of today?

Well, brand tracking is not dead. We are regularly approached by marketers in search of advice on how to renovate their brand tracking programs. Far from having lost its relevance, they see an increased need for understanding how their brands are developing in today’s cluttered, noisy and fast-moving marketplace. And to do that, they need to get into consumers’ minds.

The problem with existing brand tracking programs

The need for brand tracking most certainly exists, but marketers are not entirely happy with what they currently get from their brand tracking programs. Cost, relevance and trustworthiness are recurring topics of our discussions.

– Cost: A comprehensive brand tracking program takes up a large chunk of a marketing budget – money that marketers suspect could be spent more productively elsewhere.

– Relevance: Brand tracking programs often feel a bit outdated and do not necessarily give the kind of actionable insight marketers are seeking.

– Trustworthiness: Survey data produces squiggly trend lines, and it’s often hard to identify the real signals in all the random noise caused by statistical error.

In our experience, the root cause of these problems is often poor tracker management. Here’s a common scenario we encounter with clients: tracker questionnaires are allowed to grow organically, with different stakeholders adding their particular perspectives to the mix. Many see tracking as “The Study” that will reveal everything. The end result is a massive questionnaire, seemingly without a clear purpose or logic behind it. Costs add up as questionnaires grow in length, while sample sizes are cut to stay within budget, which means that the squiggly lines become even more squiggly. Thus, it’s harder and harder to derive meaningful interpretations, and trust in the whole program deteriorates.

The question then becomes, “How do you restore the perceived relevance and trustworthiness of a brand tracking program?” The clue is to right-size the program. Here are three steps for how to do that:

1) Define the core purpose of the tracking program and align it with the strategy

The core purpose of a brand tracker is to understand whether the brand is moving in the desired direction or not. This means going back to the brand strategy document to articulate a set of objectives to be met. You do not need a massive tracking program to accomplish this. It’s enough to have measures of mental availability and attractiveness for the brand and a set of desired brand associations. This is the leanest a brand tracker can be and more than enough for most companies.

Some companies also want to understand how competing brands are developing. You might also want more diagnostics that capture campaign effectiveness, consumer attitudes and behaviors etc. But bear in mind that there is a cost associated with all such additions. It’s a slippery slope, so our advice is to stay as close to the core as possible.

By grounding the tracker program in the brand strategy we can ensure relevance. You actually measure what you have set out to change. Second, we’re left with a much leaner tracking program. Costs are typically cut even as much as 60 percent in this step.

2) Re-invest in quality (for both data and analysis)

The savings you derive from moving to a lean tracking program should not be pocketed. Rather, invest them in increasing data quality. Provided you already have a high-quality market research partner, this means increasing the sample size. A larger number of interviews will decrease the margin of error, producing less squiggly trend lines and more trustworthy results. There will always be noise in survey data, but the simple formula of ‘fewer questions, more interviews’ will invariably increase the signal–to–noise ratio of your data.

Over the years, many companies have moved from monthly or quarterly reporting of tracker data to automated reports and, in some instances, real-time reporting in dashboards. Dashboards provide a cost-effective way of reporting key numbers, but these metrics tend to come without any form of analysis or interpretation. In our experience, a good old-fashioned quarterly report, where clever analysts spend time closely examining the numbers, running analyses and interpreting findings in a broader business context will provide clear recommendations for future action.

3) Establish a clear tracker governance structure

Steps 1 and 2 result in a strategically relevant, lean tracker with trustworthy data that will produce actionable results. To ensure it stays that way and leads to concrete actions, you should spend some time setting up a clear governance structure. First, assign clear roles, responsibilities and access rights to both internal and external stakeholders (for example market research, media and ad agencies). Preferably, there is an assigned principal in the governance structure that is the only one with editing rights; the tracker should be “read only” for all other stakeholders. Part of governance is also aligning the brand tracking program with important internal business processes, to ensure the tracker results are actually acted upon.

To conclude, the way to restore the relevance of brand tracking is to right-size your tracker around its core purpose. It should be strictly focused on what you need to know. Use the cost savings to re-invest in data quality as well as quality analysis and recommendations. Finally, make sure you establish a governance regime that prevents scope creep.