Brand Tracking Webinar – How to Monitor Brand Health

Summary: Michaela Mora, Relevant Insights' founder, discusses how to design brand tracking studies and what to consider to make them effective in this webinar organized by

28 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on November 16, 2010
Topics: Brand Research, Brand Tracking Studies, Business Strategy, Webinar

In this webinar, organized by, Michaela Mora we discussed key areas and criteria to consider when designing brand tracking studies. This webinar took place in November 2010, but the topics discussed are still relevant today.

Give it a listen (28 minutes) or read the transcript below.


Today, I’m going to talk about first, some definitions that are important in the context of these types of studies such as brand equity, and brand. 

Then, I’ll talk about what, how often, and whom to track in brand tracking studies, and finally, I’ll discuss some ideas of how to interpret some of the metrics in these types of studies.  

Before we start talking specifically about brand tracking studies, I would like to establish some definitions that are part of the conceptual framework for brand tracking studies. The first definition is about what the brand is.

What Is A Brand?


According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or a group of sellers and differentiate them from those of the competition. I underlined the word intended to make the point that one thing is what the company creates to differentiate the brand, what intends to communicate about the brand, and another thing is what happens in customers’ minds. In reality, brands only exist in customers’ minds. Perception is reality here.

Until a customer is aware of the product and the symbols and establishes associations among these elements, there is no brand. We just have a commodity. So, this is an important concept which justifies why we need to monitor brands.

What is Brand Equity?


Another important concept I want to establish is brand equity. There are many definitions of brand equity, but most marketers agree that brand equity is related to the different outcomes resulting from different marketing activities. Since I believe that brands only exist in customers’ minds, and as a researcher, I like the concept of customer-based brand equity, which I found to be more actionable.

This is a concept presented by Keller in his book Strategic Brand Management, and customer-based brand equity is defined as the differential effect that brand knowledge has on customer response to the marketing of the brand, so in short, these are the differences in reaction to a brand based on the knowledge about the brand a person has which is reflecting their perceptions, preferences, and behaviors related to the marketing of the brand.

As an example, we have, for example, blind testing of the same product where a group consumes the product without knowing what the brand is, and another group does it knowing what the brand is, and differences are always observed between the two groups, even if it’s the same product, which can only be attributed to the perceptions and the brand equity of the brand.

Methods to Research Brand Equity


Brand equity is what we are interested in brand research. There are different approaches that can be used to research brand equity, and each of them gives a different perspective, so ideally if the budget permits, we should use several methods to get a more comprehensive understanding of the brand equity.

So, we have methods that are part of qualitative research you can see on the screen. These techniques are often used to identify possible associations and sources of brand equity. Since they are quite unstructured, they allow us to capture a wide range of possible consumer reactions and are used as a first step in exploring brand perceptions, and it’s important that this is clear. They provide the most value when they’re used in an exploratory manner.

Quantitative research methods, on the other hand, are used to assess the breadth and depth of brand equity and provide a more definitive picture of the brand, and one of the methods is in this approach is brand tracking, which we’ll be talking about today.

Nowadays, we cannot talk about social media research, which has been added to our research toolbox. This is a new field and is still evolving in market research, but I have seen it used as a qualitative technique to monitor trends, customer relationships with the brand, customer satisfaction to some extent, but there are different tools that also provide quantitative metrics mostly related at this point to sentiment analysis.

All of these techniques really complement each other, and at this point, we cannot say that one is going to be substituting the other. They all provide different perspectives and different metrics about the brand.

Why Do Brand Tracking Research?


Today, I’m going to be specifically talking about traditional brand tracking research. So, why should a company dedicate resources to brand tracking studies? The first reason is to monitor the health of the brand to allow for proper adjustments. A brand name needs to be carefully managed which requires maintaining or improving over time awareness and positive brand association but also allows to monitor how the brand is doing against competitors and react when there is a change in the market.

The second reason is to provide information to facilitate marketers’ day-to-day decision-making, and if brand tracking studies are well designed and customized for the product category and the brand, the results can be translated into actions marketers should take to improve brand health.

Finally, brand tracking studies provide insights into the effect of many marketing actions often these trackers include questions about advertising or promotional campaigns the company has launched, so they can see over time was the cumulative effect of the marketing activity.

Brand Health Metrics


So now, let’s start talking about what to track. There are two areas where we normally collect different metrics to assess brand health. The first one is brand awareness with metrics such as brand recall and recognition of the company’s brand and competing brands.

The second is related to brand experience and how is used and consumed. The focus here is on behavior

and customer satisfaction not only related to the company’s brand, but also to competing brands, and the third is related to brand image, how the brand is perceived, what associations it elicits, what attitudes toward the brand exist.

I’ll be talking more in detail about some of the specific metrics you see in each area, but this is the general framework for the different metrics that can be included. It doesn’t mean that everybody has to have all the metrics but those are…, this is like a menu that you can pick from depending on your product category and brand. Let’s start with brand awareness.

Brand Awareness Metrics


As I said, brand awareness metrics include brand recall and brand recognition. Brand recall depends on the strength of the brand of the memories, their organization, and how easy they are to be retrieved.

So, if we are studying for example a retailer brand in the clothing category, we can ask questions such as what retailer brands come to mind when you think of clothing, but often to capture the breadth of the brand recall we can probe according to product attributes, purchase motivation time and places, so we can give some cues to see how the brand is recalled in different situations, so in this case, we could also ask: When you think of retailers where you buy jeans, which brands come to mind? And those questions are asked in an open-ended format.  

Recognition requires that consumers be able to identify some aspects of the brand they have seen before, and so, this depends on the content of the memories, so it could be the logo, the name, the tagline, the packaging, etc.

So, we can ask questions such as: Which of the following retailers, retailer brands sell sportswear? if you’re interested in that category. This is a close-ended question with specific answer alternatives in which we can put text or any stimuli, visual stimuli to test brand recognition.

This can be extended to the measurement of familiarity with the brand, with questions such as “How familiar are you with the following retail brands of sportswear?”, and we would be using a scale from “Never heard of” to “I have purchased sportswear at this retailer,” and this provides a different dimension since we can link recognition with the customer experience of the brand.

Brand Experience Metrics


Regarding brand experience and usage, these metrics try to capture the customer experience and behavior across the different touchpoints where customers interact with the brand. This could be the store, if we have a retail presence, could be the website, customer service while using the product, while being exposed to the brand’s price, advertising a promotion.

All these different experiences will have an influence on customer satisfaction and customer behavior, and the goal here is to identify sources of brand equity in the brand experience that can be used to promote profitability by creating brand loyalty and to promote growth by attracting new customers.

So, what you see in the orange boxes are the most common metrics on their customer behavior and satisfaction we shall measure not only for the brands but also for its competitors.

Finally, in the brand image area, we have different metrics whose objectives are to identify sources of brand equity in the associations consumers make with the brand.

Brand Perceptions


The little consumer in the shopping cart that you see there, forms associations based on all the factors that surround him about the brand which include associations created about, for example, brand benefits.

Brand benefits can be functional as the brand meets a customer’s needs or solve a problem, or symbolic as the brand can be used for self-expression, or experiential as the brand can offer a sensory experience that the customer enjoys. So, there are also associations related to product attributes.

Product attributes can be product-related or non-product-related, and here you can see which ones…we can talk about product features, product performance, price, brand personality, imagery, feelings, etc. In this area, we’re also interested in knowing how strong, favorable, and unique these associations are.

So, the strength of the association is related to how much information about the brand a person processes, and what the quality of the information is. The more deeply a person thinks about product information and links it to existing brand knowledge the person has, the stronger the brand association is.

In the case of favorability, it has to do with associations that make the brand desirable and perceived as it can deliver what it promises, and finally, we want to know how unique and different from its competitors the brand becomes thanks to those associations.

The Most Important Brand Perception Metric


However, of these three metrics, strength, favorability, and uniqueness, the most important one in the strength of the association because a favorable association that is not strong won’t help to recall the brand when needed, and not all strong associations are favorable, and we know that strong negative associations are detrimental to brand equity, also not all favorable associations have the same level of importance.

The same is valid for uniqueness. Perceptions of unique attributes may not be strong, and favorable associations may not be unique. So, what we need to do is to identify the specific beliefs about attributes and benefits that serve as the basis of the brand positioning and differentiate the brand from competing brands and track how strong and favorable they are.

Brand Attitudes


Regarding brand attitudes, that you see across the boxes, these are general evaluations of the brand and are often treated as a composite metric that depends on perceived benefits and attributes of the brand’s strength, favorability, and brand associations. They all contribute to the general attitude the person has towards the brand and often support his or her brand decision. So, these are the three areas that we normally track. Now let’s talk about how often to track.

Brand Tracking Frequency


Tracking studies can be conducted on a continuous basis or at certain points in time which we call pulse tracking, and usually, the choice is made based on budget, and many track studies are of the pulse type, so it is important to determine how often to take the pulse of the brand.

Each approach has pluses and minuses. So, continuous tracking, which is considered the golden standard, helps to smooth out the short-term effect of unusual, abnormal marketing activity. It can also be analyzed with all the continuous data that the company might have, like sales or advertising spending, or market share, and it also allows us to better monitor the competitive landscape without the influence of media schedule because you know media campaigns can put some kinks in the behavior in the market, but unfortunately, these are very expensive trackers.

On the other hand, pulse tracking, which is where we take measures of the brand health at certain points in time, and it can be every year, every month, every quarter, every week, depending on several factors, with this type of tracking, we can provide precise before and after measurements of specific media events if you time it that way, and they’re less expensive than the continuous tracking.

Unfortunately, they could be biased if a negative or positive marketing event occurs close in time to when we are capturing the data, which we call, every time we do that, we call that a wave of interviews, so and you’re going to have data gaps between those measurement waves but in whatever situation, you still have to decide which way to go, even if you just go with the pulsing track, you still need to define how often you’re going to do the pulsing.

Criteria to Identify Tracking Frequency


So, these are some criteria you should consider when deciding how often to track. The first one is the frequency of the product purchase. So, here you have to think about the purchase cycle. For example, durable goods with long purchase cycles can be tracked less frequently, and also the marketing activity in the product category is important to take into account because, in a category where brands are constantly launching marketing programs and promotions, they should be monitored more often.

The same is valid for the marketing activity that you have for your own brand, so, if you have a lot of activity, that’s important to also monitor regularly.

The fourth element there to consider is the level of competition in a product category. So, highly competitive product categories where new products and competitors are constantly trying to break in should be tracked regularly.

Finally, you have to take into account the stability of the brand associations, so brands with established images that don’t change much over time can afford less frequent brand tracking, so not all criteria will apply to your situation, to your brand category, but those are things that you need to consider and pick the one that it’s more appropriate for you.

Whom to Track


When it comes to whom to track, we definitely need to include customers in our sample, particularly because we want to be aware of, you know, if there are any changes among our core loyal customers, which are likely to contribute the most to our profitability.

However, it is a good idea to also track non-customers who are in the category but are buying from other competitors, so this will give you a reference point on how you are doing against the competition, a picture of the competitive landscape if new competitors enter the category, and a benchmark to establish cutoffs for different metrics which I’ll talk about a little bit later.

The recommendation here is that if the budget permits, we should include both groups in our sample, both customers and no customers.

Interpretation of Brand Tracking Metrics


Now we have talked about what to track, the data we should collect, how often we should do it, and from who we should collect it. So, let’s talk about some of the most common metrics and how they can be interpreted and using support marketing decisions.

As I said before, in brand awareness we usually measure brand recall and brand recognition, but they don’t have the same importance for all product categories, so the importance of either measure for a particular brand is related to when the purchase decision is made, if research shows, and hopefully you do some qualitative research before launching into a tracking study if research shows that the purchase decision is made away from the point of purchase, recall is more important since we want the customers to remember our brand as it forms a consideration set.

However, if the research shows that purchase decision is made at the point of purchase where the brand is present, the logo, the packaging, the name is available, recognition is more important since we need that the consumer, the customer identifies the brand pretty quickly, so, recall since it is a more demanding memory task, it is considered an indicator of how strong a brand is, and there are several factors affecting recall that you have to take into account.

Factors Affecting Brand Recall


One is the interference of other product information. The other one is the time that has passed since the person was last exposed to the brand, and third is the number and types of cues that will help remember the brand.

And on this last point for example, if we are marketing Kahlúa which is a flavored liquor, and we ask the question “When you think of brands of flavored alcoholic beverages, which is the first brand that comes to mind?”

Kahlúa may have a high recall because that’s how consumers have categorized this beverage, but if we ask for example, “When you think of a party with friends, which brand of flavored alcoholic beverages come to mind?

Here the cue is the occasion for consumption, and the recall here might be low because consumers don’t associate that consumption situation with Kahlúa.

So, if we want to expand and grow in a particular segment, the best route would be (to increase sales), maybe to introduce cues that help create associations with situations like this where Kahlúa could be consumed.

The brand with strong associations to non-product benefits and attributes are more likely to be recalled in those given purchase situations. Again, this depends on the goals of the brand, but these are examples of how these metrics could support marketing decisions.

Overall, while repetition increases brand recognition, improving brand recall requires links in memory to the appropriate product category and to relevant purchase situations.

Factors Affecting Brand Recognition


In the case of recognition, which depends on brand elements stored in memory, it will tell us how successful our brand marketing strategy has been at establishing a brand identity based on different brand attributes.

A good example of how important this metric is, are the cases of Tropicana and Gatorade, which last year [2009] changed the packaging in a way that violated the brand identity to a point that consumers didn’t recognize the products, which affected sales, and there was a big uproar among consumers, and Tropicana ended up bringing the old packaging back for the orange juice. This could have been tested very easily, I think, so I wonder if they did their homework.

The lesson here is that when it’s time for a brand makeover, marketers have to be aware of the key elements of the brand identity so that recognition of the brand is not totally destroyed.

The metrics we collect in relation to brand image and brand experience including customer behavior are very important because they can be linked to the ROI of marketing activities which is what every marketer wants, right?

If we are able to discover the factors and interactions that drive customer behavior, we would know a lot about the health of the brand and how it can be improved.

An Analysis Model


One way to analyze these types of metrics is to find the relationship between them, and for example, the chart that you’re seeing there shows a model that I have used that is very simple but quite actionable for marketers.

In one axis, we have metrics, and this is a conceptual model, metrics on brand image, and on the other axis we have metrics on brand experience and usage, and as different levels of these metrics interact, we can find different customer segment segments that will guide our decisions on which marketing activities we need to implement.


So, in the red quadrant, we have the rejectors, so these are light users and no users of the brand customers you may have lost in the process, that don’t have positive associations of the brand, and if this is a growing group, if you’re losing customers for whatever reason, this is a time to create, for example, win-back programs to get these customers back at least stop the leakage.

Satisfied But Indifferent

In the yellow box, we have this satisfied but indifferent. We probably are in that segment for many product categories. You don’t have to be in one. You can be in one segment for one category, in another segment for another category, so these are customers who have had a satisfactory experience with the brand and are repeat purchasers but don’t really have a strong brand relationship and strong brand associations. They’re likely to jump ships if another brand comes along offering a similar experience or maybe a lower price.

For this group, we need to keep monitoring points of differentiation with competitors and react quickly if a competitor becomes a threat with a better offer.


In the blue box, we have what I call the Ambivalent. These are customers with positive brand associations, they believe in the brand, but they don’t buy as often as they would like to and this group

offers hidden opportunities, and but we need to understand what the barriers for repeat

purchases are and create programs to increase their consumption.

Devoted and Engaged

Finally, the green box includes the Devoted and Engaged. These are customers who not only are loyal in terms of repeat purchases, but they are also engaged with the brand and have strong beliefs about it, so they are the chicken with the golden eggs. These are the brand core users and often the most profitable because they tend to be less price-sensitive.

Many of you might think, you know, these are models. There are many models that have been developed to understand the relationship between different metrics but this is one that I found is quite intuitive and actionable for marketers, and what I was going to say is, many of you may think that this is just common sense and nothing new, but you will be surprised to hear about companies with brand tracking programs where the analysis of how the different metrics interact is missing, and a great deal of insights coming from these are lost in translation when interpreting the numbers.

Considerations for Brand Tracking Data Interpretation


Finally, as a summary for how to interpret data from brand tracking, when it’s time to interpret this type of data there are two main tasks we have to undertake.

One is to assess the metrics. Metrics in brand tracking studies tends to be pretty stable over time and don’t change much. The question is whether the metrics are reflecting the underlying source of brand equity or are these metrics themselves not sensitive enough to detect more subtle changes.

To develop more sensitive tracking metrics, we may need to use a comparative approach in how we phrase the questions, we could ask customers to compare our brand with other brands or compare our brands over time.

The other assessment question is, “What are the appropriate cutoffs for the different metrics?” So, “What is, for example, a sufficiently high level of awareness, or when are the associations sufficiently strong, positive, or unique?”

This is often driven by the nature of the category and how competitors are evaluated, so in some categories, a 50% level of awareness can be considered a success while in others a 90% becomes the benchmark established by leading competitors, so think for example of Blockbuster versus Redbox, the boxes, the kiosks for movie rental.

Almost everybody has heard of Blockbuster and so for Redbox, which is now growing exponentially with a lot of kiosks around the country, at one point if they would get a 50% level of awareness that could be considered low because comparatively, they will have even a larger distribution network and still might have low awareness, and so, this is just an example.

Also, in other categories, it is hard to create a unique image particularly if they’re low involvement categories, so I’m thinking of commodities such as sugar or salt, or light bulbs so low uniqueness scores in these categories may be the norm.


So, in short. you need to consider the competitive landscape and the nature of the category to be able to establish the appropriate cutoffs, evaluate each of the metrics that you capture.

The second task we’re faced with is what I call correlation of the metrics, which I was trying to do with the little chart that I showed you, the quadrant.

Here we’re looking for relationships among the different metrics so that we can identify sources of brand equity, identify which sources are the value drivers for a brand, and identify which marketing activities are more effective, so in the end, what we want is a model of the data that can be connected to actionable marketing activities and the ROI.