Brand tracking studies allow marketers to monitor the health of the brand and provide insights into the effectiveness of marketing programs implemented by the company.
WHAT SHOULD BE TRACKED?
Each brand faces different issues, which often required customized tracking surveys. Nonetheless, at Relevant Insights, we always recommend our clients to include measurements of awareness, usage, brand attitudes, perceptions, and purchase intent in brand tracking studies.
- Awareness: both recall and recognition measures should be collected. They are different indicators of the strength of the competition among brands in the minds of the consumers. A brand that first comes to mind in certain situations is more likely to be considered than one that is only recognized when it is prompted to the consumer.
- Usage: this can be measured through recency, frequency of usage, and total spending in the brand, and product category. These brand tracking measures, not only tell us about consumer shopping behavior and preferences, but also are indicators of market share and “share of wallet,” which is the amount of consumer spending a brand is capturing and has a direct impact on a company’s revenues and profits.
- Brand Attitudes and Perceptions: this is usually captured through questions related to brand image and associations that consumers develop as they experience the brand and are exposed to its positioning message through PR, advertising and promotional programs. Many brand associations are often beliefs about product-related attributes and benefits. However, brand associations also include non-product-related and symbolic benefits. Product and non-product associations, as well as those related to price and value are important sources of brand equity and should be part of brand tracking studies. Some brand associations are stronger than others, are more easily recalled and are enough appealing that they become an important factor in a consumer’s decision to buy a brand. Some brands may be perceived as unique, but without strong and favorable brand associations, uniqueness really doesn’t matter (Keller, Strategic Brand Management, 1998).
- Many times, attitudes towards a brand go beyond the product to include attitudes toward the company. We are all aware how Toyota’s image has been tarnished, not only by the car recall due to defective accelerator pedals in several car models, but more so by how the company failed to promptly notify car owners, ending up with a fine of $16 million imposed by the US government. A survey conducted by Consumer Reports in February 2010 reported that the number of Toyota owners who would buy another Toyota next time they are in the market for a new car has declined by 10 percentage points from a survey conducted in December 2009. Another before-and-after-the-recall study conducted by Lightspeed and Ad Age, also showed how the number of Toyota owners that consider the brand reliable has decreased significantly, indicating how fast a brand image can deteriorate when the company doesn’t react quickly enough.
- Purchase intent: measures of likelihood to buy a brand or switch to a competitor are also indicators of brand health and should be part of brand tracking studies, but these questions should be put in context regarding specific product or brand, reason for the purchase, time, channel, price and other relevant factors to the purchase decision, so they can be predictive of actual purchase behavior.
WHEN AND WHO TO TRACK?
Brand tracking studies usually involve collecting quantitative data from consumers on a regular basis. One way to do it is to continuously collect information, which allow us to control for unusual marketing activities, in the analysis, and provide a more representative picture of how the brand stands in consumers’ mind and against competitors. However, this type of brand tracking may not be feasible due to budget and resources constraints, and there are other ways to do it (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.) that can be equally effective.
When determining the frequency of data collection in brand tracking studies, we recommend clients to consider:
- Frequency of product purchase: for example durable goods with long purchase cycles can be tracked less frequently.
- Marketing activity in the product category: a category where brands are constantly launching marketing programs and promotions should be monitor more often.
- Level of competition in product category: highly competitive product categories, where new products and competitors are constantly trying to break in, should be tracked regularly.
- Stability of brand associations: brands with an established image that don’t show appreciable changes over time, can afford a less frequent brand tracking.
Brand tracking studies are often conducted with current customers, but monitoring non-users of the brand can prove to be invaluable to the development of an acquisition and market penetration strategy in search for business growth.
HOW TO INTERPRET BRAND TRACKING MEASURES?
Given the comparative nature of brand tracking studies, brand tracking measures tend to stay the same over time. However, they should be revised from time to time to assess their reliability and sensibility. They may be stable over time and thus reflect stability of brand associations, but they can also be unable to capture important shifts in the market due to changes in sociodemographic trends, competitive landscape and economic macrotrends.
Another issue with brand tracking measures is defining what constitutes the desirable level of a particular metric. Is a 50% level awareness good enough? It depends. It is all relative to the product category and the competitive environment. In low involvement product categories and those with many competitors, it may be difficult to get very high levels of awareness and strong brand associations, so the benchmark for what it is a good level for a metric differs across industries and product categories.
Finally, each brand tracking study should be customized to capture the brand associations that contribute the most to brand equity and the marketing activities that are effective at strengthening it. The goal is to identify key drivers that have an impact on consumers’ brand choice and purchase behavior and develop marketing tactics that can lead to brand growth and sustainability.