Editor's note: Jeremy Cochran is R&D manager at Burke, Inc. He can be reached at jeremy.cochran@burke.com.

Brands aren’t just brands. 

To be successful, brands today must represent much more than their products or services. They have to be heroes, best friends, counselors, teachers and representatives. And in today’s hypercompetitive environment – defined by a constantly shifting global market and ubiquitous social media – consumers can abandon their long-established brand relationships at a moment’s notice. More than ever before, consumers’ expectations for individualized experiences set the tone, pace and direction for a brand’s voice and character. In a way, you might say consumers have taken control of brand marketing.

In this challenging landscape, what does a strong brand look like? And how do you measure it?

Traditional brand health models focus on awareness and performance, looking at how popular a brand is and how it performs in key areas. More recent models consider the unique challenges of the modern market, gauging a brand’s ability to make emotional and social connections with consumers. Specifically, Burke’s own brand health framework evolved to focus on how brands can deepen relationships with target consumers and foster more meaningful connections. 

However, a substantial gap still exists between what brand-tracking research delivers and what brand managers actually need to create effective marketing plans. Brand-tracking programs work well for showing how the brand has done; marketers, however, need to know the best strategy for future growth. 

In other words, marketers don’t just need to know where brands have been, they need to know where the brand is going.

We have seen evidence of this gap firsthand. As consultants, we have observed changes in the questions our clients and their stakeholders ask us: How will the market change? What should we do about it? ...