Build a window into your brand

A brand exists in much more than a single moment. A brand’s story builds upon itself since conception, accumulating history, expectations and community. Just as checking the thermometer tells you little about last week’s weather or next month’s, one-off investigations into a brand’s position among consumers doesn’t tell the whole story. This is where brand tracking and related methodologies come into play.

Brand tracking, as defined by Divya Shroff, senior product marketing manager at SurveyMonkey, is “a longitudinal study that measures brand health using key metrics that matter to a brand – from metrics along the sales funnel to brand attributes.” Brand tracking allows continuous monitoring of a brand and its key competitors, and it is essential in understanding how a brand is viewed and consumed across time.

Brand tracking is a multi-faceted objective. Companies that engage in brand tracking studies are often interested in understanding brand health and where they stand among key competitors. Additionally, these studies enable brands to gain insight into their growth among consumers, understand perceptions in the market, and discern brand lift from marketing campaigns. The focus can even be as specific as understanding the launch of a new ad campaign or product, or whether ad spending on a campaign measures up to its output.

The nuts and bolts of brand tracking

So what is brand tracking, really? According to Elliot Savitzky, senior vice president at TRC Market Research, some key types of tracking programs to understand include:

Continuous tracking

“Whether to pulse the reading or conduct a continuous read of the market will depend again on the media plan,” says Savitzky. An advantage to continuous tracking is the ability to read the market before, during and after “specific competitive events, PR disasters, and market crises.” Additionally, continuous tracking prevents one from missing out on a one-time event that might otherwise have occurred outside the window during which data was collected.

Pulse tracking

Pulse tracking, or conducting pulse waves, is more applicable if a brand experiences predictable spikes, such as routine increased spending during product or campaign launches.

Longitudinal tracking studies

Longitudinal tracking polls the same respondents over time, which can be helpful in tracking trends and changes. It is particularly useful in measuring the changing attitudes of a certain group of consumers. Additionally, longitudinal tracking studies can be used to judge how well messaging is incorporated with a certain audience over time and how behavior changes because of it.

Savitzky warns, however, that longitudinal tracking, while helpful for specific kinds of projects, runs the risk of teaching a certain group of participants about a specific topic, thus altering the genuine responses of that participant pool.

Digital tracking studies

Digital tracking can function as a stand-alone tool, or alongside survey research. It offers the possibility to see observable digital data in the context of what participants are saying.

“Digital tracking is crucial to understanding whether your target audience has been able to view your messages online and then to track their journey and path to purchase,” says Savitzky. “What the audience is being exposed to (passively or intentionally) is instrumental in determining if your messages are properly targeting the right people.”

Considerations to make before employing brand-tracking studies

According to Shroff, key considerations must be made before employing a brand tracking study in order to ensure accuracy and win back maximum value.

  1. Plan ahead and gain stakeholder support
    “Brand tracking studies are critical to decision-making at companies, and often require a large time and money investment,” says Shroff.
    Because brand tracking studies can have enormous impact at companies, it’s important to gain the support of stakeholders prior to beginning research. Identify which metrics to track, how often to track them, and which brands to include – and communicate with stakeholders about how tracking this information will be beneficial. Engaging stakeholders prior to conducting the research will help enable the resulting insights to positively affect business decisions.
  2. Understand your sample
    “While the urge to keep your sample consistent across trackers can be compelling,” continues Schroff, “Rethinking your brand tracker can be a great opportunity to evaluate sample composition for any biases and to make changes to ensure your sample is relevant to your tracking goals.”
    This is particularly important to keep in mind when migrating your brand tracker to a new research provider; the changes to the respondent panel can introduce variability to the mix.
  3. Don’t be afraid to rethink survey design
    “Survey design and setup play a big role in ensuring high-quality, usable data for any research project,” notes Shroff. “These fundamentals are maybe even more important for brand tracking studies, as the same survey is fielded wave after wave to provide the longitudinal data that makes a brand tracker what it is.”
    Since these studies are typically designed and launched just once, it’s important to do it correctly. Additionally, keep in mind that changes to question text and type can introduce yet more variability into responses.

Brand tracking is an expansive undertaking, with many considerations and alterations to make depending on the type of information you wish to collect and differences within your individual brand. But the reward of utilizing this kind of program is an intimate and multi-faceted understanding of how a brand exists in a given moment, among core consumers and across the market at large.