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Does your brand tracking need a work out?

Does your brand tracking need a work out?
To measure effectiveness, you need to go beyond econometrics and focus on people, argues Caroline Walker of Ipsos Connect.

It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience being an industry judge for the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards. I have felt inspired by some fantastic campaigns, grounded in real insight and fueled by creativity, that have delivered impressive results. But as a market researcher who has spent the last 20 years engrossed in the world of brand tracking, I have also been surprised and a little disheartened, by the quality and consistency of brand tracking data in the proof section of the submissions.

There are some good examples amongst the shortlisted papers, of where tracking has helped focus an organisation behind key brand metrics. Especially those that measure the relationship people have with brands, helping to build deeper connections that drive brand growth in the longer term. But as the IPA shortlist represent the best of the best, my feeling is that many brand tracking studies need to improve with a tough work out. They need to be fit enough to become a personal trainer for your communications effectiveness, to ensure success.

Looking through 17 papers on the shortlist for classic consumer brands, excluding papers for sectors like charities, services & political campaigns, only 11 of these, or just over half, have used brand tracking data as a key part of their evidence for campaign success. For some, particularly those focused over a short time period such as Christmas, tracking is clearly less relevant. But amongst the longer term cases, I could still only see a handful of examples, such as Sensodyne which covers a 10-year period, where consistent brand tracking data has been used. 

Chart01 (rescaled)

The main purpose of tracking should be to focus on the long term brand equity gains, to counter the rather addictive, short term ROI focus of econometrics that was common in the submissions. There seemed to be an over reliance on modelling more immediate sales responses and other easy to source digital metrics like YouTube views.

In papers such as Sensodyne, their consistent brand tracking study provides a robust body of longer term evidence. And we have all read The Long and the Short of It, so know there is plenty of payback to be had over the longer term. Indeed, the evidence in this analysis clearly suggests that tracking is invaluable for promoting long-term effectiveness. Through understanding the impact on the people you are targeting – not only in terms of immediate response to the communications but also priming, so they are more likely to choose the brand in the future.

Having clear, people focused, objectives for campaigns is critical for success and you need the right vehicle to be able to measure these. Which brings me on to the quality of tracking data. Many papers talked about how they wanted people to feel, think or act as a result of the communications but then this was not reflected in the metrics that were presented in the proof sections of the papers. Whether that be because of a focus on a particular target group, such as teens, that is not represented sufficiently in the broad, one size fits all tracking study. Or the studies just not having the right metrics in place eg emotional connection measured in a system 1 way.

Costa coffee is a good example of where focus on the critical people objective - to make Costa people’s favourite coffee shop through communicating their superior product – has driven success. Preference became the key brand tracking metric used to understand progress. And galvanize the organisation behind.

Chart02 (rescaled)

In some effectiveness papers, even amongst those shortlisted, they were unable to use tracking data because the metrics or supplier had been changed. At Ipsos, who are one of the major tracking suppliers, it sometimes feels we are on a merry go round with some clients putting their tracking studies out to pitch every few years, often looking primarily for cost savings.

I do sometimes wonder if enough thought is given by those clients to how taking the longer term, consistent view, could lead to increased advertising effectiveness and so pay dividends over the longer term? It takes a lot of client time and effort to change tracking supplier, which is often under estimated and the monetary savings can be unsustainable. More pragmatic clients understand it is only worth investing this time, when there is major change afoot, either in the category or at the client company.

Good brand tracking, that measures the right things amongst the right people over the longer term, is like a personal trainer for campaign effectiveness. You might be going to the gym or exercising 3 times a week as recommended by the government but is this enough? Are you actually doing the right things to achieve your long term goals or just ticking the exercise box?

The same could be said for measuring effectiveness. Econometrics and digital metrics are useful, but are these just ticking the (short term) measurement boxes? Are they sufficient to get you to where you want to be? We, at Ipsos, believe you need lean brand tracking to keep you focused on the long term goals, whatever they may be. Monitoring progress and course correcting along the way to ensure you achieve award winning campaign effectiveness. We can’t, however, help you get the body you want in the gym!

The key to getting brand tracking in good shape, is a focus on the people you are targeting. Ensuring you have clarity over your people objectives for your communications as distinct from the specific campaign, brand or business objectives. Brand growth comes from getting more people to chose your brand, more easily and more often. With communications critical to ensuring your brand comes to mind easily in the moments that matter and building distinctive associative networks. Below are some examples of people objectives from the shortlisted papers with relevant, effectiveness ready, tracking metrics.

Chart03 (rescaled)

So if you hired a personal trainer for your communications effectiveness measurement, what would they advise you to focus on, to get your brand tracking into shape?

  • Have the right metrics in place, relating back to clear people objectives for your communications, grounded in how people make choices.
  • Ensure sufficient coverage of the right people. Focus on the role of your brand tracking in driving effectiveness rather than being a bucket list of everything you might want to know.
  • Adopt an approach that is adaptable to change, ensuring greater consistency over the long term eg measuring choice and equity via ranking rather than absolute measures.

And make sure you get that trainer booked up in time to make a difference to the 2018 Effectiveness Awards….

Caroline Walker (caroline.walker@ipsos.com) is Managing Director of Ipsos Connect, one of the sponsors of the IPA Effectiveness Awards 2016.

Last updated 28/10/2016

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