Marketers aren’t the only ones who obsess about forging strong and differentiated brands. C-level execs recognize that strong brands translate into higher current and future cash flows through price premiums, higher loyalty and share of wallet with current customers, and accelerated acquisition of new customers.
In short, brand strength matters. No wonder companies spend millions surveying consumers on their own brands as well as competitors’. The stakes are getting even higher. Product differentiation is becoming increasingly difficult along functional lines. At the same time, consumers are less and less trustful of advertising messages. Creating strong, differentiated and emotionally engaging brands has never been more important.
To win in this new world, marketers need fresher, real-time, more original consumer insights as well as a new approach to tracking and understanding brand health metrics. In Forrester’s recent report, “Three Dimensional Brand Health: A Data Mashup,” Chris Stutzman makes the case that marketers need to incorporate traditional point in-time, real-time and predictive approaches to brand health:
“Digital data and big data don’t replace brand tracking as we know it. Instead, they add new dimension to understand brand health in three ways: 1) helping refine traditional point-in-time methods of brand tracking; 2) providing real-time indicators of brand health; and 3) providing the ability to forecast brand health.”
The point on ‘refining’ is crucial and really gets to the heart of how new social media approaches to tracking brand health (or rather brand strength) complement traditional focus group and survey methodologies. At the end of the day, there are only so many questions you can ask in a survey. Even if you could double or triple the number of questions, you may not necessarily ask the right questions. You simply cannot guess exactly what’s really on the consumer’s mind. However, using social media to complement traditional brand tracking enables you to probe deeply into answering ‘why’ consumers perceive brands the way they do. The answers to these ‘why’ questions are in the actual words of your customers. It’s the authentic voice of the consumer.
Here’s another reason why social media complements brand tracking. Your ability to obtain reliable data on specific customer segments will always be gated by the number of respondents, and hence by the amount you’re willing to pay. With social media, you transcend that limitation. You can understand the brand perceptions of millions – - across any geographic market – - and categorize those perceptions across a much wider set of ‘organic’ segments. By organic, we mean that consumers self-organize and express themselves in online groups and forums that they’re inherently interested in (e.g., urban ‘sophisticate’ moms on urbanbaby.com). The bottom line is that with social media, it is suddenly far more cost effective to assess brand perceptions across a much larger range of segments.
A final consideration is the real-time nature of social media. The insight here is not only that you can track brand health metrics continuously (vs. annually for classic brand tracking), but that you can apply this real-time view to predict and anticipate overall consumer sentiments in the annual brand tracking survey. If you can do a reasonable job predicting how your metrics are trending, you have more time to react and identify which specific brand health levers to act on (e.g., in a retailer example, this might be declining customer satisfaction due to a new return policy).
We agree with Forrester that ‘mash-ups’ between classic and new ‘social’ media approaches to brand tracking enable marketers and other executives to drive brand strength and ultimately corporate value.
Has your organization advanced the art of brand-tracking in a social world? We’d love to hear your story.
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