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Brand tracking: Everything you need to know

14 min read
Are you tracking the performance of your organization’s most valuable asset - its brand? You can measure brand tracking across many platforms, and we'll show you how below.


Brands are incredibly powerful

The most loved brands have better awareness and recognition than their competitors, can charge a price premium, and tend to have more loyal customers. According to Circle Research, 77% of marketing leaders say branding is critical to growth. And strong brands generate a higher EBIT margin than other brands according to McKinsey.

Consumer perceptions of your brand can be the difference between:

  • Instant trust or instant skepticism
  • Charging a premium or discounting your price
  • Attracting A-level employees or B-level employees
  • Hitting goals or missing goals

So how do you become a strong brand? The first step is to invest in brand tracking research. A recent report by Spencer Brenneman LLC found that 82% of customers who increased their brand investment saw tangible benefits, including more sales and new customers. In addition, companies that continually monitor their brands see stronger rates of inbound and outbound marketing impact as well as sales pipeline.

With so much at stake, it’s important to implement brand tracking.

What is brand tracking?

Brand tracking continuously measures your brand’s health, analyzing how your consumers buy and use your products, and what they think and feel about the brand itself. Good brand tracking will highlight which brand initiatives work well, impacting sales positively, as well as identifying those which don’t, so those can be targeted and improved.

What are the benefits of tracking your brand?

A brand is nothing without its customers. It’s essential to listen to them. Brand tracking gathers customer feedback, analyzes the data, and identifies what matters to them. This enables you to improve your product or service in line with customers’ needs and wants.

Brand tracking also helps you:

  • Measure and evaluate performance
  • Make comparisons
  • Test strategies
  • Uncover new opportunities
  • Keep an eye on competitors

By continuously tracking your brand, you will also be able to assess its performance over time – is it performing better or worse than before? A real-time tracking process can flag up issues before they become a problem, and highlight where things are doing well.

And with mobile devices, apps and social media, customer engagement with a brand now happens through a multitude of channels and touchpoints. These are a challenge to collate, but the right brand tracking metrics will be able to aggregate them for analysis.

By continuously collecting qualitative and quantitative data from your customers, you will be able to assess brand health constantly and adapt your marketing and brand strategies accordingly.

eBook: Unlocking Real-time Brand Analytics

Brand tracking – key metrics to consider

Measuring your brand health with a brand tracking study allows you to not only understand the commercial value of your brand but also to record changes and optimize your strategy to get the most from it.

You need to measure your brand regularly. This allows you to track key metrics over time and learn what’s driving any improvements. Many companies run a brand tracking study quarterly, although if you’re running new advertising campaigns more regularly than this, it’s a good idea to increase the frequency so you can see how they’re contributing to your brand.

Key measures to track as part of your brand tracking studies include:

  • Net promoter score (NPS): The classic metric, NPS gets right to the point of what you need to know: On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend [brand] to your family and friends?
  • Brand loyalty: This metric provides a view of how likely a customer is to continue to buy from, or interact with, your brand. It’s usually measured by purchase intent and serves as a good marker for how strong your brand is. If it’s strong, customers are much more likely to buy from you again in the future. Elicit feedback from existing customers with the question:
    How likely are you to purchase [product or service] from us again?
  • Brand awareness: This is made up of two measures – brand awareness and brand recall. Brand awareness is a measure of consumers’ ability to recognize your brand and can be measured as aided awareness (in response to a prompt such as showing a product or brand logo) and unaided awareness (with no prompt). Brand recall is the consumer’s ability to remember the brand, whether after using a product or seeing a piece of advertising. This is a good measure of how a piece of communication has contributed to awareness of the brand in general.
  • Brand associations: Over time, consumers develop perceptions about your brand, and it forms an image in their minds about who you are and what you stand for. By measuring brand association, you can see whether how you want to be seen matches how you’re actually perceived. Be careful to set achievable targets here – your brand tracker should measure what makes you unique. After all, what brand wouldn’t want to be seen as having good products and great customer service? Think about what makes your brand unique – you can look to your brand values if you have any – and try to draw that out in your research.A good way to measure brand associations is through open text feedback. These give consumers the opportunity to leave verbatim feedback without prompting so you can get an accurate view of how they really feel. With the right text analytics software you can analyze those comments and group them by topic to see which associations are the strongest. Use questions such as:
    • What negative associations do you have with [brand]?
    • What positive associations do you have with [brand]?
  • Brand preference is an easily-achievable metric that calculates the number of consumers who prefer to buy your branded product over the same product from a brand competitor. It can be simply measured with a list of tick boxes of other brands, and the question: Tick which brand of [product] you prefer to buy.
  • Brand usage will tell you how often consumers purchase your brand’s product or service. Using tick boxes with your and competing brands, ask the question: Please select which of the following brands you buy or use regularly.
  • Brand purchase will identify previous or existing customers, with the question: Have you purchased [product] from [our brand] before?
  • Brand perceived quality: customers will have a variety of experiences and perceptions about performance, reliability, appearance, and finish, and how the product matches up to its marketing. You can tailor questions to uncover these.

Free ebook: Brand Tracker Toolkit – 10 steps to help understand the key setup requirements for your brand tracker

How to start your brand tracking

Traditional brand tracking studies can be overwhelming. However, once you know what to measure and how to reach your target audience, moving your research in-house or building it from scratch becomes more approachable.

Design your tracker

An effective brand tracker doesn’t need to be overly complex. At its core, your brand tracker should enable you to accomplish the following:

  1. Keep a pulse on your category and brand. This gives you an understanding of how your brand compares with your competitors, allowing you to gauge your overall brand health and see its performance over time. Use a combination of perception metrics such as awareness, recall, and associations, along with performance metrics like purchase, usage, and loyalty.
  2. Respond to special circumstances (product updates, promotions, etc.) Brand trackers are a great way to see the success of your marketing activities as well as understand if those activities impact overall brand awareness.
  3. Visualize trends with a recurring reporting system. Brand trackers are the most effective when you can action the data. When designing your system, be sure to set up recurring reports so you can share crucial time-series data with stakeholders instantly.

Choose your research platform

From designing the question set to distributing your survey and analyzing the results, you’ll need a research platform to do the heavy lifting.

Look for a platform that gives you the flexibility to change your questions and ask new ones without a lot of complicated work in the back-end system. Your platform should also make the analysis simple; the last thing you want is to have to export it all to a spreadsheet and spend weeks analyzing it yourself.

Who should you track in your brand study?

You’ll need consumers to answer your survey. Panels of respondents are prerequisites for any kind of market research. For a brand-tracking study, make sure you have a good mix of existing customers, prospectives, and a wide range of demographics. This allows you to see how your brand is performing with different target groups.

How often to run your brand tracker

“How frequently should my organization run its brand tracker?” is one of the most common questions when it comes to trackers.

Marketing and research teams want to know so they can plan their calendars and workflows. Executives want to know for budgeting. Product teams want to know so they can expect when to get updates on the strength of their brands. Agencies want to know so they can plan campaigns.

A brand tracker’s main value is being able to show you how your brand’s impact in the market has changed over time, across campaigns and during market evolutions. Running a brand tracker one time will only give you a snapshot of where your brand is now, but running it again later (many times) is far more valuable because it shows how your marketing, competitive activity or shifts in consumer behavior are affecting the brand’s impact since the last time you ran the tracker.

The frequency with which you should run your tracker will depend on a few different factors.

Factor 1: What you are tracking

For most brands, tracking is primarily focused on a brand funnel – how efficiently a brand moves buyers from general brand awareness, down to purchase intent, and eventually into loyalty and advocacy. For most brands that track a brand funnel, running a tracker annually should provide enough data for them to measure market shifts without spending unnecessary budget resources.

Factor 2: How quickly your market changes

Some markets simply move faster than others. Marketers working on a toothpaste brand probably don’t need to deal with the market velocity that occupies marketers working in high tech. If your industry sees swift changes with fast news cycles, aggressive competitors, changing technology and frequent product innovations, you may need to run a tracker more often – monthly or quarterly.

Factor 3: The entrance of new competitors

The entrance of a major new competitor may merit an ad-hoc new measurement of your brand.
The entrance of Red Bull, an Austrian beverage company, into the US market, would have been an excellent time for Coke to run a pre and post-entry brand tracker measuring the impact on Coke’s purchase intent.

Dunkin Donuts’ aggressive move into coffee should have had Starbucks running trackers to gauge the reaction from buyers.

Amazon’s short-lived entrance into the mobile phone market with its Fire phone likely triggered Apple and Samsung to run trackers to understand how the market was changing.

If Blockbuster Video had more effectively anticipated the brand impact of Netflix and video streaming, it may have had time to add its own streaming capabilities to protect its market share rather than going belly up.

The entrance of a major new competitive force should cause you to consider running an impromptu tracker to help guide your reaction decision.

Factor 4: The frequency of your ad campaigns

Brand trackers are not infallible when it comes to measuring the impact of individual marketing campaigns, but when run correctly, they can give you helpful knowledge about which campaigns are moving the needle and which aren’t. You may want to plan brand trackers to run before and after major marketing campaigns to understand how effective your efforts were.

Factor 5: Unexpected events

Some unexpected company events aren’t welcome – like when a celebrity sends out an unfavorable tweet about your brand, or when a customer videos an employee acting inappropriately and it goes viral.

Other unexpected events are welcome – for example if your product gets a shoutout from this year’s biggest popstar. But regardless of whether the event is positive or negative for your brand, it may offer an opportunity for you to run an impromptu brand tracker to understand how it is affecting your brand.

Overall tracking frequency

In general, most companies find it advantageous to run their tracker annually or semi-annually. This frequency allows sufficient time in between tracking waves, fits into their research or marketing budget, accounts for normal market events and yields enough data to act on with proper guidance.

eBook: Designing a World-Class Brand Tracking Study