What is brand perception and how to measure it


Customers, not companies, own brand perception. Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does. Brand perception comes from customer use, experience, functionality, reputation and word of mouth recommendation - on social media channels as well as face to face.

Until target customers have experienced your product, believed your brand promise and developed a sufficiently positive perception to buy (and rebuy) it, your brand will not grow. When a brand delivers, or exceeds customer expectations, it has the potential to establish a whole lifetime of loyal brand equity.

With an average person receiving up to 10,000 brand messages a day, your messaging must stand out in order to make an impression in a crowded marketplace.

Good and bad in the automotive industry

Take Volvo. Historically always synonymous with safety and excellent build quality within a somewhat boxy design, its public brand perception was once that it was a dull car for sensible, staid people, with jokes about ‘Volvo drivers’ – poor drivers protected from other road users by their indestructible, tank-like vehicles.

From the early 2000s onwards, Volvo underwent an image revolution. Embracing authentic, sleek, minimalist and fashionable Scandi-chic design without relinquishing its top-notch safety reputation, Volvo became a premium car brand, easily competing with the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Volvo is also at the forefront of green technology, the evolution of autonomous driving and even customer experience – you can now get your goods delivered directly to your Volvo.  Volvo drivers are no longer laughed at: they are envied.

Brand perception as a sensory experience

A brand is more than just the sum of its products. It has its own, carefully-crafted personality that represents its parent company’s vision, mission or culture. So it’s not surprising that the brand as a personality jibes with customers on a personal level – a mental impression, or perception. A customer mentally processes sensory messages from a brand to create their own perception, and marketers take full advantage by exposing it to all our senses:

Visual: Instantly-recognizable logos (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney (Mickey Mouse), Cadbury, PG Tips) and high budget, entertaining commercials.

Auditory: Catchy musical jingles (Intel) or catchphrases (the cheesier and more annoying the better) that make their way into popular culture (eg ‘Give Me a Break!’, Kit Kat).

Olfactory: Our sense of smell has a remarkable ability to trigger memories and emotions. Smell marketing is as simple as a café wafting the scent of frying bacon out into the street, or as complex as airlines’ use of patented scents in their cabins and hot towels and on their crew to enhance their brand experience.

Taste: Free samples or special offers to taste new products.

Emotional: Heartstring-tugging Christmas TV ads (John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s)

Put it all together

Whenever they buy a product, read an online review, compare experiences of it with friends, or talk to your employees, customers make judgments about your brand. You cannot control these factors. What you can control, though, is targeted messaging and reacting swiftly to feedback. It’s this combination of the messaging you can control and the interactions with the brand that you cannot, that adds up to a customer’s overall brand perception.

How to measure your brand perception

Because brand perception is essential to building up brand equity – the value premium a brand brings to a business – and its impact on sales and profits, it’s important to measure it regularly, track it over time and identify what drives improvements. There are several things you can do to measure how customers perceive your brand and highlight which areas you could improve.

Brand focus groups and forums

It’s a little turn-of-the-century, but it still works. Getting small groups of people together, either face to face or remotely means you hear the positives and negatives of your brand from those who use them and feel strongly enough to share their opinion. You’ll be able to gauge how customers feel, and develop a genuine understanding of what works well and what doesn’t.

Online brand forums are particularly useful in more complex supply chains. In a B2B2C chain, for example, a manufacturer may find it hard to reach their end user customer, as they deal directly only with the distributors or retailers. An online forum with customers fills in this knowledge gap, informing product development and strengthening the brand.

Brand perception surveys

Surveys help you understand who your customers are and what they think of your brand. They’re simple and painless to do, so customers with an opinion (both good and bad) can respond to targeted questions and use open text to say what’s on their mind.  They use reliable metrics such as the Net Promoter Score and CSAT to deliver the data you need to know. You really need to be running brand perception surveys at least quarterly, although you can also tie them in with advertising campaign frequencies to track how these are contributing to your brand.

Social media monitoring

People don’t hold back on social media, so you need to track mention of and reaction to your brand across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to analyze the performance of your social messaging. When you know what people are saying about your brand, you can respond rapidly and grow your social presence faster. The best tools have a single hub dashboard that monitors a brand’s social presence and can reveal insights such as:

  • Which social media platforms are growing your brand most (and least)
  • The type of content that gets the most views
  • The number of mentions and shout-outs of your brand, often in real time
  • Reviews and comments
  • Influencer reach
  • Dwell time (how long someone spends looking at your brand)
  • Which paid content performs best

Measure your brand’s uniqueness

Every brand wants to lead the way in delivering quality products and fantastic customer service; what makes your brand different? This is where open text feedback comes into its own – customers can write exactly what they feel about the brand, and the right analytics software will analyze their words, grouping them by topic to identify the strongest associations. You’ll be able to track opinion specific to your brand.

Want to learn more about how to take control of and improve your brand perception? Dig deeper with our guides: