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Why Most Brand Tracking Research is Almost a Complete Waste of Time and Money...or Worse

Feb 7, 2012 8:47:00 AM

By Wayne Marks, President, Hansa|GCR

Think of any well-known (niche or global) consumer or business-to-business brand: Oracle, Apple, Coke, Burger King, etc. What comes to mind?

Logos, taglines, symbols, stories, images, and other more abstract meanings we associate with the brand. The better known a brand is to us, the more extensive our knowledge and perceptions will be. In combination, these elements reflect the brand promise. When you buy something, you are essentially buying the promise underlying the brand.

Incredibly, most brand tracking research does not explicitly measure brand promise or whether brands deliver on that promise. Instead, they focus on important – but often less critical (and certainly incomplete) measures like awareness and relevance.

Let’s take a look at what happens when a brand fails to deliver on its promise.

If the brand fails one time and it is a brand we are loyal to or invested in, we may forgive failure, or write off shortcomings as a fluke. If a brand fails spectacularly, however, or in small ways on a frequent basis, we end up dissatisfied (and perhaps feeling violated or cheated). In fact, the greater the brand promise, the higher the likelihood we will be disappointed with failure. Think of the past furor around Toyota’s recall of vehicles for faulty acceleration and brakes. Did Toyota owners continue to look to Toyota for reliable cars? Another example: if people believed that Apple’s iPad falls short on brand promises Apple has made around innovation and style (which judging by sales, they don’t), will people believe Apple itself has lost its magic?

What we’re getting at here is that the brand promise is closely tied to delivery of the promise, and in the mid to long run consistent brand delivery is more critical –- and perhaps even more important – to building a sustainable brand than advertising and communications.

Put another way, building a brand goes way beyond communications...the brand is the total experience the customer has -– the experience is the brand. No matter how much a company spends on marketing, if over time consumers feel that they are not getting the functionality promised to them, brands will not sustain.  Relevant advertising and growing awareness will not address this most fundamental problem for brand leaders.

So, when designing marketing campaigns, marketers need to be keenly aware not just of awareness, believability, and appeal of brand promises; they need to monitor consistent delivery of brand promise among customers. Too often, we see that brand management is viewed in isolation from brand delivery, the former being measured primarily through brand equity and advertising research, while the latter falls under the purview of customer satisfaction and loyalty. This is an extremely costly (and often fatal) error that will only grow in scale as social networks magnify and compress reporting of failure to deliver on brand promises.  Our perspective is that accurately measuring equity of the complete customer relationship necessitates understanding how communications, brand promises, and brand promise delivery interact in a tightly integrated way.

Here are some ideas for addressing this issue in your current brand tracking market research efforts:

1)   Ensure that your customer satisfaction measurement is closely tied to your brand equity research, and that both are linked to one another. So, if your brand’s tagline is “fly the friendly skies” (as was United’s a few years ago), your customer satisfaction tool should evaluate if your customers are getting a friendly experience at all touch-points - initial communications to ticketing through baggage-handling). There are a number of ways this can be achieved: First, it is possible to develop an integrated measurement that captures overall brand perceptions and loyalty, and then drill down to specific customer experience-attributes at all touch-points as well as perceptions-related attributes for advertising and communications. The benefit of this approach is that the back-end modeling can tell us whether or not the brand is being lived at all touch-points and can also reveal the effectiveness of the current brand promise in building loyalty and market share. If this kind of approach is too ambitious, and the company prefers to have a more focused customer experience measurement tool it is extremely critical to incorporate specific brand attributes in customer touch-point surveys and ensure overall monitoring of the delivery of brand promise.

2)    Ensure that you train all your customer-facing employees on delivering the brand promise and use customer measurement to evaluate if your employees live the brand. How many times have you walked into a store that promises prompt and friendly service and it has taken you fifteen minutes to even locate someone who can help you? It is critical that you train, empower, and incent your employees not just to be service-oriented, but to be clearly mindful of specific brand attributes that differentiate your brand from competitors. Wherever possible (e.g., retail stores, call-centers, account representatives, insurance agents, real estate agents, etc.), collect data at the employee level -- measure if the employees (and processes) are living the brand and exhibiting brand-consistent behavior and incent them accordingly. If this is not possible or is cost-prohibitive to implement at an employee-level, consider using this approach at a unit level (e.g., store-level, district level, etc.).

3)   Create cross-functional teams to take action from your customer research and use customer experience feedback in developing your advertising and communications, and fine-tuning your brand positioning. While this is not a common practice, we have used brand-centric customer experience surveys to not only improve customer facing touch-points but also to inform advertising -- particularly message development. For example, for a major Financial Services firm, we found that customers highly valued and appreciated the personalized sales relationship and the custom knowledge of their situation that their salespeople brought to the table. This was an important driver of customer loyalty and differentiated the company from its competitors. The client used this information to refine its communications –- the overall position of leadership remained the same, but the message revolved around excellence in relationship-building, customized approaches, and solution-orientation. Customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys, if designed properly, can provide you opportunities to better differentiate and position your brand.

In summary, we recommend that marketers who are involved in developing brands should ensure any brand message tracking insights are tightly integrated with customer satisfaction and loyalty tracking insights.  The demands of brand building today encompass the entire customer experience, so brand communications, perceived brand promise, and brand promise delivery need to be measured, analyzed, and acted upon together.

About Hansa

Hansa is an Integrated Marketing Communications firm providing research, analytics, digital advertising, and brand strategy through an efficient global delivery model.  Linking together targeted marketing functions such as brand strategy, digital marketing, social media, email marketing, and creative design, we propel our clients forward on a clear, concise path to marketing success.

Learn more about us at www.hansa-marketing.com or call 1-847-491-6902

Liz Ryan
Written by Liz Ryan

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