Toward the end of 2018, Accenture reported that 62% of customer purchasing decisions were based on a brand’s ethical values and authenticity. We’ve had ample warning––and if your brand isn’t tracking relevant research, it needs to be!
When 2020 bit, in the heat of the pandemic, Accenture shared a new prediction––that consumer loyalty would shift, with 63% of consumers saying they were switching brand allegiance. At the same time, McKinsey revealed that consumers were, in fact, switching brands in droves.
This time, price was the top concern for shoppers––specifically, price level and price to value ratio.
The point is, the strength of a brand may change based on external circumstances outside your control. COVID-19 didn’t make consumers give up on ethics and authenticity––employee support and donating were still important to the buyers––but it did call on ethical and authentic brands to do something more for their customers.
By regularly conducting research on changing consumer attitudes, expectations, and behaviors, you can easily determine the effect of external circumstances on your brand so you can adjust accordingly.
This type of market research is defined as brand tracking research.
What is Brand Tracking Research?
Brand tracking research is the process of determining the strength of a brand based on key metrics. The metrics are measured singly and aggregated to give an overall measure of the brand health.
The insights derived through brand tracking research reveal whether the brand is achieving its set goals. They also show its position in the market relative to competitors.
Also, brand tracking research can help reveal opportunities in the market. A healthy brand is in a position to gain the trust of new customers, charge higher prices for its products or services, and attract top talent for the business.
Brand Tracking Research Metrics
Brand tracking research focuses on specific metrics that are consequential to the identity of the brand. It’s like a mirror for the company to see its own brand image, which allows it to make itself over.
That is why this list has left out important performance metrics such as sales growth, employee satisfaction, and customer acquisition. Each of the following metrics shows the brand from the outside looking in.
1. Brand Awareness
Brand awareness measures the degree to which consumers can recognize or recall a brand. It is measured quantitatively i.e. the number of people that recognize or recall the brand.
It is essential to the health of the brand because it is the start of the relationship with the consumer by establishing credibility and building trust. Consumers are more likely to buy from brands they know than from those which they just found out about.
Therefore, brand awareness should be built prior to selling products. Through brand tracking research, the organization can figure out the level of awareness, and its relative place in the market when compared against competitors, which in turn can help determine the available market for its products and services.
Surveys and intercepts are some of the methods that can be used to determine brand awareness. For brands that have an online presence, social listening is the most effective way to find out. It has a wider scope of reach, is quicker, and less expensive than the other methods.
2. Brand Perception
Brand perception is the measure of the consumer’s view of a brand rather than the image it promotes. It is a qualitative metric determined through analysis of the words used by the subject.
Often, the brand perception is the same as the promoted image. However, consumers can develop brand perception from many other sources apart from the brand’s marketing. These include personal experience with the company’s product or people, word-of-mouth, or simply the first impression developed during awareness.
Brand perception has a significant influence over the consumers’ buying decisions. It is not simply a matter of whether it is positive or negative but also a reflection of how familiar consumers are with your products or services.
As such, brand tracking research can help find ways that work to present your brand accurately. Uploading surveys, interviews, and focus groups, to aggregate it with other data sources, you can ask people what they think of your brand and through that determine where the perception comes from so you can correct or uphold it. The number of sources available is extensive:
3. Brand Loyalty
Brand loyalty is the degree to which consumers are willing to keep buying from you instead of the competition. It is a qualitative measure tracking the factors that make the brand preferable to consumers.
As hinted earlier, there are several factors that can influence brand loyalty. But this is not all uniform across the industries. For instance, a high price may be a deterrent in CPG but for luxury goods, it is an attraction.
Similarly, the level of quality – or the perceived quality – of the product or service can influence brand loyalty regardless of the price.
Brand loyalty can also be influenced by societal trends. Case in point, due to the rising awareness on climate change, sustainability is a key consideration for many customers around the globe. Hence, preference is given to brands that are perceived as sustainable.
Tracking brand loyalty ensures that the business doesn’t lose its core customer by revealing what keeps them around. This can be tracked via specific relevant metrics, depending on the flexibility of your tool:
4. Brand Sentiment
Brand sentiment evaluates the general feeling surrounding a brand. It is qualitative and the score is given as either positive, negative, or neutral. Sometimes the score is more precise as for instance, with NetBase Quid® where it is given on a scale of -100 to 100.
In comparison to loyalty, brand sentiment is more fickle but it can be a great influence on loyalty. For instance, taking the opposite stance to consumers on a societal issue may evoke negative sentiment among loyal customers without them switching brands.
However, it can be a catalyst if they see it as a reflection of negative internal values. This is why brands need to stay on top of emerging issues by monitoring the news to avoid dips in consumer sentiment.
Brand sentiment can also be influenced on the micro level by individual customer experiences. CRM tools are an effective way for brands to not only store customer contacts for loyalty but also customer experience data to measure sentiment through behavior or feedback analysis.
Compared to methods such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups which can help measure sentiment, AI-backed sentiment analysis tools are more effective as they can conduct the process on a large scale and also give a precise score.
5. Product Usage
Measuring product usage is a way to find out how useful your product is to the customer, which in turn influences the previously discussed brand health determiners. It is a quantitative measure.
If customers are not using your product, chances are that your brand is not on their mind. They might recognize and recall it, but they probably don’t have a positive perception of it.
And how can they be loyal to a brand they don’t find value in? Further, the sentiment is likely to be neutral, at best.
Product usage may be determined in various ways depending on the type of product or service. For instance, many technology products rely on user data to improve. This means they have in-built trackers that report back usage – hopefully, without infringing on the users’ rights.
You can also measure product usage through repeat purchases, especially for CPG. If it’s not possible to track individual purchases, you can determine by the rate of stock replenishment.
Also, product usage can be measured through direct interaction with the buyers through surveys and interviews – and again, this is all data that can be uploaded to your consumer and market research tool for deeper analysis.
Brand Tracking Research Methods
Brand tracking research is unique based on its key metrics. The methods used in the process are therefore no different from those used in other types of research.
However, the methods are applied as the metrics require. The following are the most popular techniques used in brand tracking research.
The survey is an effective way of reaching the target audience for a number of reasons. It is cost-effective, even more so when conducted online rather than offline.
It is also versatile in the formats it can take and the scope of information it can collect. Thirdly, it is convenient to the respondent as they can submit feedback at their own time (within the timeframe of the study).
The survey is most useful for quantitative metrics.
2. Focus group
The focus group, by requiring close proximity with the respondents, is more constraining than the survey. However, today it is possible to conduct focus groups online. Even then, the participants have to be live at the same time.
In exchange for those challenges, focus groups give a deeper level of insight through direct verbal feedback combined with the observation of non-verbal cues.
Additionally, the subjects have a chance to interact directly with moderators and other users of the product, creating a window for improving their perception of the brand.
The focus group is most suitable for qualitative metrics.
Through a series of open-ended planned and ad hoc questions, the interview reveals in-depth information about the consumer which may be used to evaluate important brand-facing metrics.
Unlike the survey, the interview capitalizes on a one-on-one interaction but unlike the focus group, it is more intimate as the researcher deals with one respondent at a time. Thus, it can be time-consuming and expensive.
However, modern technology makes it possible to conduct interviews online with a small trade-off in the degree of contact between the interviewer and subject.
The interview is perfect for qualitative metrics.
4. Big data analysis
There is plenty of user data available on the web that can be analyzed to reveal insights into the health of a brand. Some great sources of such data are social media, review sites, forums, blog comments, and consumer discussion boards.
This data can be analyzed and tracked through the process of social listening which is made possible through advanced AI technology.
This method can access and crunch large volumes of data autonomously and quickly. Additionally, it works with data generated freely by consumers outside the context of research. Thus, the data is more authentic and the analysis more accurate compared to the other methods.
Big data can efficiently measure all kinds of metrics, including the qualitative and quantitative.
Getting Started with Brand Tracking Research
If you think that brand tracking research is something that your organization needs, we have a few pointers.
First, decide if you want to track the health of your brand across the board or with specific consumer segments. It is sometimes necessary to segment your audience in order to measure brand health in that segment or if lumping them all together would make the process less efficient.
Next, design a strategy including the tools and methods you intend to use for the study as well as the framework to follow.
You also need to have industry benchmarks in your back pocket. By comparing yourself with specific competitors and industry averages, you will be able to give a more meaningful score of your brand metrics.
Brand Tracking Research Frequency
Branding tracking research is certainly a planned activity. Therefore, it helps to know how regularly it should be done.
You want to have enough time between sessions so you can set goals and determine growth over time. But you don’t want the sessions to be so far apart that it leaves your brand vulnerable to the fast-changing market conditions.
This is why we recommend that you perform a thorough brand tracking research project at least once per month.
There are special circumstances that may require you to conduct unscheduled brand tracking research more often than that. These include after a brand crisis or after a boost in the brand such as getting major news coverage, launching a new product, entering a new market, or opening a new branch, etc.
That said, there is an aspect of brand tracking research that is and should be continuous to ensure changes in the market are caught and acted on early enough.
Thankfully, this part doesn’t require much labor or time investment. It can be done automatically through advanced technology.
NetBase Quid® allows you to maintain a constant measure of the pulse of your brand through continuous discovery and monitoring of the market. Reach out for a demo to see it in action.