Over the past decade, social, media and technological developments have changed the way businesses approach brand building. It is accepted that successful, sustainable brands are built more by what they do than what they say.
Despite these changes, research has not responded quickly enough to give brands the information they need to succeed in this new era of branding.
With this in mind, we have spent the last 12 months developing a new Brand Alignment Monitor (BAM). The BAM’s three core elements are a Net Alignment Score (using the same methodology as the Net Promoter Score), which measures progress towards a brand’s vision, a diagnosis of what is and isn’t working by measuring the things that are essential to the delivery of the brand, and the impact on the buying system. All three elements are assessed amongst four audiences; customers, competitors’ customers, open resistors to the category and an internal audience.
To test out our new monitor, we ran an experiment on 20 cities in the UK. Combining some existing proven methodologies with new ones, we set out to find which cities are really delivering their brands to their residents, their visitors and the wider UK population. Is the brand portrayed in their marketing actually aligned with the reality on the ground?
The results from the 1,250 responses collected during the field research which we ran with the help of our partners Ci Research, were fascinating, alarming for some cities and encouraging for others.
One of the top line findings is that most City brands are simply light years from achieving their vision. Only two cities (York and London) achieved overall net alignment scores of over +20, which indicates a positive response across all its audiences.
For other cities there remains plenty of work to be done. Liverpool, for example, has made great strides in one of the key areas needed to build a great brand, namely getting your internal audience to buy in to the new vision.
Our research has shown Liverpool has a positive alignment score amongst its own residents in this regard but, low alignment scores among visitors and non visitors who still believe Liverpool is about football and the Beatles. For a marketer, the Liverpool results highlight a city brand only half way through its transformation.
The London brand, has the opposite problem, to an extent. It has an overall net alignment score of just +20, but alignment is much stronger with visitors than residents. Something else to give Boris Johnson concern as he seeks re-election is that London’s residents only gave their city a neutral approval score, with low scores also recorded in terms of pride and willingness to be positive advocates for their city.
In London’s case, therefore, the brand building and marketing challenge needs to be more focussed on the internal audience.
We can see from our initial research that businesses can indeed use BAM to analyse how aligned their brands are and where their biggest challenges lie. Repeating the research at regular intervals would also provide measurable indicators of progress.
For cities like Blackpool, which also featured in our research, a major regeneration programme has begun which is expected to transform the city over the next decade. The financial investment has been lined up but Blackpool still needs to work hard to restore pride in the city’s residents before trying to convince the rest of the nation.
For a city like York, the BAM reveals that it is one of the most aligned cities in the UK, which would result in a brief to make sure things remain on track.
Of course, the BAM could also be used to alert brands to problems they may not have yet detected. There were some surprisingly low scores such as for Bristol which has a net pride score amongst residents of only +29, a low alignment score from a resident perspective.
Brands are built from the inside out, through people, processes and product as well as communications and they are built by thousands of gestures. Our research into UK cities has provided an interesting case study, but more importantly, it has opened the door for brands to be able to measure whether those small gestures are happening and how effective they are.
The new era of branding is upon us. Research is catching up with the new demands of the time and it will require simple methods such as the BAM to guide action and direct resources efficiently and effectively. Only then will brand measurement grow up, get real and get back to where it belongs at the top of the agendas of our leading companies and organisations.