Brand tracking: try it and you’ll never look back

Interesting times for me at the moment. One of my longest standing clients has just hired a marketing director from a big FMCG company and I am helping to “settle her in” to the new role.

Specifically, the chief executive has asked me to take her through our brand tracking system. For the past five years we have used the same system, very successfully we think, to monitor our brand health and direct next year’s marketing strategy and spend.

Despite my obvious pride in the approach, my new marketing director was clearly underwhelmed when I first explained the approach to her. I sensed it was mostly a problem of scale. We only track once a year, sampling 400 consumers and spending well under £20,000 – small beer compared to the big budgets of FMCG. And yet, the more we use the tracking research, the more she is coming round to the approach. Last week she even told me she was now “converted” and encouraged me to write this column.

So what’s the secret?

First off, there is no point doing brand tracking until you have a clear target segment and an agreed brand positioning. Use more general market research to inform these decisions before you start the repetitive, quantitative business of brand tracking.

Only do the tracking once a year. Its purpose is to assess the state of the brand and guide your approach for the year ahead. Unless you have more than one planning cycle each year, a single comprehensive survey will suffice.

Time the track to take place so that you have six to eight weeks to get the data back in time for an annual brand strategy session. That session should take place about a month before your finance department does the budgets. If you let the finance boys set your sales targets and marketing spend each year you are a moron. Use your tracking to take charge.

You will need a research agency to recruit your sample and execute the survey for you. A good research partner is essential but do not let a market researcher design the tracking survey for you. I have yet to meet any researcher who understands the ‘whys’ of brand tracking, just the ‘hows’. Work backwards from your strategy and design the survey your way. Only then bring in the agency to help draft and execute it.

A decent survey will never need to exceed 25 questions if you know what you are doing. Researchers will tell you that you can exceed that number but they are wrong. Have you ever filled out a survey with more than 25 questions? Properly? Me neither.

When you track a brand, you are really only looking for awareness and then, if a respondent is aware, how strongly they associate your brand with the things you want them to associate with it and, equally crucially, the things that you don’t. Bad brand tracking is easy to spot because it only measures the good stuff. Decent tracking usually has eight to ten attributes and about half of them are negative ones.

Never ask consumers to assess the importance of different attributes. They don’t know the answer and it’s a huge waste of questions. Ask them to rate your brand on the attributes and then rate a competitor against the same list. Ask for preference and Net Promoter data too. Then correlate these two variables with the attributes to get unspoken importance ratings in a more efficient and accurate manner.

Use the tracking in a two day annual brand planning meeting. Day one is just a review of what you have learned from the data. There is not enough of that in marketing. Day two, come up with the strategy based on the insights. Don’t get sucked into tactical bullshit at this stage and keep your ad agencies away. Just look at the tracking and decide what you want the scores to look like next year. Try and focus on just one or two objectives – nothing signals a naive brand manager than one with seven or eight strategic objectives. Strategy means choices. Make some.

Finally, use the tracking data to pay bonuses on whether marketers achieved their stated objectives from last year’s planning meeting.

The beautiful thing about tracking is that it’s a cycle that never ends and, once you start using tracking to inform brand strategy, you never want it to stop.


Ruth Mortimer

How you judge the hype cycle can make or break your brands

Ruth Mortimer

When should marketers take advantage of the hype about a new technology? Move too early and you’re the proud owner of a warehouse full of internet-enabled shoes while consumers are worried about leather soles. Move too slow and you may end up selling  standard shoes when the rest of the world is using their footwear as a wireless hotspot.


There are 15 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. […] your understanding with brand tracking studies can help you learn the specific qualities that your brand is valued for and make sure they are […]

  2. […] of the most important things a market research company can do for you is brand tracking surveys: they measure the strength of your brand against your competitors over time. This lets you […]

  3. […] Brand tracker surveys let you see how customers see you. When you know the key qualities customers ascribe to your brand, you can lean into them, ensuring your new products are consistent, and will strengthen your brand overall, not undermine it! […]

  4. […] brand tracking agency can help you here. Brand tracking is a popular, and relatively new metric that helps you understand how your business is performing not financially, but in the minds of the […]

  5. […] are several options you can pursue here: brand trackers show you how customers rate your brand against competitors in the market, and tests of Net Promoter […]

  6. […] Brand tracking is one such kind of research, that tracks the health of your brand as compared with your key competitors. This helps you to identify areas of opportunity – as weakening competitor brands create space for you to move into – as well as warn you if your actions are damaging or undermining your own brand. […]

  7. […] can use brand trackers to answer the first two questions. These surveys ask respondents to rate your brand (assuming […]

  8. […] Brand tracking research can help you get this insight. This is a form of surveying that asks respondents to rank your business against others based on how it embodies the key qualities you’re trying to build within your brand. This helps you see how your brand changes over time, how your decisions impact how your customers see you, but also, crucially how your competitors’ brands are changing as well. This could expose opportunities for you to exploit or show that you’re falling behind and need to take action. […]

  9. […] Brand tracking surveys can help here, asking your customers to rank your brand against your competitors for the key qualities you’re trying to build relatability, reliability, cool, value or whatever else drives purchasing decisions for your business. You also need to learn about one of the most important metrics in the marketing world: brand uplift.  […]

  10. […] Brand tracking is one of the most important bits of research you can do (or commission). Some companies perform a single brand tracking exercise a year. Some run continuous brand tracking to watch how customers respond in real-time to their decisions. These surveys ask customers to rank your business for certain qualities you define. These should be the characteristics that define success in your industries and the values your brand is trying to embody. Whether that’s reliability, relatability, value for money or any other quality a brand can carry. […]

  11. […] research companies can perform ‘brand tracker’ surveys – asking customers to rate your brand for the key qualities that deliver success […]

  12. […] You can also track how your decision-making affects customers’ perceptions of your brand (which is just a long way of saying ‘your brand’: a brand is your customer’s perception of your business, built out of all the interactions they have with it) with brand tracker surveys. […]

  13. […] Brand trackers can help you find out what your customers value about your business; what they think your brand is. They are a vital tool in the arsenal of everyone trying to optimise their relationship with their customers. They’re surveys that ask respondents to rank your business for certain key qualities, and then to position it against your closest competitors in the field, exposing the most important values you need to lean into, and the competitors who you have an opportunity to usurp. […]

  14. […] you need to clearly understand the values people ascribe to your brand. It’s worth conducting market research to confirm this – for all the work you put into it, it’s customers who decide what your […]

  15. […] key part of building a strong brand that inspires lots of customers to shop with you is to get customers excited about your marketing. […]

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