Tracking the performance of advertising expenditure is becoming increasingly important as more and more companies demand a return on investment. Many businesses have some form of advertising tracking programme. However, small companies are often disappointed with what they learn from tracking. Their efforts are typically limited to simple monitors, designed to measure the ups and downs of brand and advertising awareness.
Collecting more data is usually not the answer. Rather, the issue is how marketing and advertising executives can increase the value of tracking efforts already in place. Some recent studies illustrate the potential for transforming tracking into a strategic tool, serving as a planning resource as well as a way to evaluate performance.
Most tracking reports provide a basic summary, showing ad awareness against media expenditure. This is important performance information, but if it stops there, it provides no insight into the relationships between the data and how advertising builds market position and performance.
The following cases are based on Gallup’s experiences with advertising tracking. First, consider Brand V, a service product entering a market where one business (Company E) had enjoyed a virtual monopoly and where a second competitor (Company H) had already entered the market and had a clear headstart.
When Brand V initiated its launch, its baseline position was reflected by two key measures: awareness, which stood at 13 per cent; and intent of use, at two per cent.
Following the first wave of ad-vertising, Brand V dramatically increased awareness of its advertising, but there was no impact on intent to use (see chart one).
Research showed that the overwhelming reason for choosing either competitor (Brand E or H) was familiarity with the company providing the service. Brand V had achieved low familiarity and, when asked to recall the message of its advertising, 51 per cent of those surveyed could not recall any specific message.
Corrections were made to clarify and focus the Brand V message. Chart two summarises the results derived from this refocus. Familiarity was increased, message communication improved, and intent to use increased dramatically. In this case, tracking identified what was stopping people from using the brand. This data, however, neither specified nor dictated the nature (or content) of the response.
The second case involves a consumer packaged goods product which had been established as a low-share niche brand. Having determined that the brand could increase its share, the company significantly boosted its investment in Brand K and its market share goals.
Brand K was heavily advertised, but with little effect on its long-term share trend. While there were seasonal and media driven fluctuations, there was not a growth trend in either the awareness or purchase.
After 18 months, the new communications programme was re-evaluated in several ways. Four image factors were shown to be significant purchase drivers, but two – “fits my life” and “good taste” – were more important.
The advertising message was refocused, moving away from the previous emphasis on comfort or famil- iarity and quality. There appeared to be very strong growth in awareness as well as a rise for image attributes. Yet market share stubbornly refused to grow. Tracking data, integrated with other information, provided the key insight with a simple but critical measurement.
Comparing “known” distribution with tracking data, based on whether respondents had seen Brand K “the last time they purchased (a product in that category)”, showed that while 11 per cent said they had seen the brand, its actual distribution was high, at 60 per cent.
Advertising alone was not the issue. It is the mix of advertising within overall brand communications which must be examined and, if necessary, adjusted. Brand K reduced media expenditure by more than 50 per cent and focused the marketing investment on presence-building promotions (not on price). “Perceived distribution” quickly moved up from 11 per cent to over 50 per cent.
These examples are cases where tracking data, used for strategic planning, can provide critical insights into managing brands and their communications better.
The third case also demonstrates an opportunity to use tracking data more effectively. It assesses the relationship between advertising, the brand’s attributes and ultimate outcome – consumers’ willingness to recommend the product. Those who are aware of the brand’s advertising are over one-and-a-half times more likely to recommend the brand. In addition, the advertising is associated with boosting ratings on specific attributes.
Advertising was revealed to be effective in building advocacy and in increasing three key image attributes at significant levels.
This finding stops short, however, of demonstrating what is driving the ad’s success or of guiding further creative development.
Our final case goes beyond the question of “how much”, and demonstrates the ability to understand “through what means” a communications strategy works. In this case, tracking data helps to understand the role of different media in an integrated communications strategy.
In this case, which involves a consumer durables brand, our analysis shows that image ads (TV) directly drive behaviour (shopping for the brand). Building brand familiarity also generated increased shopping for this brand.
Magazine advertising is a key component of the brand’s communications strategy, but this is not directly related to producing the outcome of shopping behaviour. Instead, the analysis reveals a different role for the magazine ads.
For this brand, magazine advertising, through its ability to deliver in-depth information, and detailed benefits, is primarily effective at building brand familiarity, which in turn drives shopping behaviour.
In the extended purchase cycles associated with this durables category, both magazine and TV advertising have apparent roles in building and maintaining long-term demand of this brand.
Each of these case studies serves to demonstrate that more information is not always the only, nor even the best, solution. Rather, “deeper” digging, and a more focused reappraisal of existing data, can reveal insights and hypotheses which pay off by increasing the position and performance of brands in a variety of highly competitive categories.