The Emotional Bottom Line: Can the Impact of Branding be Measured?

Maria Twigge

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After spending a lot of time measuring and analysing brand in marketing research over the years, I found myself enjoying a couple of recent presentations I saw at the recent MRS conference for Financial Services. The presentations challenged research in branding to be more accurate and to be more responsive to the needs of the business.

Jan Gooding from Aviva delivered a loud wake up call to anyone who has become engrossed in technique, integration, process, sample, method or project, reminding us that ‘There is nothing less elusive than the obvious fact.’ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Most researchers are equally absorbed in the method as well as the insight (as we know that without the right method we won’t have confidence and rigor in the over-arching findings). But that dogged focus on discovering the answer to the agreed questions can sometimes cloud the true insight that is uncovered along the way. This applies in brand measurement metrics as much as every other insights search.

A couple of presentations that day picked up on brand measurement and Jan also mentioned that whilst Aviva are extremely well known for providing car insurance they are little known for their pensions offer despite having a 25% market share in the UK, describing this as a triumph of marketing for their pensions offer, despite little brand recognition. This could be true – success without brand recognition in the pensions market or it could be attributable to the power of the Aviva brand in the car insurance market that has allowed Aviva to dominate the pensions market too.

Analysing an Emotional Connection

Brand has always been a difficult beast for an analytical mind to pin down properly. We all know and understand the power of brand, but it has such intrinsic, ephemeral value it has always proved challenging to be able to measure, quantify and predict sales based on brand value measures. Dr Keith suggested that beyond the often used value, strength, equity, collateral, and relevance measures we need to also take into account the current excitement level around the brand and look at the level of ‘community’ and ‘socially demonstrated affiliations’ there are around a brand to get closer to understanding it’s power.

This presentation challenged research and insight professionals to think a little further about measuring and assessing the impact and value of brand. If you want to read more, you can see his SlideShare on the topic.

Ultimately when it comes to launching a new product if you have confidence in its performance and the service around it then you know it will increase your brand equity for your next release. If you have confidence in your brand position then it will support your product launch too. But if either of these are not secure then the picture becomes more complex.

The financial sector perhaps understands brand better than any other industry right now. The consequences of the financial crash leaving the kind of impression that only negative experiences can. This has meant that this industry has had to work very hard to try to claw back their reputation or have given up, re-structured and renewed - about to embark on a new journey to customer trust, loyalty, and engagement.

Measuring in the Right Way

A relationship with a brand isn’t easy to describe or quantify because it isn’t part of a conscious thought stream. It’s an emotional connection that can endure a lot once built because it’s embedded into our heuristics. A logo, an emblem, a colour that can trigger a positive association long after any rational thinking person would believe they can have the same positive experience. Yet equally a negative one years and years after a PR disaster that has long been dealt with leaves a brand struggling to grow.

At FlexMR we’ve long advocated an approach that includes a good qualitative evaluation of the brand in question before any tracking and impact measures are borne out. There are lots of new techniques that make this possible without incurring hefty qualitative expense. But beyond the specific brand aspirations and positioning there is very little standardisation when it comes to trying to connect this value to return on investment.

If Dr Keith and Harris Interactive are right then perhaps combining a measure of community and excitement with familiarity and relevance will edge us closer to sales predictions and true equity measures. Often when we expect a strong brand to support a product and it doesn’t we have to explore further when the launch doesn’t go as well as expected.

Simple but Effective

This focus on current buzz and community is a fresher approach. Moving or pushing a consumer to ponder over a concept that they wouldn’t usually consciously consider, doesn’t actually help to represent their behaviour or predict their decisions.

Branding today is complex because we make it that way, and drawing in social measures instead of forcing customers to consider their relationship with the brand in a false way has got to be a positive step in unpicking the relationship. Could we actually reveal just as much with a quick top of mind read and nothing else? There is no shame in not complicating the matter.

Whilst the meaning and purpose of branding has developed and grown a lot, predicting the longevity of a brand and the value it has in increasing sales does require a fresh look. At FlexMR we incorporate a qualitative evaluation pre any market work and it’s good to see the MR industry as a whole exploring new measures too.

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