Brands are wild and unpredictable, like animals. If you want to study them, you need to let the zoo gates open, leave them to run free and let the spy cams do the rest.
This may sound like an unnerving statement for an analytics industry dominated by control and quantification of brand KPIs. However, if you really love something, you need to set it free - and this couldn’t be more true for brands.
The way we study brands today is sometimes akin to determining the hunting pattern of Killer Whales by watching them catch fish out of a bucket. It is set up all wrong from the start.
Our understanding of brands has come a long way, as have the tools we use. My three pieces of advice on what to do differently to grow your brand are these:
1. Stop simply measuring your brand, start understanding it.
Brands are almost as complex as people, which is why we relate to them like we do with our social circle: we need to get to know our friends before we trust them with our money. We need to have common interests. We need them to make us feel special. However, rating all our friends using the same measuring stick is impossible, right, because each different type of friend needs to be measured against different criteria.
For brands, customer funnels and sales figures can give a good measure of the financial “fundamentals” of the brand – but they do not tell us what has worked well to get to that point and, therefore, what to do more of. Research programs focused on brand identity, used in parallel with trackers, are an investment into the future of your brand, not just for the next 6 months, but the next few decades.
2. Stop comparing your brand to others. Embrace it for what it is.
We send our kids to school hoping they will all excel in math equally, but we soon find out that each child is so unique that they have to be judged on their own merits. Although the child’s standard performance report card is indicative, it by no means reflects the full potential and true talents of a pupil.
For brands, developing this potential requires really understanding the product, the target customer, and the vision of the brand: "what it wants to be when it grows up" – in other words, its “soul”. Brands, like pupils, tend to thrive when asked to perform in the subjects where they excel and differentiate. Finding these strengths enables a company to focus its energy on those aspects of its brand that are more profitable in the long run, rather than right here, right now.
3. Stop controlling everything. Let your customers shape your brand.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is really about grassroots. Whether you have worked on it consciously or not, you already have a brand out there. The first step to improving that brand is understanding the two or three things consumers remember about your brand.
Whether you like these perceptions or not, they are already out there and you need to work with that reality, rather than try to become someone else. Build on the best parts of your image and minimize the negatives. This sounds obvious, but most brands today still lack a program that lets them truly listen to their customers.
For a brand manager trying to sort through a clutter of often conflicting data, what this means is taking a simple, yet bold approach to brand: focusing on the stripped-down, core premise of what the brand was founded upon and re-evaluating whether it still delivers, while being open to facing some harsh truths about whether the proposition really resonates with the current market/customer.
There is plenty of scope for brands nowadays to benefit from tools that are breaking down the customer/brand barrier. These monitor customer behavior unobtrusively through implicit methods such as passive measurement, and enable the collection of large sets full of customer insight that can be analyzed via advanced Artificial Intelligence and text analytics. This can provide a moving picture of brand identity, which can guide decisions at both tactical and strategic levels.
George Tsakraklides is a Research Director at GfK. To share your thoughts, please email email@example.com or leave a comment below.