Editor’s note: Joel Rubinson is the president and founder of Rubinson Partners, a New York-based marketing research consulting firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Dear research supplier … why can’t you tell me why my brand sales are declining?”
When clients experience sales declines for a brand, the supplier who runs the brand tracker is likely to misdiagnose the cause because most trackers have a huge blind spot. Brand trackers assume that it is the brand that is in motion when in reality, it is usually the world moving around us to which the brand is failing to adjust.
World in motion analysis is missing from almost all the trackers I am asked to review.
Brand in motion. Certainly brand tracking metrics have value because sometimes it IS your brand that is motion … changed logo, brand name, new ad campaign, ad investment mix and levels, product formula, pricing, etc. For example, when Tropicana changed its package and sales immediately dropped 25 percent that was definitely brand in motion. Struggling brands often kill advertising in fourth quarter to make profit goals. Then, brand equity declines … that self-inflicted wound is ‘brand in motion’ too.
World in motion. Due to incredibly rapid changes in how we consume media, shop, the values we hold, pace of life, and the economy, the world is ALWAYS in motion … creating misalignments which you can turn into competitive advantage if you are agile. If not, you’ll lose relevance. Looking at aggregate brand metrics will chronicle your decline and you’ll think that strengthening a certain attribute will turn things around but in reality the cause is more fundamental.
Examples: Facebook stock has increased four times since it figured out mobile, which Yahoo has not done and its stock keeps sliding. Facebook has billions of app downloads and is the easiest way for an advertiser to achieve broad reach on mobile and to create multi-screen marketing campaigns. And so Yahoo continues to lose advertiser interest not because the stories aren’t good, or the sports scores are hard to get but because changing media behaviors are not in its favor.
Think about travel. If you asked me 20 years ago which names first come to mind when I think about booking a vacation, I would have said Liberty Travel. Today it would be one of the online sites. Their brand salience declined not because of a bad commercial or high package prices but because the world changed how it shops for travel; the world went online and Liberty Travel is still committed to physical stores and 800 numbers.
I’m sure Yahoo and Liberty Travel would have seen declines in top of mind awareness, brand equity, attribute ratings, etc. but those are artifacts of not keeping up with a world that is in motion.
Starbucks is a great example of adjusting to, and even causing, world in motion. They totally get mobile and social. Starbucks has created its own compelling sub-culture. Metrics on app use and social media conversation are just as important as attribute rating trends for what they are trying to accomplish.
Measuring your brand in relation to a world in motion
The guidance system deliverable should have a world in motion section, fueled by diverse data streams that reflect brand performance in context. What are the big changes in media, shopping, culture, etc. and does your brand play well in those spaces that are growing? Brand and communications performance metrics should include integrating surveys with tagging solutions and digital data from your DMP so you know the changing ways you can reach audiences of value and what communication approaches are working.
Track the changing ways that people experience your brand. Fiona Blades, president of MESH Experience says, “By continuously capturing people’s experiences in real time, we saw for one client a new pattern of which touchpoints influenced brand preference at each stage in the path to purchase. The percentage of people going in store to research or buy their big ticket item has halved in two years.”
Social media offers its own unique insights. Rob Key, president of Converseon says, “Using machine learning, from the vast, unstructured social conversation we can now extract opinions, trends, cultural values even focusing on only those consumer segments you market to. Ensuring alignment with these power trends is critical for your brand to stay relevant.”
Coca-Cola has publicly said that its ambitions are to win an increasing share of popular culture (about 50 seconds into this video). That is a great goal for any big brand which means marketers need to not only measure the brand but to measure culture as well, which rarely makes it into the 20-minute survey!
If your brand faces a headwind, it is probably from you standing still while the world is rotating under your feet. Create a guidance system around multiple data streams to inform the client how to maximize their relevance to a world in motion.