There is an unending stream of advances in technology for monitoring the quality and quantity of mentions of your brand … online and under specific circumstances. But are you getting a complete, relationally-accurate picture of how your brand is performing both online and off? And/or are you looking in the wrong place?
To level set: It is impossible – today – to have a dashboard that shows you 100% of overall brand perception and reputation in real time and across all channels. And I would be weary of any technology vendor that tries to sell you on the promise of such a 100% picture.
Is there, however, a way to ‘sample’ multiple channels in a fashion that gives an accurate and proportional cross-section of real challenges, opportunities and context? And can these samples be meaningful projections of the larger population? Yes, but it requires challenging conventional wisdom about your program.
Here is what I propose as some thoughts on best practices for balancing your ‘brand picture’ – both online and off.
Don’t Try to Get It All … Instead, ‘Sample’ and ‘Project’
The first mistake most organizations make when they build a brand monitoring program is that they try to get it all. They look at search engines such as Google and assume that from a simple interface you should be able to explore your global brand – instantly and comprehensively. Or they look at what are some pretty fantastic multi-platform search engines, such as Biz360 or Factiva, and assume that you should be able to fully count and measure all of your media/PR/marketing/ad ‘hits.’
You can’t. Nor should you try to.
Attempting to capture every brand mention, every bit of verbatim or every minor directional insight on your brand at every given moment from every given channel doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible, and there is no ROI in it. Doing so will only get you caught up in an unending array of directionless data crunching – analysis paralysis.
So how should you approach this scale problem? Let’s take a page out of the marketing researcher’s play book. Marketing researchers don’t poll everyone in a population with a typical survey; instead, they poll sample populations and with statistical methodologies are able to project – within a statistical significance level – what the larger population looks like. This is how companies – especially those in scale markets – should measure their brands and make decisions related to brand perception and reputation.
Focus on Proportionality
When judging what is being said about your brand – in a chat room, on a blog, on the nightly news or around the water cooler – keep in mind the channel, its frequency and relative magnitude. Do you know where your customers spend most of their time engaging with or reacting to your brand? This should guide how you measure brand performance.
First, you should ensure that you are capturing all of the different channels that matter – both online and offline. This is where companies such as Biz360, which combines insight from online media, print media, broadcast media and blogs, and emerging player Phoenix Marketing International, with its proprietary AdPi and BrandPi multi-channel tracking and metrics, are critical. They recognize that Web measures, alone, do not capture all of the instances of a customer’s interactions with a given brand and they help support a proportional picture of your brand – online and off. There are also nuances to the online world. For instance, start-up Twing.com has built a search engine focused on chat rooms and discussion forums, where – the company’s founders point out – a majority of online discussion occurs, not in blogs. Make sure you’re not putting too much emphasis on one channel – such as websites – and missing others simply because you don’t have an efficient way to search that channel today.
Second, you should develop a sense of the relative ‘mind share‘ your customer lends to each channel in his/her decision-making about your brand. Out of the 16+ hours we are awake each day, where do your customers spend most of their time communicating?
Third, you should proportionally balance your metrics and scorecards against this type of insight. If blogs are (hypothetically) only 2% of relative mind share and other channels represent a much higher proportion, should you really be too worried about a single blogger? Your internal brand analysis processes should take this into account.
Simplify Your Metrics
Most brand managers and marketers are drowning in data. And does it really help us? Instead of getting caught up in the cycle of trying to capture every single, minor directional insight that might possibly provide clues into what your customer thinks about your brand … simplify. Focus on straightforward and highly-correlated metrics that really tell you something.
Create a simple, ‘top-five’ group of easily-measurable metrics with straightforward indicators and what they mean to your brand. If you have large amounts of aggregated and organized data, one way to accomplish this would be to invest in a ‘factor-analysis’ project, using software from an analytics firm such as SPSS. But if you are a smaller company or have data that isn’t typically captured in a database, focus on simple questions: What are the top indicators that most impact purchase intent, repeat purchases and willingness to recommend your brand? What are the degrees of good or bad that really matter? Identify them; simplify them; and then trust that they are capturing most of what you need to know.
I should mention that often it’s only metrics at the extremes that really indicate true inclination in a customer toward a given brand. Researchers Jones and Sasser conducted studies in the mid 1990s that showed that merely being ‘satisfied’ as a customer (i.e., 4 out of 5 on a 5-point scale) is not enough. ‘Totally satisfied’ customers (i.e., 5 out of 5) are six times me likely to repurchase than merely satisfied, Jones and Sasser found. Turns out a 2, 3 or 4 rating doesn’t tell us much as a marketer. So why suffer over nuances that don’t really matter at the end of the day?
Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive
Don’t wait for someone to point out a problem with your brand. Put systems and processes in place – both online and off – to keep an eye on what your current and perspective customers think about your brand. Having proportionally-aware, recurring systems and processes will help to establish baselines and will provide better perspectives when there are significant ‘deltas’ in how your brand is perceived.
Go to the Source(s)
If you really want to know what your customers think, ask them. Granted, most marketing researchers will admit that there are things customers won’t tell you. But you’d be surprised at what they will tell you and how appreciative they may be at your asking for their insight. Just be sure to respect their time and privacy. And recognize that there are different strata of customers and customer influencers – advocates and detractors; customers, former customers and prospects; third party influencers, etc. The key is to recognize how your customers’ perceptions are built and then to put in place ways to measure changes at the source.
How has your organization balanced monitoring its brand both online and offline? What technologies and vendors have you used to integrate and manage a total perspective of your brand? Please share your thoughts.