airt insights

June 17, 2014

Brand Development for the Rest of Us

It is our firm conviction that the ultimate aim of marketing should be brand development. After all, if your marketing efforts aren't creating preference for your brands in the form of positive regard, loyalty, and pricing advantage, then what are they doing?

But let's be honest. Most small and medium enterprises (SMEs), for-profit and nonprofit, cannot or do not hold their marketing programs accountable to metrics that matter. This is because the ones that really matter are hard to gauge—or even identify to begin with. Metrics that don't matter on the other hand are easy to come by. These are among the many marketing metrics that mistake activity for accomplishment such as web traffic, ad impressions, materials distributed, frequency, reach, and so on. These may or may not translate into brand preference, because it's possible to achieve high measures on such metrics with off-target and poorly executed marketing.

Brand equity constructs have been the standard for measuring brand performance for decades now. But these models and algorithms typically are elaborate and require extensive research, data, and calculations. So the question is, how can SMEs measure brand development success when they cannot afford the extensive research or processes required to quantify it?

The problem with brand equity

There's no shortage of models for measuring brand equity. Those in use include:

Brand Equity Index (Moran)

Effective market share + Relative price + Durability (loyalty, retention)

Brand Valuator Model (Interbrand)

Total earnings - Earnings attributable to tangible assets

Brand Contribution (CoreBrand)

Familiarity + Favorability + Revenue + Market capitalization

BrandAsset Valuator (Young & Rubicam)

Differentiation + Relevance + Esteem + Knowledge

Brand Equity Ten (Aaker)

Brand Awareness + Differentiation + Loyalty + Perceived Quality + Perceived Value + Leadership + Brand Personality + Associations (mental/emotional) + Market Share + Market Price/Coverage

Each of these methods has its proponents and detractors, but all are sophisticated and challenging to implement. For one thing, many of these metrics require extensive, primary consumer research to gather the data. And where financial or market performance measures apply, they're not straightforward, especially for nonprofits or technology and niche companies that do not compete in clearly defined market segments or have clear-cut acquisition v. retention v. cross-selling paradigms.

So even when an SME wishes to practice performance-based brand marketing, the question is how. If they cannot measure brand equity per se, what can they measure that might correlate with it and help to quantify brand development performance?

An accessible approach to brand evaluation

In fact, several ways of gauging brand development performance are available to SMEs. While it's true that each of these require some investment of time and effort, all of them are affordable.

Internal communication efficacy

Often employees cannot elaborate the brands sold by their own companies. You can be sure that if your own people do not understand your brands, the marketplace also will be confused. And while customer surveys are difficult to administer, internal instruments are relatively easy to implement, and also less subject to sampling biases. For instance, using internal surveys, interviews, or questionnaires to assess such brand parameters as differentiation, associations, brand personality, style, symbols, and so on is a relatively straightforward proposition.

Brand platform elaboration

Most companies, let alone SMEs, haven't done the hard work and thinking it takes to elaborate a cohesive brand platform. Naturally, the brand marketing effort tends to drift. Good brand platforms are detailed and precise documents that take months to develop. A sound brand platform includes such elements as have been described by UC Berkeley's David Aaker, for example, brand essence, brand core, value proposition, positioning, and brand personality. This strategy document goes far deeper than the typical company style manual that merely governs how art and graphics are used. The extent to which this platform has been professionally developed, recorded, and to which it is actually applied and practiced by marketing and sales staff, always correlates with brand performance.

Brand management system

Another correlative of brand equity is the extent to which control of brand marketing efforts is cohesive, professional, and centralized. This means salespeople, administrators, and other departments aren't doing their own thing. Senior executives are in charge of and actively managing brand development efforts. Marketing isn't treated as a tactical herd to be driven by administrators—a management mindset that reflects a fundamental lack of respect for marketing. The marketing that results from such cultures will look, sound, and feel homegrown and amateurish, and naturally brand value suffers. Many companies can survive such marketing, but they tend not to thrive.

Systems of metrics

Wherever you find brand development success, you're sure to find a brand-marketing dashboard with meaningful metrics that are up-to-date, valid, reliable, and scrutinized. These metrics that matter will ultimately connect to bottom-line measures of performance. Metrics that don't are essentially monkey metrics. They swing in the trees and make a lot of noise, but don't mean much. Beware of metrics that are easy to "game" such as such as traffic, requests, page-views, presence, reach, frequency, visits, and so forth. Instead, lean on ones that "show you the money" such as pipeline, conversion efficiency, market share, cost per sale, and so on.

Market feedback systems

We find that where brand performance is strong, systematic means are in place to collect and make meaning out of market feedback—means that rise above the anecdotal. Mechanisms for this may include convention and tradeshow intercepts, call reports, surveys, sales ride-alongs, and structured interviews. The goal is to identify methods free of sampling bias and errors so marketing "research" doesn't merely find what it's looking for. To some extent, this measure involves assessing a company's sales and marketing culture. Is it scientific and self-critical, or reactive, self-absorbed, and pre-biased? When sales and marketing staff start thinking like social scientists, useful data results. This doesn't guarantee stellar marketing execution, but at least it will be driven by strategy rooted in reality.

Brand advantage is a big advantage

Certainly it's fair to ask whether indirect measurment systems such as those described are as valid as the brand equity methods listed. Maybe and maybe not. But some marketing experts question brand equity models, too, since many hinge upon qualitative evaluations, i.e., an evaluator's own judgment. One thing is for sure, though. The brand development measurement systems described can help baseline current performance and monitor progress. They also provide data for improving the instrument over time, meaning they don't have to be perfect to begin with. It's also important to realize that all brand metrics do not apply to all companies anyway, o to some extent every SME must customize its brand evaluation system.

Still, to the extent the brand performance assessment is clearly defined, realistic to maintain, and actually implemented, an SME can receive vital feedback for governing marketing strategy and improving its brand marketing performance. This alone provides decided and considerable advantage over competitors—every time.

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