2023: The year that brand health tracking got a whole lot better

The decades-old institution of brand tracking has some pitfalls, leading to many companies reexamining their brand tracking models.
Simon Marmara

The brand funnel (which underpins the traditional brand tracking model) was developed in 1898. A time when Queen Victoria was on the British throne, the United States declared war on Spain and Pepsi-Cola was formulated. It is a very concise model - essentially: Awareness, Consideration, Conversion - which still has tons of value today, but now it needs more nuance than ever before. In this piece we examine the challenges of traditional brand tracking approaches and outline how companies are starting to make things a whole lot better.

Challenge 1: Established brands get the most value from brand tracking 

Brand tracking essentially creates a staged setting which asks consumers to pit brands against each other. The problem is, in today’s world consumers are much more easily convinced to try out an indie brand that they had never before heard of. The relevance of ‘brand’ has changed massively and so a brand tracking model tends to suit the 1% of businesses that dominate their industry and the wider consumer marketplace. It’s usually the biggest organisations that love and value the traditional purchase funnel because it suits them - it was made for them.

But what if you’re a newer, smaller, less well-known brand? Does that mean you should give up because your brand funnel metrics are way behind the big players who are dominating the market? No. 

Challenge 2: Awareness is not everything 

Awareness is a wonderful thing. It is great to be known - but it used to matter a whole lot more before the internet and social media came in to introduce people to thousands of new brands and products on a daily basis. The plethora of online channels and networks means it is easier to build awareness with the specific niche audiences you want. In other words, the playing field has gone from a tall tiered one-flavoured cake to a full-service bakery with pastries, coffee and trending cake flavours.

The reality is: niche brands are fighting a losing battle trying to compete on category awareness.

Take Garmin as an example - top of mind (unprompted) awareness for the category of “fitness trackers” a few years ago would have resulted in brands like Apple and Fitbit dominating. But this would not have picked up the nuance that Garmin were building out a niche strategy amongst high performance wearables. It would not have helped Garmin to track their chosen sub-categories, and it would not have demonstrated that Fitbit (despite being very well known) were solving for a mass market (lower end) consumer need. Today, Garmin has built on their niche success and are edging out competitors like Fitbit despite starting with sub-par ‘awareness’ metrics. Not to mention the halo effect that brands like Apple, Google and Samsung get by default as they transfer their fame and fortune from other products/services into new ones. 

An example - Apple’s AirPods, on its own, is now one of the biggest tech companies in the world. Making more than Spotify, Twitter & Shopify. Bringing their firepower into this sector was almost too easy for Apple and in a tracker for headphone brands they would sail above most.

Challenge 3: We should be tracking customers not brands

The most natural evolution for the brand tracker calls for a simple reframing. It is not the brand sentiment we’re actually interested in tracking - it’s the consumers’ perception of how well the brand solves a problem for them. Because, no matter how much customers ‘love’ a brand (take Kodak as an example), they will stop buying from them if they perceive a competitive solution will solve their problem better. 

In our recent branding projects with clients, we have worked on reframing brand tracking away from the lens of ‘brand’ and towards the lens of the ‘customer’. For this, we use our framework which is powered by Jobs to Be Done - the theory that customers make buying decisions because they’re trying to make progress in their lives. So what does this look like?

Traditional brand tracking Updated brand tracking
Asks people feedback on a specific brand, and report which arbitrary attributes they represent Asks people to consider a problem (an emotional or functional Job) they need to solve and which brand is most likely to solve that for them

And going back to the Garmin example. This is why they have been so successful in recent years. They’ve fully focused on meeting an underserved market segment of wearables users; high performance fitness and sports niches. 

Challenge 4: Brand tracking often has competitive blind spots 

Any ‘Job’ a customer might have can be solved by competitors within an industry as well as from ones outside of that industry. Again, that’s why it’s so important to focus on the job customers are looking to accomplish, not just the brands you consider to be direct competitors.

A clear example of this is Netflix. In 2019 in their Q4 report they said:

"We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO. There are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers... Our growth is based on how good our experience is, compared to all the other screen time experiences from which consumers choose."

A lot of the time businesses hyperfocus on direct competitors but if you encourage your teams to reframe the thinking and take a customers’ focus, it becomes clear competition is a lot broader and more complicated now. In Netflix’s example they look at entertainment overall, not just similar streaming services.

It sounds more complex but it is a more accurate picture of customer behaviour. The modern approach to brand tracking is becoming increasingly able to handle a greater complexity and tie in the tracking insights to a broader picture of the market and customer needs. 

As customer-led frameworks like ‘Jobs to Be Done’ continue to gain traction as a central foundational framework for customer behaviour, companies will increasingly look to update their insight models to ensure they are customer-led and fit for purpose in a digital world.

What to do next 

Reframe your thinking. Look at your brand tracking insights and make sure they are designed for a digital world. Instead of tracking brands first, consider tracking customers first and how your brand delivers against their core needs. Instead of monitoring direct competitors ensure a customer-led approach to building out who your competition really is. Instead of tracking performance against arbitrary brand attributes, track against the core functional and emotional ‘Jobs’ that your customers are trying to solve. Make your investment and time worthwhile by ensuring your brand tracking is suited to your businesses products, services and solutions and most importantly your customers Jobs.

For more information about our process, drop us a message in the chat or get in touch at hello@untoldinsights.com.

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