Brand is one of those things everyone believes they understand but find difficult to put into words. Brands are everywhere: sports teams, cars, universities, corporations, hotels, musical groups, individual people… the list is endless, as is the diversity of opinion on each.
When brands are managed well, there is this sense of clarity and purpose that will persist over time. They are in for the long haul and will be successful.
When brands are not managed well, they languish or can be overtaken by competition. In business, anything managed well will have been measured well, and that includes brand.
Measuring something requires definition and structure, so let’s get started.
A simple definition of brand is that it is a promise, a promise of the experience a stakeholder will have when they engage the brand. While this idea of a “brand promise” to a given stakeholder is simple and relatable, it does not lend itself to measurement and management.
Rather than trying to define and measure that elusive word brand, it’s more productive to define those things that create the perceptions of a brand in the minds of stakeholders and tackle measurement from there. We’ll focus on customers, noting the methods and measures can be applied to all stakeholders. As with many things in brand, the classic work of David Aaker shows the way forward.
Consider three key areas sequentially when measuring brand:
- where customers form their perceptions of a brand,
- what to measure to capture brand perceptions where they are formed, and
- what the units of those measures are.
Taking these in order, the ways in which customers form brand perceptions is critical to developing strategies and plans, and prioritizing investment for brand building-and measurement.
Customers form perceptions of a brand from four main areas:
- Services and products, where customers directly experience the brand in a very specific way
- Physical environments, where customers experience the brand at a company level (facilities, shops, stadiums, etc.)
- Behavior of employees, where customers experience the brand in a highly personal way
- Communications, where multiple channels to be prioritized give the brand visibility
Note the wide variation in importance of these four areas in driving perception, depending on the brand. For a hotel, the physical environment is critical, while for Amazon (new stores aside) or a B2B oilfield service company it has much less relevance. Behavior and communications are critical for any company offering services or products, both for the company and the offering brand.
Behavior of employees merits special attention in brand measurement. Note the use of the word “behavior” as the thing to measure, as opposed to people. In much of business, customer brand perceptions are driven by employee behavior, as much as by services and products, especially in B2B.
Having set out where brand perceptions are formed, it’s on to brand measurement. There are four major headings to measure:
- Services and products, where differentiation needs to be made visible and experienced
- Perceived quality, not limited to services and products, extending to other aspects
- Organization, which can include employees, management, and support functions
- Symbol, the logo or company name, noting how and where it can appear
The above four can be considered to have the following four “units of measure”:
- Awareness: everything from “the only name I know” to “I’ve never heard of it”
- Associations: the first things that come to mind, both good and bad
- Perceived quality: the one driver of price
- Loyalty: everything from “the only one I use” to “absolutely never…”
Note how associations in a brand survey can capture both the emotional and rational. The emotional importance of brand in B2B can be easily underestimated. At the end of the day, a person with perceptions and emotions will make buying decisions.
“Perceived quality” is included as both something to measure and unit of measure because of its ability to stand alone when customers provide their perceptions of a company brand, as well as a specific measure for services, products, employee skills, etc.
In crafting a brand measurement program, it is critical to define scope and set objectives.
Objectives will start with target stakeholders, then what is to be measured and the measures of each. Market research and brand surveys are common tools used for this purpose.
Employee behavior is usually underestimated or misunderstood for its influence on brand measurement and value. For example, customer loyalty may be to the employee rather than the company. While this situation most often applies to lawyers, doctors, and financial advisors, it can be equally prevalent in B2B service companies, in particular where service and product differentiation is limited. Merger, acquisition, or joint venture formation are times brand measurement gets a lot of attention. Behavior of employees, including senior managers who move under or should promote new brands is often not adequately addressed in implementation plans. This is surprising given how often employee behavior is cited as a cause of integration failure.
The structure and elements within these three areas—where brand perceptions are formed, things to measure, units of brand measurement—will be used all or in part to build a brand measurement program. This makes sense, as they also apply to brand management programs.
If the techniques you are considering to measure and manage your brand cannot in some way be mapped to this structure and flow, you should revisit them.
Now, a proposed definition of brand built from the above structure could be “a brand is a personality with measurable qualities, as perceived by a stakeholder." Consider the key words in this definition in the context of the above structure. Stakeholder is key—customers, employees, investors, prospective employees, etc. Whose perceptions of brand are you trying to measure? Those perceptions can be about the company, individual behavior, organization or product and services, both quantitative and qualitative. The relative importance of these four varies by stakeholder, driving the measurement of the brand accordingly.
So, get out there and measure your brand(s). We’d love to hear about it.