Is Brand Tracking too retro?

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The role of the brand tracker

The brand tracker remains one of the most enduring and capable research tools available to marketers – when it is understood and used correctly.

However, in recent years there has been pushback from some companies that feel trackers are too ‘rear view mirror’, only identifying potential, brand related issues when it is too late to do anything about them.

Many of those organisations are missing the point. The tracker’s purpose isn’t to flag issues before or as they occur – social media listening is one of the best research approaches for this purpose.

Neither is it the role of the tracker to measure the impact of individual marketing events immediately after they have occurred – a quick, tailored survey will do that job much better.

Instead, the tracker’s role should be to act as a relatively inexpensive way of evaluating and comparing brand performance over set periods of time, whilst also enabling the organisation to scrutinise the:

  • Effectiveness of its underlying brand strategy
  • Relevance of supposed brand performance drivers
  • Performance of the individuals responsible for brand stewardship

Based on the above it’s not surprising that many organisations assume that a tracker’s ultimate purpose is to measure the impact of the annual marketing plan and reason that, if there is only minimal marketing activity is taking place, there is no need for a tracker.

Wrong! There are many events outside the control of the Marketing Department that can influence brand performance – including economic downturn, the activity of competitors and government legislation.

Indeed, 60 seconds on Google is enough to identify numerous examples of brands that went in to a nose dive as a result of events not of the Marketing Department’s making.

Consider the catastrophic damage to BP’s brand as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Or the negative impact on Ryanair in 2017 when the organisation had to cancel some 2000 flights due to issues relating to its pilots’ holiday roster.

Of course, these are extreme examples and neither company needed brand tracking to tell them their brands were in a tailspin. However, they both certainly needed ongoing tracking data to help them identify and implement the strategies required to repair the reputational damage caused and enable them to get back on the front foot.

Implementing a tracker

For any organisation that hasn’t yet committed to tracking its brand, the idea can be daunting. In particular, there is the question of exactly what brand data is required and how the business should use it.

The good news is that these questions are relatively simple to answer if the company already has clarity regarding the:

  • Brand to be tracked: its proposition, features, attributes, segmentation and competitive set
  • Underlying marketing strategy and the metrics focussed upon by the business to both drive measure it

With this level of understanding it is relatively easy to devise a tracker that is truly capable of both driving brand planning and holding it accountable.


Broadly, there are 2 ways to go when it comes to deciding on the questions to ask within your tracker.

The first is to build a bespoke tracker around metrics that are probably common currency within your business already. These are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • Spontaneous awareness of your brand versus those of key competitors
  • Prompted awareness of your brand versus those of key competitors
  • Awareness and relevance of the different elements (features and benefits) of your brand’s offer versus those of key competitors
  • Relevance of your brand’s values versus those of key competitors
  • Purchase criteria (e.g. ease of use, price, innovation etc) for brands in your space
  • Usage behaviour (when and why the brand is used)
  • Frequency of use

The other way is to buy in to a tracker designed around your research agency’s view of the drivers of brand performance. This can be a route to competitive advantage if it provides your organisation with a view of the world that others do not have.

But beware! Adopting another company’s brand philosophy and recommended metrics can be a challenge. Not only does your business have to get used to them, it must also get used to the agency’s view of what makes brands tick.

Frequency and timing

Frequency and timing depend mainly upon when the company typically conducts its annual planning and budget round. Most companies will do this on an annual basis, meaning that the tracker needs to be reported annually too.

Ideally, reporting will happen some 4-6 weeks before this occurs, so that there is enough time to consider the implications of the results, set new brand performance targets and identify the specific sales and marketing actions to get there.

However, larger brands may hold interim brand review sessions on a bi-annual or even quarterly basis, to review brand performance against targets so that they can nudge marketing plans for the next period accordingly.


In summary, here are some tracker do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t even think about commissioning a brand tracker until you are sure the organisation has real clarity with regard to the component parts of the brand and the key metrics required to manage it. If that clarity is lacking, use an insight agency partner to help you identify them first
  • Don’t launch your tracker until all parts of the business are on board, enthused and up to speed. Otherwise, those who are left behind can become voices of dissent
  • Don’t keep adding to the tracker and turn it in to something that it isn’t. It dilutes its clarity and perceived usefulness
  • Don’t internalise results – tailor the information for different parts of the business but ensure everyone gets regular feedback on the brand they represent

Brandspeak is a market research consultancy with over 14 years experience of helping organisations with brand tracking.



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Brandspeak has been providing qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic and neuromarketing research to UK and global brands, marketing agencies, start-ups, public sector organisations and charities since 2004.