Tracking at the Crossroads

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No one wants to hear that the car that has always felt safe and comfortable now needs a major overhaul. When the ride has always been smooth, it’s hard to believe that the engine will soon be straining to get the car up hills.

But for those of us behind the wheel of continuous tracking, that's how it feels at the moment. We are still moving forward well enough, but signs we pass along the road are warning of tough conditions ahead. Are the wheels really going to fall off around the next bend?

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Tracking at the Crossroads

  1. 1. TRACKING AT THE CROSSROADSPOINT OF VIEWSHARE 1But for those of us behind the wheel of continuoustracking, that’s how it feels at the moment.Weare still moving forward well enough, but signswe pass along the road are warning of toughconditions ahead. Are the wheels really going tofall off around the next bend?The Drive So FarContinuous tracking was invented by MauriceMillward and Gordon Brown in the 1970sto address specific client questions. Clientscommissioned our early studies because theyneeded insight and actionable advice aboutmarketplace events, such as the launch ofnew competitors or the start of new advertisingcampaigns, and continuous tracking enabledthem to make informed marketing decisions thathelped grow their brands.In time this longitudinal data also proved itsvalue by revealing the underlying dynamicsof how marketing worked. It became clear, forinstance, that the majority of ads did not wearout in the way marketers anticipated, and thatthe most important attributes in a category areoften the most difficult to change. Learning builtup around the measures and how they could beused to predict the sales impact of marketingactivity. Over time, another distinct use fortracking emerged: to monitor Key PerformanceIndicators (KPIs) on an ongoing basis. Becausetracking was proving to be so valuable, thedemand for tracking studies increased, and soonthey became an essential part of the marketingand research landscape.Challenges Past and PresentTracking continued to be an invaluable tool in thedecades that followed. But as marketers reliedon it more and more, some problems becameapparent. For example, the dual purposes oftracking cited above (tracking advertising as wellas monitoring KPIs) created tensions. As KPIoutput from tracking became part of dashboardsand was reported to senior management, thefocus on the immediate actionability of trackingdata was often relegated to the backseat. Thisin turn led to questions about the need for suchlarge studies to produce top-line metrics.Tracking’s versatility, when exploited, actuallybecame a drawback. Tracking studies seemedto be convenient vehicles for carrying any andall questions related to marketing, but as thestudies were loaded up, they became unwieldy.At the same time, pressure on costs led to areduction of sample sizes, limiting fast, reliableTracking at the CrossroadsNo one wants to hear that the car that has always felt safe and comfortablenow needs a major overhaul. When the ride has always been smooth, it’shard to believe that the engine will soon be straining to get the car up hills.Gordon PincottChairman,Global Solutions
  2. 2. TRACKING AT THE CROSSROADSPOINT OF VIEWSHARE 2feedback. Forced to carry more weight witha less powerful engine, the tracking studystruggled to perform as it once had.Tracking also encountered new challenges asthe media and research environments changed.For example, a major need has emerged inthe last few years: to evaluate the performanceof media channels. Existing multipurposetracking studies can provide a high-level readon two or three major media, but sample sizesand questionnaire space limit the depth of theanalysis. Similarly, the broad definition of atracking sample and the limited sample sizemake it difficult to give detailed guidance onmany digital campaigns.One of the most recent challenges to trackingis the ready availability of data scraped fromthe Web. Online data—from social media inparticular—provides cheap continuous feedbackabout brands and their marketing. Thus someadvertisers have new reasons to question thevalue of large-scale tracking surveys.The View at the CrossroadsThe signs are clear: The world is changing andresearch needs to change with it. Respondentsare harder to reach, especially those in the mostdesirable demographic groups, and they don’twant to engage with long, repetitious surveys.We need to adjust to that reality.But not every blinking light warns of a realhazard. For example, unstructured data fromonline sources is not going to nullify the needfor structured survey data. Social media data iscrucially important for certain types of brands,such as those that conduct business online, andservice brands that have customer or communityrelationships to manage. But for most brands,coverage on social media is typically at a lowlevel, is often generated by a vocal minority,and frequently relates to events (marketing orotherwise) rather than to the brand itself.While this information has value, if it isevaluated in isolation it may present a distortedand partial view. Businesses need to know whatis changing, and a self-appointed online groupwill not usually provide the consistent frame ofreference that is needed to discern if real changeis occurring.The Way AheadTo compete in today’s fast-moving, competitive,and complex markets, brand stewards needregular, timely, and reliable feedback. Now morethan ever, they need to monitor the underlyinglong-term trajectory of their brands as well asthe short-term effects of in-market activity.The question is how to capture this informationmost efficiently.Many improvements and modifications havealready been made to tracking over the years.In web-based markets, the look and feel of trackingstudies have changed enormously. Questions aredesigned to make interviews more engaging andenjoyable for respondents, and questionnaireshave been shortened. Further remodeling isalready under way, as interviews on mobile phonesneed to be shorter still.But old-style tracking has never been able to coverevery aspect of marketing activity, nor was it bestplaced to do so. As the pressure on questionnairesto become shorter has increased, it has becomeobvious that there are better ways of tackling someof the important marketing questions.
  3. 3. TRACKING AT THE CROSSROADSPOINT OF VIEWSHARE 3Reengineering for HighPerformanceWe need to think about moving from“trackingstudies”to“brand performance programs.”Asingle study can no longer answer all marketingquestions, but a brand performance programcan employ the individual tools that are bestsuited to address each issue. To understandhow a new ad campaign has broken through,a program can include a short study, executedover two or three days, with a robust sample. Toquantify the contribution of individual channelsto short- and long-term sales, a programcan have a CrossMedia study running overthe duration of the campaign with enoughquestionnaire space to ask the relevant mediaquestions.A program, however, cannot be a series ofdisconnected ad hoc projects; the componentsof the program must provide a platform forintegrated storytelling. They should be gluedtogether by the brand, not just conceptuallybut by consistent brand measures selectedby the brand and research teams to addressthe central questions, such as how marketingactivities are expected to influence the brandand what attitudes or ideas about the brandneed to be changed. The components of aresearch program will vary according to brand,category, and circumstances, but an effectiveprogram should include the following elements:AdetailedunderstandingofbrandequityUnderpinning the entire program and dictating itscomponents should be brand equity insights thatidentify the process through which associationsbuild brand equity and how that equity manifestsitself in the financial performance of the brand.This understanding will make it clear whatmarketing actions need to be taken and whatKPIs need to be captured in the ongoingmonitoring of brand performance.A continuous monitorThe second essential piece will be a sleekcontinuous monitor of the KPIs that signal changesin the health of the brand. For web-enabled studies(via computers or mobile devices), the results willflow automatically to a web-delivered dashboard.Pen-and-paper markets will need more manualintervention but will still be able to input the datato a dashboard via an automated analysis engine.This monitor will cost less than a traditional trackingstudy, thus freeing up funds to be deployed againstother elements of the program.Insights into channel effectiveness andcreative powerCrossMedia studies and digital deep dives canidentify the effectiveness of channels. Feedbackon executions and campaigns can be providedeither continuously or on an intermittent, fast-turnaround basis immediately after the start ofthe campaign. Either method will allow timelyadjustments to be made if necessary. A completepicture of the brand activities will need to harnesssocial media data as well as survey data.A single study can no longeranswerallmarketingquestions,but a program can apply theindividual tools that are best-suited to address each issue.
  4. 4. TRACKING AT THE CROSSROADSPOINT OF VIEWSHARE 4Ready for the Road AheadCars today serve the same purpose as cars40 years ago. But today’s cars look and feeldifferent; they go faster, they’re more efficient,and the components and technology that powerthem have radically changed.And just as cars have evolved to meet today’sdriving conditions, research solutions must beadapted for the complexity of our current era.Brand performance programs are, in spirit, totallyin tune with the idea that gave birth to tracking40 years ago. Action oriented and designedto give timely advice on important investmentdecisions, brand performance programs willprovide a set of linked solutions, each solutionchosen because it is the best one to answer aspecific question. They will harness the latestavailable technology to be cost-efficient andtimely. And because the most crucial factors forthe category will be identified early on throughdetailed brand equity work, the questionnairesthat make up the rest of the program can beshort and tightly focused.When designed and implemented effectively,brand performance programs will help brandsnegotiate the complex interchanges faced atevery point of decision-making. Moving smoothlydown the highway, through a landscape ofchallenging and changing conditions, they willcarry brands safely and efficiently to profitableoutcomes.To read more about research solutions,please visit www.mb-blog.com.If you enjoyed“Tracking at theCrossroads,”you might also beinterested in:“Brand Equity: What’s Price Got to Dowith it?”“The Keys to Brand Success”“Is the Internet Information-rich andemotion-poor?”“The big risk of big data”“To get a God’s-eye view of humanbehavior you have to ask”Research solutions must beadapted for the complexity ofour current era.

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