My big fat tracking problem

My tracking study tells me that brand awareness went from 92% to 93%. Wow! Big deal.

It’s also telling me that perceptions and attitudes towards my brand haven’t really changed over the past 3 months. Or in fact, the past 6 or 12 or 24 months. Hmm…

Ad recall is about the same as usual. So I assume my new campaign is working.

All very reassuring, so why am I losing market share?

The tracking study numbers are all good, and I seem to have high purchase intent, but my actual sales are slowing.

Is there something I’m missing?

Is there something happening at point of purchase which is negatively affecting me?

Is it my packaging? My pricing? Competitive promotions?

What the heck is going on?

If this sound familiar to many of you, I feel your pain. There are few things I regret in life, but one of them is having to sit through tracking study results which provide reams of data, but few insights and even less actionable criteria.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to have some reassurance about brand awareness, attitudes and perceptions, but as a brand matures this data becomes less and less critical to market performance.

When you’re fighting for share against the same old competitors, you need more grainy, actionable data. You want timely information that will give your brand a clear competitive advantage, especially where the fighting is most intense.

This infighting usually occurs further down the sales funnel at key buying decision touchpoints.

For example, better information on how we can influence a buyer at the ‘moment of truth’ when they reach out and decide which product to buy.

Or better insight into how and why customers are migrating to online buying.

Or specific awareness and appeal of promotional offers by our own brand as well as that of our competitors.

To make a tracking study really useful we need to identify and agree the key drivers and attributes which we know affect sales most significantly. And we need to agree how we can dial up or down these attributes immediately and as necessary to impact sales.

Identifying the need to know data which can generate immediate action, from merely nice to know information, is the key change that must be made to most tracking studies.

This means that we need to think out of the box, and not simply generate the same old reports in the same old way.

Having a retail component is likely very important, because the retailer is a key customer and brand partner. So meeting their expectations and gaining their full support is critical to sales success. This may require conducting retail research monthly so that data can be acted on immediately, and then also compiling it into a Quarterly tracking study for longer term analysis.

Specifically relating actual sales data to information revealed in the tracking study is another key component. This adds realism and empirical evidence to the perceptual and attitudinal data. And it helps us identify which attributes or factors most affect sales.

Performance data is another area which needs to be highlighted. Is the brand still valued for the job that it does? More highly than its competitors?

The reason that this is important is that many brands begin life with a clear, single-minded promise of performance. But over time additional benefits are added like fragrance, colour, shape, etc.

The net effect is that sometimes the original ‘raison d’etre’ of the brand gets lost in all the peripheral benefits which have accrued over the years.

The brand then loses saliency in the minds of customers, opening the door for competitors who claim to do the same job better.

So tracking studies should help prevent this erosion of the brands performance by clearly measuring its ability to deliver on a specific job done.

But perhaps the most important thing that we need to do is identify the key issues that a tracking study has to measure.

What are the critical marketing issues facing the brand, and how do we want to impact them? For example, reducing ‘churn’ for a telco, or broadening the customer relationship base for a bank, or generating trial for a brand extension.

We need to identify these key impact areas that are critical for sales success and profitability, and agree exactly what directly related information we need to monitor. And ensure that the data provides sufficient insight to be truly actionable.

So don’t agree to any more brand tracking studies that only provide the usual array of generic attitude, awareness, trial, etc.

Tailor your tracking studies to deliver the information you need to tackle your most important marketing issues and opportunities.

Agree precisely what information should trigger action.

Make every tracking study review a marketing action session, not a boring data review!