How to measure brand health in the 21st Century

Most techniques for the measurement of brand value tend to measure the impact that the brand has already had on customer relationships.

It makes intuitive sense to do it this way: in order to know the value your brand you need to understand the impact that it’s already had on your customers, in terms of awareness, loyalty and the various (positive and negative) associations that people have with that brand.

This is great for figuring out how much a company and its brands are worth when it comes time to sell it. For public companies, it also helps to justify the value of the “intangibles” that make up a hefty portion of a company’s total valuation.

Unfortunately, when it comes to measuring the impact of a brand in a way that’s actionable now, it’s not always clear how metrics like these actually help. After all, these measures tell you the result of having had a strong brand for some period of time; they are not telling you much about the actions you need to take to improve your brand equity today, other than reinforcing the status quo for brands that have already “made it”.

The main problem is that none of these metrics move particularly quickly. During my time working with large corporations that managed famous brands, I would dutifully attend quarterly “brand tracking” meetings to review numbers that barely deviated from the previous quarter. While it was mildly reassuring to discover that the brands I was working on were stable, it hardly provided me with much insight about how to increase future brand equity.

The fact is that the “half-life” of brand-building activities are notoriously long and hard to measure. By the time the brand tracking metrics have moved even slightly, so much has happened that it’s almost impossible to discern any kind of meaningful relationship between cause and effect.

Nor do the “new wave” of internet-era branding metrics really solve this problem. Metrics that focus on immediate engagement: clicks, likes, shares and views do provide “real time” data, but their scope is narrow as they focus on getting people’s attention, which is interesting data, but it can’t tell you much about long-term brand health.

So how can a brand manager use data to help ensure that they are taking the correct actions to build a brand in the here and now, without having to wait for years to see if their hard work shows up in brand equity data? The obvious, but often-missed, answer is that we need to include operational metrics in the mix, as a direct measure of brand health.

Data like these are typically a mix of real time survey data (how did we do today?) with diagnostic data on how well a brand delivered on key brand promises independent of customer perceptions of how we did. If speed-of-service is a key pillar upon which the brand rests, then measuring that obsessively is going to give management a more immediate picture of brand health. If a speed-of-service promise erodes due to poor operational performance, knowing this right away is more useful than pondering why your brand loyalty numbers fell a year after the fact.

Of course, many of these operational metrics already exist within organizations. The breakthrough move is to gather and organize these data in a way that ties this information to the critical drivers of a brand’s success. In order to do this, a brand needs to have a strong idea about the experience it intends to create for its customers, so it knows what to measure and how much importance to ascribe to each measurement.

This approach gives management teams data they can act on immediately. It also breaks down unhelpful siloes between “brand people” and “operations people”. It’s an experience driven world, and that means that brand management and operations need to work together like never before to deliver the optimal experience that keeps customers coming back for more.