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Opinion: Keep your brand health tracking from coming off the rails

Brand tracking can be straight forward, until it comes off the rails. So what best practice rules can you follow to keep it on course.

The optimal length for an online survey should be no longer than 12-14 minutes, which represents a good balance between time to complete, respondent attention span, and a reasonable incentive amount.

If you work in marketing research or brand management, you’ll likely have come across brand tracking studies (trackers). At first glance, trackers seem to be a relatively straightforward methodology for assessing brand health. That is until they start to “come off the rails!”

In this article, Renato Silvestre, Market Insights and Innovation at Savanta MSI, will dive into his top three considerations to keep brand health tracking on course.

Target Audience Representativeness

When starting new tracking programs for clients or taking over existing ones, I usually recommend conducting an initial wave to determine the appropriate sample characteristics and group proportions. If I’m researching consumers, I use data from Census or Pew Research Center to inform targeting; if it’s a B2B study, I use The Bureau of Labor Statistics or another similarly reliable source.

I’ve often seen legacy sample group proportions or data weighting that no longer represent the audiences of interest. Depending on the category, the target groups and their proportions should be assessed and adjusted as needed over time. Bottom line: segments change. Is your sample still representative of the target audience you’re tracking?

Consideration 1: The keyword above is “inform.” More often than not, the final sample composition will differ from the completed interviews due to screening questions, first response biases, over-quotas, survey characteristics, etc. When developing the proportions or weighting scheme, it’s vital to examine profiles of the “first clicks” to the survey vs. completed surveys. The first click tells me how representative the sample looks before screening, self-selecting into the survey, and over-quotas.

Upon determining target sub-groups and their proportions, it’s essential to stratify the recruitment and apply as minimal quotas as possible to ensure consistent sample composition and comparability in subsequent waves.

Survey Instrument Experience & Accuracy

Brand tracking studies have been around a long time, and many have evolved from the early days of the Internet or even longer, from telephone studies.

Consideration 2: Choose the appropriate mode of data collection and optimize the user experience. Your online survey must be concise and user-friendly on both a PC and mobile.

Residential phone services are becoming extinct. In 2017, expenditures on landlines were 17.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; cellular expenditures were 82.4%. What do you think it is now? According to Pew Research, 97% of adults owned a cell phone in 2021, most of which were smartphones (85%).

Why is this important? In the mid-2000s, when I first started tracking devices used, only about 12% of respondents accessed my online surveys via phone. Nowadays, that’s upward of 60%, yet many surveys are not optimized for smartphone usage.

Survey Becomes Too Long and Disjointed

It’s generally accepted in the market research industry that an online survey should be no longer than 20 minutes at most. From my experience, I believe the optimal length is 12-14 minutes, which represents a good balance between time to complete, respondent attention span, and a reasonable incentive amount.

Consideration 3: Focus on the questions that drive brand health equity. I strongly suggest conducting a key drivers analysis to identify the most influential attributes at various points in time but especially at the start. Are you monitoring the right attributes? Avoid making the tracker into a Franken-zero by pasting on “nice to know” questions that increase survey length and lead to a disjointed respondent experience. Instead, make it a Franken-hero by designing the tracker in modules, which contains the brand health KPIs flow with the ability to add current, important topics that come up but don’t have to be tracked ongoingly.

Ultimately, the more protracted and disjointed the survey, the more noise in the data. Vet any potential additional questions rigorously, i.e., does it need to be tracked, or is the burning question of the week more fitting elsewhere? Audit and pressure test your instrument regularly to ensure that the most critical issues are addressed.

If you must add questions, put them after the main brand KPIs so they don’t disrupt flow and context, thus influencing responses to subsequent questions.

Email [email protected] if you have any further questions.