Ipsos Encyclopedia - Tracking Study

Tracking is the generic term for studies that provide measurement over time to update knowledge of brand and competitor performances.

Tracking studyDefinition

​Tracking is the generic term for studies that provide measurement over time to update knowledge of brand and competitor performances. These studies might be continuously in field or they might be periodic, that is waves of research timed to coincide with seasonal cycles or with marketing activities to understand their effect on the brand's competitive status.  

Any study that updates performance over time can be considered a tracking study, even if is only run once year or even less frequently than that. The principle is that the measures and study / sample design are sufficiently consistent for assessment to be made of change over time. 

There are two common types of tracking study: advertising tracking and brand health tracking. Advertising Tracking is primarily concerned with the advertising and in each wave will assess latest creative for cut through, branding, response and impact on brand. To do this well, it includes brand metrics such as awareness, trial and usage, both to trend them and for analysis of the effects of advertising exposure on these metrics. A survey adding more substantial brand understanding and equity or imagery assessments, for example, is more likely to be classed as primarily brand health tracking.  

There is a separate Ipsos Encyclopaedia entry for Advertising Tracking, hence this document focuses on brand health tracking and how this can be enhanced by the additional measurement of advertising in the same survey for analysis of the relationships between the two elements to inform future advertising and brand strategies.

Ipsos Point Of View

​Tracking studies are under considerable scrutiny. Client budgets have little freedom nowadays and tracking, with its regular, large samples, is a high cost item whose value is challenged by finance departments. Hence Ipsos receives demands to deliver greater value from tracking, for the same or even less money. Sometimes Ipsos has to defend the very existence of tracking.

Results from tracking studies should feed directly into brand marketing planning. Today, with a proliferation of metrics on brand performance from sources such as social media, tracking remains essential as a primary source of data that can be used to set brand and comms strategies.

Brand tracking is the fundamental tool for monitoring trends on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the context of market developments and the progress made by competition. This enables identification of strategic brand drivers to communicate and in-market aspects to address.

There are several critical questions that only brand health tracking answers: 

  • How is the brand performing in the market and have there been basic changes in awareness, consideration or usage?
  • How is the brand doing against its targets and objectives?
  • How has this changed and why?
  • How is the brand relative to its competition, and how has this changed?
  • What has been the impact of new product launches or other changes in the market?

More power comes from integrating brand equity and KPIs with communications measurement, in order to identify the impact of activity on key brand measures. If the tracking also has questions about the brand's and/or competitors' communications, it can answer further questions such as: 

  • How are new campaigns cutting through and driving positive consumer attitudes to the advertised brands?
  • Does recall of advertising and other marketing activity lead to improved perceptions of the brand?
  • Do people who recall brand communications retain the right messages from them?
  • How well have communications performed? How can brands continue success? Which elements need improvement or correction?
  • Are better ads starting to wear out and do the brands need to take action?
  • Which media channels and other marketing activities are most effective and which can be better leveraged in future?
  • How are competitors' campaigns performing and what can be learned from their activity?

Owing to the high cost of continuous (or very frequent) interviewing it only makes sense to track continuously if the measures in the survey are expected to change quickly enough to justify regular inspection. Brand Equity and brand imagery perceptions are established over many years of concerted effort and do not change quickly. Hence it does not deliver value to track these elements continuously.

Ipsos suggests that clients conduct deeper surveys on brand equity and imagery drivers once a year because the degree of change is unlikely to warrant more frequent investigation. Also, the strategic direction suggested by these explorations cannot be acted on more often than annually at best – brands cannot amend strategic direction without the risk of disconcerting users.

In typical tracking designs, other modules are appended to the questionnaire for a wave or two waves, to answer specific objectives as they occur. These might be to do with media choices or emotional motivations or other topics which require periodic attention.

Communications performance is worth tracking more frequently, if the market is sufficiently dynamic. Early detection of change can allow corrective adjustment to the comms activities.

Thus a tracking study, either continuous or less frequent such as quarterly, usually focuses on the comms activities, with a few measures to provide core brand monitoring and to allow diagnosis of the impact of the advertising on brand and comms objectives. The goal is to ask only the measures which relate to the objectives of the comms activities and which might therefore be expected to change, based on a schedule where real change could have or should have happened.

Business circumstances should dictate the timing of brand health tracking, connected to brand fortunes, the planning cycle and the need for strategic refreshment. The start of a tracking programme is the right time to check that the study has the right dimensions for monitoring. From then brand tracking can recur at planned intervals, or be instigated when there is uncertainty about positioning or when there are changes to the marketing environment or competitive context that demand reassessment.

The KPIs that are used in brand tracking are mainly in these areas: 

  1. Brand behaviour metrics; these are generally measures such as unaided awareness, prompted awareness, consideration and trial / usage / repeat usage.
  2. Brand equity metrics; these are measures of the brand relationship, identified by Ipsos as Performance and Closeness, and the propensity for the brand to be ranked ahead of other brands  on these dimensions (reflecting how purchase decision are made). Ipsos also looks at how easy it is for people to choose brands at the point when purchase decisions are made. From all these metrics Ipsos models overall Brand Equity. The Ipsos equity model is called Brand Value Creator (BVC).
  3. Brand image or personality dimensions; these are the attributes which distinguish the brand in its category or market and those which it is seeking to communicate about itself. There can also be dimensions which are conditions of the market, on which all brands have to meet a threshold of acceptability.

Ultimately the most relevant KPIs for a client are the objectives that have been set for the brand and its communications. The most important thing to track is the dimensions on which the brand is expected to progress, which should be linked to driving success in market.

Best reading

There are hundreds of relevant books and articles on how brands work, how consumers react to brands, how they make decisions and how brands grow as a function of marketing efforts and other factors.  

Prominent authors and their work include: 

  • Dan Ariely: Predictably Irrational
  • Binet & Field: The Long and the Short of It
  • Briggs & Stuart:  What Sticks
  • Robert Cialdini: Influence; the Psychology of Persuasion
  • Erik Du Plessi: The Advertised Mind
  • Paul Feldwick: The Anatomy of Humbug
  • Robert Heath: Seducing the Subconscious
  • Byron Sharp:  How Brands Grow
  • Anthony Young: Brand Media Strategy
  • Gerald Zaltman: How Customers Think

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