Your adverts exist to communicate with your customers, and you’re communicating on two key levels: long and short term. In the short term, your ads are telling customers about the new product you’re anxious to sell, your Christmas sale, or the new branch you’ve just opened.
If this was the only purpose of adverts, we wouldn’t have storytelling marketing, stylised adverts or the ultimate evolution of this tendency: the John Lewis Christmas Advert, which now doesn’t feature products at all. Working in the long term, your adverts (along with every other experience of your brand) communicate the values of your brand. They help your customers to construct an identity for your business, a personality that makes it easier for them to relate to what would otherwise be a cold, corporate and legal structure.
You can track the effectiveness of the short term communications by following clicks online and sales in-store – it’s relatively easy to see how effective these ads are and how customers are responding to them as the issue is quite binary: are customers buying your products or not?
Assessing the effectiveness of the brand-building side of your adverts is harder as it operates over time and may not show results after exposure to a single ad or within the timescale or a single campaign. It’s still possible though, and the right testing can get you objective, quantifiable data telling you how your brand is responding to your decisions, and to factors in the market beyond your control.
Brand tracking is one of the most important bits of research you can do (or commission). Some companies perform a single brand tracking exercise a year. Some run continuous brand tracking to watch how customers respond in real-time to their decisions. These surveys ask customers to rank your business for certain qualities you define. These should be the characteristics that define success in your industries and the values your brand is trying to embody. Whether that’s reliability, relatability, value for money or any other quality a brand can carry.
Respondents rate your brand on a scale for these qualities and, crucially, they also rate your competitors. This gives you an insight not only into how strong your brand is in an absolute sense but also how strong it is relative to the people you need to outcompete! You can see how your choices in marketing, pricing and merchandising change people’s perception of your brand, making it appear more trustworthy or less, higher or lower status and therefore start to make better decisions that build the brand you want!