Many established brands are fighting — and, in many cases, losing — expensive battles against the competition. Retail brands like Sears, JCPenney, and recent casualty Radio Shack might be top of mind right now, but category trends and emerging consumer preferences have numerous brands from across categories on the defensive. Think of the CPG brands found in the middle of the store — often those that aren’t quite cool enough to garner “throwback” credibility, created back when people cared less about health than convenience.
There is a glaring oversight in their arsenal of strategic weaponry, though: advertising measurement. Sure, they’re looking at the numbers. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, endangered brands are not tracking the degree to which their advertising is stemming losses they would otherwise suffer. And what you don’t track, you cannot diagnose and act upon.
Some look only to sales trends to see how they’re doing. But the fact is that even when sales are going down, advertising might still be enabling the brand to hold onto vital consumer segments that otherwise would be lost to competitive brands. If this is the case, the advertising is delivering significant defensive impact — and these insights should be used to inform future advertising plans.
One brand that managed to save themselves based on this type of insight is a well-known, established spirits brand. After decades of enjoying a strong image and stellar reputation as a premium brand, a surge of new competitors hit their business hard. These independent brands — or brands that appeared to be independent but were owned by large corporations — gained sales based on their craft beverage image and hipster appeal. Millennials of legal drinking age, a key growth target for the spirits industry, tend to be big fans of cool brands like this — because they also want to be seen as cool, of course.
The established brand’s reputation and sales were hit hard. The brand team was smart enough to realize they had a long-term uphill battle in consumer perceptions and loyalty, as well as an immediate sales emergency. It was a matter of brand survival, not just prosperity.
So the spirits brand decided to take a hard look at whether — and how — their advertising was working for them. To do this, they deployed a different approach: longitudinal research into who was seeing their ads and how the ads resonated with those people. This revealed that only a small segment of their target consumer audience had actually seen their advertising. But within that segment, the advertising was helping to offset deterioration in their reputation — decay that was clearly occurring among the larger group who were not seeing the ads. So the advertising was working, even if sales figures and overall brand health measures suggested otherwise.
Because what matters is how a brand’s well-being and sales change compared to what the brand’s performance would have been in the absence of advertising. Is the advertising keeping them alive? Is it working surprisingly well in the face of strong headwinds, or is it simply whistling in the wind? With longitudinal research, brands don’t need to pull ads anywhere to run a test/control market scenario. They can also deduce which ads and media buys aren’t pulling their weight, so those elements can be eliminated and spend focused where it will work the hardest.
Without insights that can get beneath the surface of overall trends, a brand could easily conclude their advertising isn’t working when it is. Basing strategy on these flawed conclusions only leads to more loss — as well as errors like scrapping a campaign, firing an agency, or booting the CMO.
Nobody knows how many brands right now — endangered or otherwise — are unaware of the true effectiveness of their campaigns. Misinformed, marketers are making decisions that will cause significant, continued losses in brand health and sales. Unless you’re measuring the right things, you can’t know for sure.