Marketing Forensics: Brand Reputation Assessment

Posted on February 3, 2009

In this post, we explore some easy ways marketers can assess their brand reputation to aid in strategic planning.

This is a follow up to an earlier post acknowledging that if marketers wish to develop plans to meet future goals (“Point B”), it might be worth understanding where you’re at today (“Point A”).

There are two exercises we like to perform during the first ninety (90) days of a client engagement:

(1) Metrics benchmarking – understanding the financial performance of existing marketing activities

(2) Brand assessment – understanding the gap between the brand promise and the brand experience

Gaining a clear understanding of these two areas enables us to begin the process of improving both.  In general, the metrics benchmarking is a quantitative exercise (described in multiple posts on this site), while the brand assessment is somewhat more of a qualitative exercise.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking the latter is some “touchy feely” waste of time, because it sets the course for how Operations and Marketing will need to work together before meaningful participation in the social web is possible.

We call these two steps “Marketing Forensics” because they are literally analogous to a crime scene investigation.  While we’re careful to listen to our client’s “view of the world” in terms of their brand position, marketing success, customer tendencies — we also prefer to gather primary data from those who interaction with the client’s brand.  This “brand audit” gives us a more complete (albeit not conclusive) picture of the health of the brand and the size of the gap between what is promised to customers and what is actually delivered.  Simply put, we’re in the gap closure business when it comes to this aspect of the client’s business.

While I could devote an entire seminar on tools and techniques, I want to list a half dozen areas for you to think about in conducting your own brand audit:

(1) Interviews – your employees, suppliers, & customers

(2) The blogosphere 

(3) Journalists in your industry

(4) Your competitors (find out who they compare themselves to in their ads & selling — is it you?)

(5) Former employees (if they leave your company, which brand do they seek as a new employer?)

(6) Third party satisfaction/ratings organizations (e.g. JD Power, Consumer Reports, etc.)

(7) Industry trade associations and awards panels

In each of these areas, you want to either read/listen to what they are saying about your brand (and taking careful field notes for later correlation) — or you’re talking directly with these information sources to ask questions about their perceptions of your brand across a range of interactions and topics (product quality/value, quality of staff, customer service, accessibility, community involvement, corporate ethics, willingness to recommend your brand, willingness to buy your brand, etc.)

It’s one thing to say “….hey, we don’t have a high incidence of customer complaints” to actually digging into the details to discover why your customers may or may not be willing to recommend your brand.

Spend the time to get this right while you’re quantifying the metrics benchmarks, and you’re on the way to establishing the foundational components of a winning marketing strategy.

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