Where have all the brand communication trackers gone?

If you had to pick your favourite marketing research tool, what would you pick?

I would pick continuous brand communication tracking, the monthly version and let me tell you why.

The benefits of brand tracking are many. But there are two main reasons why I think it is the most useful research methodology in a researcher’s toolkit:

  • 1) Brand communication tracking is like the Sword of Damocles on a brand’s performance. Ever present, always creating healthy anxiety to watch for the competition and track the immediate impact of all media activity.  The monthly tracking data puts the brand team into the driver’s seat and help them carefully ride the campaign to success, increasing investment when the campaign impact is low, or accelerating even further when the impact is soaring.

In the absence of brand communication trackers, marketeers depend on their media agencies to execute the campaign as they see fit, while they wait for the ROI measurement that is to come in 3 to 6 months.

  • 2) The monthly cadence provides an excellent opportunity for insights teams to connect with brand teams and have a reflection on how the campaign is doing vs the other players in the market.

In the absence of brand communication tracking, brand teams are now using social media platform data to track immediate campaign reactions. However, this is a 2D view and considers the brand in a vacuum. It does not provide a full picture of the industry but rather compares the campaign performance vs the previous campaign/period. In time, there is a risk that the competitive lens will erode and performance reviews become myopic.

So why have they disappeared?

Once the bread and butter of the market research industry, now they are nowhere to be found. But how did brand communication trackers lost their glamour?

Before year 2000, a typical national representative, brand communication tracker would have a sample size between 400-600 and it would be reported every month.

During the economic recession of 2000 and 2001, many multinational companies decreased the sample size of their brand communication trackers dramatically, some by even 50%. In order not to create data fluctuations, reporting frequency was also decreased.

According to my observation, this is the time when brand communication trackers got the first hit. The decrease in reporting frequency weakened the sense of urgency, got the monkey off our backs. The brand teams now had to wait between 3-6 months to get their ROI calculations to track campaign performance in which time we would have already moved to their next project.

“Out of sight, out of the heart”

A Turkish saying

It is said that the next stage of brand communication tracking is in the social media listening area. Well this is another topic for another day 🙂

Do you think brand communication trackers should be revived?

Client vs agency side researcher

Migration in the market research industry is from agency to client side, right? Like me, many of my agency side friends have switched and stayed on the client side for good. But why?

I tried to list the advantages of working on both sides and came up with four advantages for each.

Advantages of the client side

  1. Being closer to the business impact is one of the main advantages of the client side. It is definitely the most important one for me. Being a client side researcher enables you to track the results of marketing activities and validate and improve your recommendations and estimations frequently. An agency side researcher, on the other hand, rarely gets in-market data or a detailed campaign evaluation.
  2. You become a specialist in your chosen industry and get a strong sense of awareness in your own expertise area. This enables you to become a thought leader and be sought after when there is a problem to solve. Due to your specialization, you may also start to earn more.
  3. You become skilled at influencing without authority. As an expert in the industry and carrying the voice of the consumer, it is easier to establish yourself as an expert and impact your organization. An agency side researcher cannot establish herself as quickly. 
  4. Client may not be always right but it is a customer centric world out there. How many agencies have you heard slamming the door their client’s face? (I personally heard it only once.) 

Advantages of the agency side

  1. The most important employee to a company is the one who directly impacts the income. In a research agency, they are the researchers. Client side researchers, on the other hand, are a cost item and are referred to as a support function (a sub category) and usually report to the marketing function.
  2. Agency side researchers will broaden their knowledge across many topics. This will enable them to see the bigger picture, ask the right questions, challenge ideas and assumptions and frame the problems easily. They can also draw solutions from other sectors and provide innovative ideas for their clients. Such a broad view is especially valuable at the early stages of your career. You can sample different industries in a short time and pick the one you want to settle in.
  3. They are not bound tightly by one client. They have more flexibility to change their clients if the chemistry is not there. The projects are usually short lived and provides an outlet in between. Client side researchers, on the other hand, cannot change their marketing teams as easily. Moreover, their year end review will include ratings coming from their internal clients. We all know how hard it is to satisfy a customer right?
  4. A research agencies contact list is gold. Research buyers are usually big, multinational firms and they will run a research or two with your agency within a year. An agency side researcher who can use this network effectively can create business opportunities for her company and career opportunities for herself.

If you can think of other advantages, please add to the comments and we can grow this list together for young researchers who are still undecided which way to go.

Researcher interview with a career center

WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION?

I am a client-side marketing researcher.

HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN A MARKET RESEARCHER?

26 years

IF YOU WENT BACK IN TIME, WOULD YOU CHOOSE MARKET RESEARCH AGAIN?

Definitely yes.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A MARKET RESEARCHER?

Initially, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. 3 months long internship in a news room proved me wrong. I found journalism to be too extraverted and risky for my liking.

Market research, on the other hand, is a more introverted profession. At least, that is why it suited me inthe beginning.

YOU MENTIONED YOU ARE A CLIENT-SIDE RESEARCHER. COULD YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IS A CLIENT- SIDE MARKET RESEARCHER?

In the market research industry, there are two types of researchers; those who work on the agency side and those who work on the client side. In my first 9 years, I was an agency side researcher, in 2005 I switched to the client side.

An agency-side researcher spends her time managing research projects from start to end. She writes proposals, designs questionnaires, controls fieldwork, analyses data, writes reports, presents the findings, and makes sure that her client is willing to work again with her agency.

A client-side researcher comes into the picture once the project is completed on the agency side. She approves the report, links the findings to the business context, works with internal stakeholders to make sure the findings are put into action and tracks the performance of these action to ensure that the business results are improved.

WHAT IS IT YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT BEING A MARKET RESEARCHER?

I love that the questions are never the same. Every brand comes up with a new challenge and a new hypothesis to test. If you love to learn new things, this could definitely be the profession for you as learning never stops or even slows down in our industry.

WHAT ARE THE HARDSHIPS OF BEING A MARKET RESEARCHER?

Long working hours, especially for agency-side researchers. We mostly work against very squeezed timelines, changing agendas and hypothesis which requires strong problem solving skills and flexibility to change wheels while riding the bicycle.

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO A NEW GRADUATE WHO WANTED TO BE A MARKET RESEARCHER?

Get an internship asap. In 2 months you can easily understand if this profession is for you or not.