There are several components of brand strength. Depending on your management textbook, they may have different names (like mindshare, affinity, brand recall, or resonance), but they can essentially be boiled down to three questions:
- How many people know your brand?
- How prominent is it in their mind relative to the competition?
- How positively do they feel about it?
It’s easy to see how these are among the most critical factors in terms of how much revenue you generate. If you beat your competitor in terms of overall awareness, more people are going to google (and eventually buy) what your brand sells. If a customer is standing in front of a shelf with five different toothbrush brands, and yours has more resonance and more positive associations than the others, odds are that person’s walking away with your product.
Many factors go into building strong brands, not least of which are great products, strong customer experience, and memorable marketing.
But a key step to building your brand reputation, awareness and strength is knowing where you stand in the eyes of your audience of potential and current customers at any given point.
The old ways
It’s not news that brand strength is important, and companies have been trying to figure out how to track it for a long time.
The traditional method primarily involved focus groups and surveys, as well as some extrapolation from media spends and PR efforts.
Research agencies convened groups of people and grilled them about brands. They might ask participants to rank how positively they feel about certain brands, to apply different adjectives to each, to list all the brands they can think of in a category. Surveys examine questions like this more broadly and usually in less depth. With a well-selected participant sample, research from focus groups could provide solid data points about how strong your brand was in the eyes of a consumer group.
There are, however, significant issues with this type of measurement. The time commitment means that participants are often paid or rewarded, and the fact that they’re paid risks biasing the sample (people might lie about using your product with $100 on the line). Moderators can influence results, statistical significance can prove elusive, and people in certain areas may be hard to study. The best research agencies can eliminate most or all of these issues, but they also tend to be prohibitively expensive for all but the largest brands. And, a survey or a focus group generally provides a snapshot at a given moment in time, but research like this needs to be performed on a regular basis in order to give you a picture of how your brand reputation changes.
Times have changed
Fortunately, new methods have arrived for understanding the strength and reach of your brand reputation. Social media listening allows you to track what’s being said about your brand across millions of possible channels; it can be the keystone of your brand reputation tracking activities.
One of its great strengths is its ability to tap into so many possible sources. For starters, there are the conversations being had by Facebook’s 1.5 billion+ users. With Facebook Topic Data, you can get detailed insights that paint a picture of how your brand looks from the audience’s perspective.
Across other social networks, news sites, personal websites, forums, and much more, people are having conversations that mention your brand and your competitors. By listening to the relevant keywords, you can see who’s talking about you, what they’re saying, and how it compares to your competitors.
Below are 3 essential areas you should consider before you get started on your reputation tracking activities:
#1 – Sentiment Analysis
With advanced sentiment analysis, you know how much of all that is positive and negative at a glance, in a variety of languages. As the ability to process language improves, there is an ever-better understanding of nuanced sentiment, such as sarcasm.
And the fact that these conversations are generally informal, rather than the result of your paying someone, means that they are more likely to be genuine.
#2 – Real Time
The best part: This data is available in real-time. You can track fluctuations on an ongoing basis, rather than waiting months and paying significant amounts of money to commission research projects. Another advantage is that this data can include the context of the discussion—you can look beyond the number of people discussing your brand to see what types of discussions are coming up and the overall tone of how your brand relates to the rest of their conversation.
This means the data is actionable in real-time too. Traditionally, a sudden spike in negative sentiment could happen between research cycles, or it could be too diffuse to show up in a small sample, but still big enough to hurt your brand. With instantly-available information, you have the ability to see, analyze, and react to issues before they spin out of control.
#3 – Beyond Listening
Social listening is such a strong tool for brand reputation because it’s not simply a static report, but a continuous stream of usable insights into what people think about your brand, how much attention they are paying to it, and how it compares to the companies you’re up against.
And, unlike other methods of tracking brand reputation, social listening allows you to intervene directly. Negative feedback on brand channels provides the opportunity for you to jump in and try to resolve any issues the customer is having. When done well, this can improve brand reputation in that person’s eyes on the spot. And you also have the ability to step in when someone says something positive—possibly to amplify it to a wider audience, or simply to acknowledge the person and reinforce positive feeling.
What can you do to make social listening as valuable as possible in terms of brand reputation? Put in place a strategy that will allow you to analyze and act on the data gleaned from social listening. If you’re tracking share of voice, on social or off, brand sentiment, overall mention volume, and core keywords, you need to go beyond passive listening. Set benchmarks for yourself, and relative to the competition. Determine on what schedule you’re going to evaluate progress. And, critically, work on how you can collaborate within your organization to make progress on those metrics using the insights from social.