Tracking programs have been a foundation in the marketing suite for decades, serving as an essential ingredient to assess and scrutinize shifts in brand KPIs and consumer attitudes and behaviors.
By collecting data from a static group of consumers on a regular basis, marketers can track and benchmark everything from brand awareness to customer satisfaction to the effectiveness of an ad campaign.
Such tracking studies were once highly popular with marketers and worth the small fortune they cost to run, so why are they being largely brushed over today? Simple: they need to be modernized—and so do marketers' mindsets.
There are several reasons most current tracking programs fall short:
- A big one is that brands leave their trackers stagnant—often for years—not accounting for the fact that the attributes they deemed crucial to measure when the program started are wholly irrelevant to their brand today.
- Another is that trackers gather only quantitative input and don't ask questions to get to the "why." Asking "why" on a regular basis can tell you where your market, competitors, and consumers are going, yet it's seldom done.
- Tracking programs also remain separate from all other listening and feedback initiatives, such as social media monitoring programs. There are too many fertile consumer inputs at play currently to rely on just one. Even some base-level integration could help brands discover trends and test some theories.
- And, finally, a glaring problem is that trackers function as assessments, and offer little forward strategic guidance. Marketers need to understand performance, but they also need insights that help them forge a definitive path forward.
Simply stated: tracking as it's currently approached is outdated. And chances are your years of tracking metrics are too.
Following these five tips can help marketers get their programs back on track.
1. Get unstuck: Change five attributes every two years
For many, adjusting the attributes in their trackers is like deleting their files or emails; they fear they'll delete something that they may need down the road. Or, more likely, they worry that their CEO will ask for something they did away with two months earlier.
However, this trepidation is mostly unwarranted, and maintaining the status quo can cost insights and money. Nine times out of 10, marketers are tracking at least a few attributes that are no longer pertinent to their brand.
Look at where your brand was when you started the tracker, and where it is today, to determine whether it's still a fit. If so, make a plan to refresh your attributes every one or two years: Out of the dozens that you track, select five to come out and five others to replace them.
The marketing and brand strategy teams should understand where the brand needs to go, and can evaluate the tradeoffs and make decisions on which ones to change.
2. Cross-check tracking with social
Most tracking programs today are done without a social layer, yet social is often that early-warning system that identifies gaps between strategy and reality.
Social channels offer a continuous stream of the consumer story. Unfortunately, the insights team tends to manage the tracker, and the digital team does the social media monitoring, and the two happen independently. That won't change overnight, but one simple first step in the right direction is to cross-check queries.
When you see something in a tracker that you're curious about, use it as a query or a monitoring frame and put it into the social system to explain it. Or, I you have a hypothesis you want to explore, test it out on Facebook or Twitter and, if warranted, include it in the tracker to better understand it.
Bringing social insights into the fold helps marketers to more quickly gauge changes and to revitalize the survey portion of their program with more relevant questions and attributes.
3. Add short-burst surveys
If companies like Chobani, Netflix, and Uber have taught us anything, it's that change and upheaval are inevitable. Consumer needs and wants are constantly shifting, and someone is always trying to build a better mousetrap. The first line of defense is early intelligence. Relying on infrequent tracking waves will give you lagging results and put you perpetually a step behind.
How can you ensure your brand doesn't become the next Blockbuster? If you're trying to figure out what's on the horizon, more is, in fact, better. Expand your tracking program to incorporate weekly listening exercises that keep your finger on the pulse. Design and implement short-burst surveys that can supplement your long-term efforts by checking in and listening whenever you see something worth testing.
The net payoff is that doing so will speed up the insight timeline and allow you to be less reactive and more proactive.
4. Conduct micro-listening exercises to 'hear' tone
Many marketers are data-rich and insight-poor: They have numbers and statistics for everything, but they lack the context to understand why things are happening and what action to take.
Traditional tracking programs are quantitative and fail to add the voice of the customer, which is a critical factor in determining the "why" and completing the research story. Capture sentiment and tonality in your tracker program by incorporating qualitative components and micro-listening exercises.
Start by asking a few related, open-ended questions outside your tracker every few weeks and use text analytics to look for changes in how people are thinking and talking about your brand and your competitors. Evaluate the words they're choosing and how they're using them.
For instance, when you ask them to compare your brand to a competitor, do they start off by talking about a product or do they start with an emotion? Those subtleties can be exceedingly valuable in informing your tracking program.
5. Don't just track back, look forward
Too many tracking programs merely report on the data that's collected. They have blinders on, and leave marketers void of the insights and stories within.
Sure, it's important to deliver the charts and graphs, but there is no reason the output has to be colorless. By incorporating other feedback streams, secondary data, and more, it's possible to overlay trackers with a narrative that tells you where your brand, consumers, and competitors are heading.
There's really a mindset shift that needs to happen among marketers. These programs are too costly and resource-intensive to be exclusively backward-looking. Marketers should rethink their expectations and demand these programs answer the question "what do we do?" instead of simply "what happened?"
* * *
The longer you've had something, the tougher it can be to part ways with it. However, relying on trackers as currently constituted—with out-of-date attributes, a single feedback source, and no voice of the customer—can be counterproductive. It's time for marketers to trade rigidity and a rearview look for comprehension and guidance. It's time to give tracking programs a much-needed reboot.