Finding Marketing Metrics That Matter

October 11, 2020

Pamela Forbus remembers when working on a Doritos marketing campaign was a career killer. It was in the early 2000s, sales were slumping, and a “revolving door” of brand managers couldn’t turn things around, she said.

Then one brave brand manager stepped in and asked for six months to make a difference. Armed with marketing insights that drew deeply on consumer behavior, that manager helped Doritos tap into what snackers loved about the cheese-dusted chips, and sales rose.

Forbus held a senior marketing role at parent company PepsiCo at the time. Now the chief marketing officer at Pernod Ricard USA, she looks back on that experience with Doritos as an example of how strong consumer love for a product can bolster brand strength. But marketers have to understand how to build that love if they want consistent, sustainable results. Gathering meaningful metrics – not just vanity metrics — takes time, money, experience and a proactive approach, she said.

“If you’re doing too much research, it’s probably because you haven’t done that hard upfront foundational work,” she said. “Do the work upfront. You won’t have to do so much on the back end.”

Forbus spoke during a livecast of “MSI Conversation,” a new series designed to share the best of academic research and industry expertise (Watch the full video conference using the player at the top of the page). The session, “Understanding the Strength of Your Brand,” was led by Kevin Lane Keller, senior associate dean of marketing and communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Being Truly ‘In Sync’ With a Brand

Keller, an international branding expert and widely cited author on the subject, shared his award-winning Brand Equity Model, which offers marketers a roadmap for creating brands that resonate emotionally with consumers. The model is a pyramid-style hierarchy with “brand salience” as the foundation, and it builds up with “performance,” “imagery,” “judgments” and “feelings.” At the top sits “resonance,” which Keller described as an intense, active loyalty that happens when a consumer feels in sync with the brand. But he emphasized that loyalty isn’t synonymous with engagement; some sales are simply transactional.

“I want my brand to elicit intense, active loyalty; that is my goal as a marketer,” Keller said. “That means [customers] are feeling an attachment … and they have this sense of engagement, all of which create intensity and activity. Activity in and of itself may not be that valuable if it is not relationship-driven in a way that is going to, hopefully, also lead to financial benefits and outcomes.”

Keller deconstructed the model into three key dimensions that marketers can use when assessing brand strength: brand salience, brand feelings and brand loyalty.

Brand Salience

Brands have salience when consumers think about them easily and often “at all the right times and all the right places and in all the right ways,” Keller said. To get there, marketers have to understand the customer’s decision journey, including purchase cues and accessibility of product, and they must build the architecture to facilitate that journey.

Brand Feelings

The most successful brands elicit positive emotions, which Keller divided into two categories: experiential and enduring. Experiential feelings are episodic or transactional, perhaps occurring only during the purchase, while enduring feelings last longer and create stronger connections to the brand.

Brand Loyalty

Optimizing engagement with a brand can lead customers down the path to brand loyalty. Engagement is interconnected with the other dimensions, especially feelings. Strengthening the emotional bonds to a product means consumers are thinking about that product even when they are not using it. Not all customers will be highly engaged, Keller said, but non-customers can be converted to highly loyal customers by working through the layers of the pyramid. “There’s a whole lot to think about here, and it’s really very much linked to the resonance model,” he said.

A ‘Never-Ending Journey’

Forbus, who is in her first role as CMO, said marketers and CMOs often think differently about brand strength, which can create disconnects. CMOs or CFOs generally measure brand strength based on sales, while marketers often use other parameters, such as an increase in social media activity or click-throughs.

“We would call them vanity metrics, to make me feel good,” Forbus said. “I’m not sure they’re tied to business health. So, when [marketers] go in and say, ‘Look, we’re building a strong brand, we should get more budget,’ the CFO and CEO go, ‘Really? We’re actually declining in market share. So, tell me why you think you’re growing a strong brand.’”

But they’re both right, she said. Strong sales are a tangible result of all the intangible elements in the resonance model, including consumer love. Forbus again encouraged marketers to “do the hard work” of finding meaningful metrics that lead to the top of the pyramid.

“You’re constantly exploring new metrics to see if any of them are predictive of choice, predictive of growth, and understanding what are the leading and lagging metrics that you can use to start to build that equation,” she said. “It’s going to be a never-ending journey, frankly, because the market is always changing. The consumer is always changing. Their behavior changes. That whole path to purchase, even in COVID, it’s changed.”

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