Fame, Feeling And Fluency – The Only Brand Metrics You Will Ever Need

Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer, System1 Group, takes a look into our new System1 Research Brand Tracking model – and explains why we developed it.

There has been a growing awareness in the marketing community that traditional Brand Tracking doesn’t really help much to guide and predict brand growth, and there is desire to see it reinvented from the bottom-up. Why not start with Behavioural Sciences as a guide, because the great thing about science is that it simplifies and clarifies things? And if there’s one area of consumer research that needs cleaning up, it’s brand tracking.

What the Behavioural Sciences tell us is that we humans are fast and frugal in our decision-making. The truth is that people think much less about brands than we, as an industry, previously believed. People don’t evaluate options carefully, but instead rely on mental shortcuts – rules of thumb – to help them decide between options quickly and effortlessly.

There are three key mental shortcuts that help people decide between brands. We call them FameFeeling and Fluency. To our fast-thinking, System 1 minds:

  • If a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice (Fame).
  • If a brand feels good, it’s a good choice (Feeling).
  • If a brand is recognisable, it’s a good choice (Fluency).

These rules of thumb are what behavioural scientists call the ‘availability heuristic, the ‘affect heuristic’ and the ‘processing fluency heuristic’.

Why should these fancy terms be of any interest to a CMO, a CEO or a company shareholder? Because large brands have created these shortcuts in spades and are beneficiaries of them; small brands haven’t (yet) but need to if they are to grow. Taken together, these three heuristics explain market share across categories and regions with an average correlation of +0.9. That’s very explanatory. People hate thinking too hard about which brand to buy and avoid it whenever they can; a truly successful brand is one that people will buy without careful evaluation or consideration. The marketer’s task expressed at its simplest is therefore to create FameFeeling and Fluency shortcuts for their brand, such that it becomes the obvious, automatic, default choice.

The three Fs taken together explain current market share, but it is Feeling that predicts a brand’s future market share. If a brand has greater positive Feeling than its size would suggest (we call this ‘surplus Feeling’), then it will grow the following year. If a brand is coasting on its fame, and neglects its Feeling so that it drops below the required minimum for its size, then it stands to lose share the following year.

So in rethinking brand tracking, we take how a brand performs on the three heuristics and translate the scores into a 1-5 Star rating. A 1-Star brand will have low levels of fame and low market share; a 5-Star (famous) brand will have high market share and be the most obvious choice for most people – an automatic, default choice that requires no deliberative thought. In addition, we assign a star rating prediction for the future, based on the brand’s surplus or deficit amount of Feeling.

Let’s take Tesco in the UK as an example. In null, when it was still a 5-Star brand, we measured a sharp decline in its level of positive Feeling. Suddenly, it becomes a brand with deficit Feeling (Feeling is lower than Tesco’s size requires). With the model we have now, we would have predicted it was going to fall from a 5-Star brand to a 4-Star brand. Sure enough, the following year it lost nearly a percentage point of market share and issued its first profit warning in twenty years. Successive falls in positive Feeling over the next few years, meant that it had half the level of positive Feeling in October 2014 of that it had four years earlier (32% happiness vs 59%). Market share has continued to fall in these years and by 2014 it had indeed sunk to become a 4-Star brand.

But Feeling in 2015 has started to increase again. Tesco is now back up to 40% happiness and Feeling is once more in equilibrium with its size. If it maintains Feeling at current levels, we predict its market share will stabilise; further increases in Feeling will return it to growth.

Above all else, the marketer’s task is to make as many people feel something positive towards their brand as possible. Feeling simplifies and guides decision-making, it provides a ‘lift’ that helps people to decide in favour of your brand over another. Besides share growth, there are many other benefits of having a surplus of Feeling – it enables brands to charge more (‘Feel more, pay more’), provides a buffer against PR problems (think VW) and gives brands permission to extend into new areas. Feeling is what economists might call ‘demand’. If you feel nothing, you’ll do nothing; if you feel more, you’ll buy more.

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