Taming The Panda

Brand Trackers are the Giant Pandas of research. They are slow-moving and not particularly clever. They exist on an extremely limited diet of hard to digest data. They are naturally solitary, rarely joining up with other data sets. And getting them to procuce offspring, in the form of useful insights, is an exceptionally arduous and frustrating process. In short, they seem like something of an evolutionary disaster and it’s remarkable they have survived given the pressures of the modern world.

But Giant Pandas and Brand Trackers share another important trait. Enormous amounts of money are spent keeping them both alive. Why? The answer is simple. People like them.

Just as there’s something primally appealing and comforting about a great big furry black-and-white animal, there’s also something primally appealing and comforting about getting a set of numbers which tell you how well you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if they’re based on flawed data, or bogus assumptions about how people make decisions. It doesn’t even matter if they’re no practical use. The numbers are there, they appear reliably, and what’s more they’re pretty shareable in the organisation.

And that’s why, despite many predictions, brand trackers aren’t extinct yet. It’s also why calls to wipe them out are about as successful as, well, calls for a giant panda cull.

But is there a way to do smarter tracking? We think there is.

The metaphor is going to start creaking a bit now, but bear (ho ho) with me. Think about the World Wildlife Fund, the charity with the cuddly panda logo. A lot of money goes to the WWF. Not all of it gets spent on pandas. Most of it gets spent on a huge variety of pro-wildlife projects across a whole host of causes – newts and mole rats and gila monsters – but the pandas are the most high profile.

We think companies should think about their brand tracking budget a bit like the World Wildlife Fund. Absolutely keep the pandas alive – keep your brand tracking going, in a stripped down form, so that you get those numbers every quarter. (Moving from monthly to quarterly is one of the ways you might strip it down). But save money and time by asking only what you absolutely have to, to get information that’s actually useful. Kyle Nel, of Lowes, spoke at the Analytics With Purpose conference about doing this: he managed to get a long, tedious brand tracker down to 5 minutes.

What information isn’t useful, and what is? Obviously every company gets different use out of different parts of its tracker. Behavioural questions – and predicted behavioural questions – are where you can trim a lot of the fat. We are poor at accurate recall of our own behaviour and even worse at predicting it in the future. On the other hand, most of our decisions are fast, easy, and intuitive ‘System 1’ led decisions – so asking about brand salience and emotional response, which help drive those decisions, is likely to be more accurate.

But even if the tracker is your flagship piece of research – like those WWF pandas – most of your budget shouldn’t be going on it. What do you do with the rest? Experiment. Work to understand the real context in which people buy your brand and design practical interventions that might move the sales needle. In-store behavioural experiments, for instance, to test hypotheses about the buying context. Tweaking and optimising your Facebook presence. Trying more emotional communications approaches. The great thing about doing these is that the ones that work should help your slimmed-down brand metrics move in the right direction.

So your panda won’t just be cheaper, it’ll be cuter too.

To find out more about building System 1 brand trackers, tune into our free Webinar on Thursday 8th August. We can’t promise any more awesome pandas but there ARE animal metaphors a-plenty…


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our ad testing tool (Test Your Ad) and our concept testing tool (Test Your Idea) quickly predict the short-term commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing platform which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health.

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