How to Measure Brand Strength Without Investing $250,000

There are less costly ways to crunch some numbers

Companies and executives across a range of industries have at least one thing in common: a need to understand the strength of their brand. It's an essential line item on any executive's agenda because it is a great way to identify your strengths, long-term challenges and audiences your message doesn't resonate with.

Measuring the strength of your brand is especially difficult when:

• Your company is new and growing
• Your target audience is small
• You have several target audiences
• You don't have a large budget set aside for a study

All of these things can be true at the same time, making the challenge even greater. Here's how to solve it.

Get acquainted with Google Trends.

Google Trends is a fantastically powerful tool when it comes to keeping a pulse on your brand and your competitors' brands. It's not perfect, especially for smaller companies that have smaller search volumes, common or easily confused brand names, etc. But at its best, Trends can illustrate the evolution of an entire industry over time, from its birth to slow stability.

When you look at your trends, pay close attention to how you stack up against your competitors, any changes over time, and especially any spikes in interest that you can see. Figuring out what caused those spikes (PR, media, etc.) and whether the impact was lasting can inform future communications planning. Seasonality should also be readily apparent if it exists for you, which can help you plan for low- and high-interest periods.

Use whatever web and app analytics you have.

The number of people who visit and spend time on your website or app is influenced by a number of factors, including seasonality, marketing and communications efforts, organic demand, etc. But those numbers can still reveal valuable information about brand strength when they're tracked over time. 

For example, you can categorize your site visitors into specific categories based on which pages they're browsing. Figure out where the users who are just starting to get interested in your brand are coming from and lean into those channels to help drive higher awareness.

Tools such as Similarweb (which offers a basic version for free) can give you an idea of how the traffic volume on your site stacks up against your competitors. While the data will never exactly match the numbers in your own web analytics suite, it can still provide directional guidance on your competitive strength. 

And if your platform is predominately app- rather than web-based, all of the above applies—just use your app analytics platform.

Get some social listening tools.

If you're lucky, you or your agency already have access to a good social listening platform (and admittedly, the best ones are not cheap). A good analyst can construct a query for you to track mentions of your brand over time to see how much attention you are getting. If you have several major products or business lines, separate queries can be set up to track each through time. 

There are plenty of pitfalls here. For example, if you're running a consumer brand that uses a lot of referral bounties and offers, you'll find that those are often widely shared on social. Such offers generally have to be filtered out to get a good underlying view of brand strength as reflected on social media. 

Try small, affordable surveys.

If a large, longitudinal study is not in the budget, then something much smaller in scope can be used instead. Google Consumer Surveys can field a one-question study with a reasonable sample size for the price of a nice meal. The downside is the limited amount of audience targeting that's possible. It's fine if you just need some basic demographic slices, but not if you have a narrow, hard to reach B2B audience.

Even with a large budget, measuring brand strength is subject to bias, error, misinterpretation and countless other challenges. Slight discrepancies in how you ask questions, or the audience you survey, could yield contrasting impressions of brand strength. 

For small companies without the time and money to work through those difficulties, hacking together a "good enough" solution is a worthwhile endeavor that will tide the company over until it can afford a more sophisticated solution. And when you can afford an enterprise-grade tracker, you'll likely find a lot of options in the space, ranging from tech-driven, always-on tracking to the more traditional, once a year landmark studies. Brands are spoiled for choice.

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Will Burghes
Will Burghes is executive director of data and analytics at Forsman & Bodenfors New York.

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