Syncretism in action: Implications on brand image measurement

13 October 2023

Continuation of the review of four waves of evolution in brand building theories and the interrelated changes in the brand health measurement methodologies.

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syncretism in action implications in brand image measurement

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Syncretism in action

As always, evolution in the world of the advertiser brings with it evolution in the world of research. Sometimes, the advertiser is ahead of research, and sometimes, it is research that leads. This is a reflection of how close the two worlds are[1].

With the birth of the “USP” and “Reason Why, and their focus on a unique message that is different from the competition and can reach the masses comes the need to understand consumers well in the world of brand image, both in-depth (and conversely sporadic) studies and brand tracking are emerging.

The measurement of brand image has changed over the years. In the early 2000s, brand image measurement products were based on Kevin Keller's model. They were extensive questionnaires with a long series of items to be evaluated by the respondents, around four large blocks (performance, judgements, imagery, feelings), some from the emotional side and others from the rational side, with a more basic dimension and a higher one. With the data collected, aggregations were made based on the real and inferred importance to finally arrive at synthetic metrics on the power of the brand. This was the time of “POP” (Point of Parity) and “POD” (Point of Differentiation) analysis, closely linked to positioning. They were, therefore a mixture of the first two waves of thought (product and personality) worked from the concrete results of each item and aggregated to be able to generate KPIs. 

But this type of methodology actually tells us about a conscious consumer (both rationally and emotionally). Aaker, a contemporary of Keller, developed a similar measurement model but began to introduce the concept of association and instantaneous cognitive reaction to consumer decision-making.

This model would come to be surpassed both by Daniel Kahneman (analysing and developing the unconscious processes in decision-making) and later by Byron Sharp. The latter, in particular, would fiercely criticise Keller's idea of segmentation and positioning. 

Of course, this had its methodological reflection. This evolution was operationalised by the South African Jan Hofmeyr, who worked for Ipsos/Synovate and Kantar/TNS. Models such as Ipsos' "Brand Value Creator" or Kantar's "Power in the Mind" emerged. Instead of asking about dozens of attributes, the questionnaire would focus on very few questions (2-3) on consideration set, emotional closeness and product performance. The statistical treatment of the responses would be done using power laws, which is a much better fit with Dirichlet-type markets.

At a conceptual level, what we get as a metric would be very similar to Byron Sharp's mental availability. In addition, the studies incorporated point-of-sale effects, similar to the concept of "physical availability". Some suppliers incorporated elements of behavioural economics in their data processing. We see, therefore, a way of measuring brand image that is fully in tune with the "mechanistic" moment we were living through at the time. On the negative side, the statistical processing required to generate these synthetic metrics sometimes has undesirable effects that take it away from actionability. There is debate about whether "mental availability" metrics are ahead or behind market share, about sensitivity to changes in the questionnaire or about the ability to explain the cause and consequence of movements in the metrics.

And what do we see today? In recent years, we have seen two types of evolution that coexist and support each other.

On the one hand, there have been huge advances in deepening the System 1 decision-making process. We have studies of mental nodes for both brand image and advertising pieces, studies of "iconic/distinctive assets", "category entry points", "demand spaces analysis", "shared of cued retrieval" and other related concepts. These methodologies operationalise and deepen everything we learned about consumers in the 3rd wave described at the beginning of the article. 

On the other hand, brand tracking studies have recovered parts of the elements of the 2nd wave (personality) and merged them with the 3rd wave (mechanistic), again in an exercise of syncretism. One of the great exponents is Kantar's Meaningful-Different-Salient (MDS) model. It is a model that has been around for some time; it did not emerge as a new response but rather coexisted over time with other models. Kantar does not deny Byron Sharp's views. In fact, it embraces them. But it complements them with the importance of brand image and emotions (something Byron Sharp would call ridiculous) in generating pricing power and thus securing long-term growth. By justifying a brand's price premium, the company can continue to invest in communication and sell for decades. At the level of calculations, at first glance, it seems that the treatment is going to be Keller-like, aggregating to arrive at important metrics, but in reality, it is not. It is a hybrid approach between the old Keller and methodologies such as "Band Value Creator" (BVC) or "Power in the Mind" based on potential laws.

Conclusions and future challenges

As already mentioned, one thing is the world of models, and another is the world of daily practice. It could be said that each brand image study or tracking is 100% customised. Each client, together with his research provider, will design the study that works best for them, adding the best of the pieces available at any given moment. Syncretism and practicality.

What we can expect for the future is to continue on the path that has been set for years, with several challenges to face: to understand holistically the relationship of the brand with consumers, understanding both in the short and long term the effects of campaigns on brands. To do this, the measurement of customer experience will also have to be taken into account in the measurement of brand image.

As we began the article, we were trying to address a lot, given the boundaries of the space and our knowledge. We invite our colleagues to continue this conversation either by correspondence or in other forums so that we all continue to learn and thus come a little closer to unravelling the mysteries of the human mind.

[1] Something similar happens in scientific development, where sometimes theory precedes experiment, sometimes it is just the other way around, or most often it is not clear because theory and experiment feed back into each other in a symbiotic way.

Pilar McCrory
Design Research Associate Manager at Accenture Song
Pablo Pérez
Marketing Research & Insights, Ads, EMEA at Google

Article series

Syncretism in action