Perhaps there is no more vital aspect to measure and understand than your brand.
What is it?
What does it stand for?
How do people define it?
Brand sentiment is arguably the most valuable asset for any person, organization, product, or service and is the umbrella image that shapes all other interactions.
It is an evolving asset of a collection of ideas and impressions that can change for the good or bad over time. It’s always shifting based on the internal culture, marketing, strategy, markets, users, buyers, etc. Therefore measuring it over time with different types of brand tracking studies becomes all that more important.
In this guide to tracking brand sentiment, we will cover several topics to help you understand the ins and outs of using market research to measure your brand.
Article contents – jump to:
- What is brand sentiment?
- What is a brand sentiment tracker?
- How does a brand sentiment tracker work, and what are the steps?
- Why is measuring brand sentiment important?
- How do I get started with brand sentiment market research?
Brand sentiment is the fundamental emotions or feelings associated with your organization, product, or service. It consists of and is defined by many conscious and subconscious factors.
A few of the factors that influence or impact brand sentiment include:
- Perception (positive, neutral, or negative feelings toward the brand)
- Word associations (words or phrases that come to mind when thinking of the brand)
If you are struggling to understand the values/associations with your brand consider Aaker's 5-dimensions of brand personality. They include sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. These can be added to the word association questions we use in brand sentiment surveys. The dimensions were published by a Stanford professor in 1997 in the Journal of Marketing Research. She proposed, tested, and validated what later became the most popular brand personality scale in management literature. Here's an article from LiveInnovation.org that explains the concept in depth and gives examples of brands that embody the five personalities.
Several audiences can offer feedback on brand sentiment. Essentially any audience that interacts/touches the brand can formulate a brand sentiment. These audiences might include:
- Investors, stakeholders, or the board of directors
- All levels of employees (leadership, managers, front-line staff, etc.)
- Partners or vendors
- Current customers
- Past or lapsed customers
- Non-customers who fit your target profile/prospects
💡 The Key Takeaway: The definition of brand sentiment is the emotions or opinions associated with an organization and its products or services. All stakeholders influence the brand such as employees, customers, and vendors.
A sentiment tracker in market research regularly measures key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to your brand.
With thoughts and views on brands continually evolving, a tracking study helps your organization stay on top of changes. Much like the header indicates, it monitors, measures, and tracks your brand sentiment using common forms of quantitative market research.
Quantitative research is recommended for brand tracking because it is vital to collect reliable and statistically significant data for the study. There is a place and time for qualitative research, but this is not one of them.
Qualitative research aims to explore topics and emotions. Although you can gather insightful information from a focus group, interviews, or bulletin board on your brand, it will not represent your target audience. Since qualitative sample sizes tend to be lower, the feedback on your brand will be too subjective to make data-driven decisions.
Watch our video for more details on tracking surveys in market research.
💡 The Key Takeaway: Our market research company recommends utilizing online surveys for brand sentiment tracking. This type of market research offers quick, credible, and measurable data to assess over time.
The critical part of a brand sentiment tracker is to measure continually. The intent of the survey is not to be a one-and-done study.
At a minimum, you should conduct your brand sentiment tracker every 12-18 months, while many brands continuously conduct the research (ongoing each week, every month, or every quarter).
The most common methodology for a quantitative brand sentiment tracker is online surveys.
As our research team of experts talks a lot about on our blog, online surveys are the most cost-effective, timely, and affordable way to conduct quantitative research. Online surveys can be leveraged to reach all the audiences you want to inquire about in your research due to readily available emails for employees, customers, and stakeholders.
For non-customer surveys, any brand can work with a market research company like Drive Research to leverage panels and other sample sources to collect feedback.
Our firm (for example) uses our in-house database of vetted contacts across the country, partner panels/databases, and even paid social media ads to reach general populations of consumers. If you are a B2B brand, the process is similar, where we can reach out to vetted business titles/roles/lists.
The systematic process for a brand sentiment tracker typically follows these steps.
Step 1: Defining the objectives and determining audience(s)
As part of this initial kickoff meeting with your team internally or through consultation from a market research firm, you’ll want to define the program's goals, what you want to learn, and how you plan to utilize the market research.
Here you’ll also define which audiences are most relevant for your project.
A random sample of respondents is the most common audience surveyed in a brand sentiment tracker.
For example, if you are a hiking brand, you might target those 18-54 who are decision-makers for purchasing hiking-related products and have hiked in the past 3 months. By using a general outreach with a random sample, you’re likely to get a mix of current customers, past customers, and non-customers.
It creates a representative pool for your tracking study.
In comparison, if you surveyed your current customers, you may get a biased outcome to your brand sentiment.
If they are current customers, they are likely to view your brand more favorably than non-customers or past customers because they purchase from you and purchase from you for a reason.
Step 2: Drafting the survey questions
Similar to the note above, you likely want to include a few screener/qualifying questions to ensure you target the right respondents.
A critical question in understanding brand sentiment is first creating a baseline for awareness.
Suppose the respondent is unaware or unfamiliar with your brand. In that case, they will not be able to offer any specific feedback, including positive or negative connotations, word associations, source(s) of awareness, etc.
The basic outline of brand sentiment survey questions might look like this:
- Screener/qualifying questions to reach your target audience
- Unaided/top-of-mind awareness of brands
- Aided awareness of your brand and 4-5 competitor brands mixed in
- Unaided/top-of-mind word associations with your brand (and competitors)
- Aided word associations with your brand (and competitors) (happy/sad, expensive/inexpensive, etc.): think of synonyms and antonyms
- Perception of your brand and competitors (positive, neutral, negative)
- Open-ended question on why? (related to the score)
- Source(s) of awareness for the brand(s) (TV, social media, etc.): this can help you understand what sources are driving positive or negative awareness for marketing budgets
Something to consider when touching on recall in your brand sentiment tracker is source amnesia is the inability to remember where, when, or how one has learned knowledge that has been acquired and retained. It is particularly relevant for any image and awareness or brand sentiment studies where your surveys ask about the source of recall. A couple of articles dealing with the limitations of consumer memory that may interest you include this piece from Inc. about logo recall and an article from Mashable about the difficulty people have linking brands with ads they recall.
Step 3: Programming and launching the survey
Once the survey is finalized, you would then move to program the survey in your online survey platform of choice. If you are working with a market research firm on your tracker, they will also take care of this for you. If not, here is a programming checklist for surveys.
You’ll create a test link to ensure all questions work as intended. You can upload the contact list for invitations and reminders if you are working with a customer list.
If you are working with a panel, you can set up the redirects in your system to funnel responses to your platform.
You’ll want to ensure you have the right data quality checks and mechanisms to gather a high-quality sample.
Online survey quality checks should include things like:
- IP verification
- Red herrings (more on those, here)
- Monitoring time to complete
- Straight liners
- Reviewing open-ended feedback
There are a lot of options for the number of survey responses.
Some best-practice thresholds include n400 (+/- 5% margin of error), n1000 (+/- 3% margin of error), or n2000 (+/- 2% margin of error).
Depending on how challenging your audience is to reach and the amount of time you have, a market research firm can make a recommendation here.
Step 4: Analysis and reporting
Once fieldwork is complete, you are ready for the final stage of the research. One of the key components of a brand sentiment tracker is a scorecard.
The scorecard intends to visually display the KPIs from the tracker in an easy-to-understand and shareable format. The scorecard measures change over time in your brand sentiment.
Here is an example from our online survey company, Drive Research.
Including competitors in your questions and your scorecard is often a good idea. Although your best benchmark is yourself over time, including several key competitors will give you an idea of rank and best-in-class brands within your category.
A note on awareness. For any brand tracker studies, it helps to understand the difficulty in shifting awareness significantly. Increased brand awareness can often take years to see measurable gains. Brands like Coca-Cola and Ivory Soap took a hundred years to become household names. Brands like Apple spend $50+ million on marketing, and there are likely negligible upticks in awareness year-over-year. In any brand study, it is always important to incorporate other KPIs to measure to ensure you receive useful insights and action items, even if awareness remains status quo to the last wave.
In addition to the scorecard for your brand sentiment tracker, several other types of analysis and insights you can pull from the market research, including the following word clouds, drivers to brand sentiment, and personas.
Visual representations of top words associated with your brand and competitors. These are unaided mentions by respondents where more common words are larger fonts, and less common words are smaller fonts.
Here is an example word cloud from our 2021 client satisfaction survey ratings for our Drive Research brand.
Drivers to brand sentiment
By filtering sentiment by positive and negative perceptions and analyzing themes of comments, you can begin to understand what common traits are driving extremes.
These can become key improvement areas (negative) or points to include in your marketing messaging (positive). You can also create competitive strategies to capitalize on competitor shortcomings in a brand perception survey.
Consider writing a persona of the typical customer/consumer as part of your market research as a value-add.
Take the most common answers and traits and tell the story of what a typical consumer looks, feels, acts like, etc., when it comes to your brand. It can bring a ton of insight, which is a much different story than reading an executive summary narrative or reviewing charts and graphs.
💡 The Key Takeaway: The steps involved with tracking brand sentiment include a kickoff meeting, survey design, fieldwork, and reporting. It can be achieved with a third-party market research company or done internally. Read in-house vs. outsourced market research to help decide the right path for you.
Without any metrics to track your brand, you may be flying blind. Using brand sentiment trackers and market research can help validate your messaging, marketing ROI, better inform budgets, and much more.
A tracking study can help you understand the key metrics that drive your brand forward over time. Although metrics can vary from wave to wave due to margin of error, seeing linear growth is the ultimate long-term goal of any brand sentiment tracker.
A brand lift cannot be guaranteed with the tracker.
There will likely be fluctuations from period to period in the survey results, which fall within the typical sampling error. We encourage all clients to view brand tracking (particularly the KPIs being analyzed in this study) as long-term and have other goals/learnings from the survey beyond ONLY awareness.
Here is an example that showcases the long-term value of brand tracking to prove the ROI of advertising and branding.
Caution should be taken comparing results from A to B. Brand lift is much clearer when compared over multiple data points over a more extended period (A to B, C, D, E, F).
Additionally, a brand tracker can help you understand shifts in a brand driven by crisis, positive PR, and your overall marketing campaigns.
Your strategy and messaging likely aim to communicate a specific mood, feeling, or emotion to your target audience.
You may have a perception of whether or not it is resonating. Still, it’s hard to argue with objective third-party data collected directly from your audiences (employees, customers, prospects, etc.).
A good brand sentiment tracker can help you align and measure all the critical components that make up your brand and the audiences that define it. It is a perfect example of utilizing data-driven marketing strategies.
💡 The Key Takeaway: Without using metrics or data to guide your business, operations, and marketing strategy you're flying blind. Validate your choices by utilizing feedback from key stakeholders and audiences.
First, you’ll want to determine if you want to tackle this long-term, multi-year initiative in-house or hire a third-party research consultant to assist.
We’re obviously biased, but a market research consultant (whether Drive Research or someone else) can add a lot of value to the process.
By using a consultant, you’ll also be able to remove your brand/sponsorship from the study altogether. If a research firm reaches out to your target audience, the respondent will have no bias or influence on the brand results because the sponsor will be blinded.
However, if you send the invites directly, there could be some inherent sponsor or sender bias that may not give you an accurate picture of your brand KPIs.
The process of getting started with a third-party research firm is straightforward. You’ll want to ask for a proposal for the brand sentiment tracker.
It helps to provide the following information when asking for a quote:
- Your critical objectives, what you want to learn, and how you plan to use the results
- Which audience(s) you would like to survey and if you can source the sample or do you need the market research company to source the respondents
- Your timeline for the brand sentiment tracker (when you would like to start). Knowing the frequency of how often you would like to run the study can prove helpful, but the research firm can also make a recommendation
- A budget or the number of responses per study you would like to obtain. It can also be a recommendation from the research consultant. Knowing your budget can be very helpful because the brand sentiment tracker company can adjust the scope to fit your needs (frequency of the study, number of questions, number of responses, type(s) of reports and analysis, etc.
💡 The Key Takeaway: To get started with tracking your brand sentiment, we recommend contacting an experienced market research company to at least get a better idea of pricing, processes, and recommendations. We know a place...
Drive Research is a consultative full-service market research agency based in New York. Our team works with both B2C and B2B brands across the country and the world to assist their organizations with data-driven insights.
To inquire about a brand sentiment tracker for your organization, product, service, or project, contact us using 1 of the 4 options below. Our responsive team will get back to you the same day you submit it.
- Message us on our website
- Email us at [email protected]
- Call us at 888-725-DATA
- Text us at 315-303-2040
George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX-certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.
Learn more about George, here.