Time to get touchy-feely

Helen Edwards
Helen Edwards

LONDON - The BrandZ top 100 is one of those annual rankings that hit brand owners whether they like it or not, boosting egos here, raising eyebrows there, plunging whole departments into gloomy intro­spection if the news is bad.

Other surveys may pop up through the year, but the BrandZ list of the top 100 global brands is one marketers take seriously, such is the thoroughness of its underlying methodology. The BrandZ machine crunches through a huge database of inputs from more than 750,000 global consumers to spew out metrics of such sophistication that Millward Brown Optimor feels compel­led to give them catchy, trademarked names: Brand Signature, Presence, Bon­ding, and the scary-sounding Voltage, with its remarkable accuracy in predicting future share.

Measurement is good, and the more accurate it is, the better, but its purpose is to guide action. What do you actually do if you're Nivea, Canon or KFC, all of which find themselves sliding down this year's rankings? Here, BrandZ off­ers less illumination, other than to exp­ose the gulf between knowing and doing. More alarmingly, there's some­thing about BrandZ that can give mark­eters an unrealistic sense of control.

Those finely calibrated metrics and the beguiling precision of those bar-grids can make you think you're up there in the brand cockpit, with your hands on all the right corrective levers: ‘Trim the Presence, ease forward on the Bonding, and we'll climb through this market turbulence and level off at a higher-value altitude.'

The reality eventually dawns that the skills required to address brand drift have more in common with the touchy-feely awareness of the cabin crew, so you'd better get back there and muck in. Capital-B Bonding, which is a marvel of arithmetic extrapolation, can only be improved by small-b bonding, which is an all too-human muddle of emotions, proclivities and contradictions.

This necessary lurch to the other end of the skill-set has been the undoing of many a metric-focused marketer, seek­ing certainty where none exists. Emot­ional bonding calls for the judgement to make creative leaps, the courage to put authenticity before short-term commercial gain, and the wisdom to understand what connects people acr­oss vastly different cultures.

BrandZ can't help you now, with its homily-like advice such as ‘the most successful brands are underpinned by trust and recommendation'.

What can help is a better approach to qualitative research, which means embracing some of the tech­niques that have been pioneered in the academic world.  Market-oriented eth­nography is often talked about, but rarely used prop­erly. Depriv­ation research, where prac­tical, can pro­vide the wonderful surprises to fuel the creative mind. A more recent add­ition is co-operative inquiry, a form of action research from the social scien­ces that erases the line between resear­cher and respondent. All three are capable of revealing insights worthy of the name, upon which bonding, and all the rewards
that go with it, can be built.

Marketers tend to swing either way. Witness the spec­ulation ov­er how Uni­lever's P&G-trained chief exec­utive, Paul Polman, will enc­ourage a more metric-driven market­ing app­roach than the recently depart­ed, brill­iantly intuitive Simon Clift. Metrics vs intuition should not be a marketing debate; modern marketers need to em­body both. Then they can stare fearless­ly into the gulf between knowing and doing, and start to build a bridge.

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