B2B marketers responsible for their company’s brand building are under increasing pressure to demonstrate a return on investment on corporate messaging campaigns. Two underlying factors drive this pressure—one old; one new.
Let’s start with the old. Many B2B companies have an engineering orientation at heart. Their executives often come from a finance or technical background. They are not marketers. They want to see the numbers. They want something that shows that the investment the CMO convinced them to make has moved the needle.
Moving onto the new, today’s digital marketing tools create expectations for measurable results. Marketers can tie website visits to specific ads. Technologies like CallRail can help businesses identify which ads generate inbound calls. Digital marketing falls squarely into the adage that people pay more attention to the things they can measure.
As important as digital advertising is, in many B2B industries, print ads and other traditional marketing strategies remain important channels for raising awareness of the company, its products, and services. The question becomes how to provide data to show that awareness, brand perceptions—and by extension, consideration—have increased because of a brand awareness campaign. Given that corporate marketing is part art, part science—and that B2B corporate marketing budgets are often modest—demonstrating this success can be challenging.
Based on our experience working with B2B marketers to design realistic brand tracking studies, we offer the following broad recommendations.
Select the Right Cadence
Quarterly tracking often springs to mind for B2B marketers when they think about establishing a brand tracking program. They want to show results as soon as possible and to have the ability to make course corrections as needed. However, we caution against this cadence.
It usually takes nine months or more for changes in market awareness and perceptions to register in B2B brand tracking studies. If conducted too soon, a brand tracking study can backfire when it appears that the campaign hasn’t had any impact on awareness or perceptions.
Frequent awareness tracking is more common in consumer markets. The scope of magnitude difference in marketing spend drives this difference. Even a mid-tier consumer brand may spend more on a single campaign than many B2B firms spend on their total annual marketing budget.
Align the Research with the Media Plan
Most B2B branding campaigns have modest budgets and reach. The design of a brand tracking study should take this into account in its sampling plan. If the bulk of the campaign is executed in specific publications or outdoor advertising such as subways, the research should focus on people who have a reasonable probability of having been exposed to the ads.
Online research panels and DIY tools make it easy to field a study. However, if the survey casts a wide net while the campaign targets a narrow slice of the market, the survey results are almost certain to show little or no movement on key metrics.
Anticipate Small Changes
When the marketing team launches a campaign, everyone secretly hopes it will be a smash hit. They cross their fingers for increases in awareness levels of 15%, 20%, 25%. And if the changes are not impressive on their own basis, B2B marketers want at least to be able to say that any change that does occur is statistically significant.
Unfortunately, two interrelated factors make this unlikely. The first is a reiteration of a trend mentioned earlier. Most B2B campaigns have modest budgets and cannot be expected to produce big shifts in awareness and market perceptions. Modest refers to the spend in absolute dollars, not the relative size of the investment for the company making it. For the company it may be a significant spend.
The second factor is that the corresponding investment in the tracking research is also typically modest. This often results in relatively small base sizes in the research. Data with small base sizes often lack any statistically significant differences from wave to wave. That doesn’t mean any changes that do appear aren’t real.
Statistical significance has as much to do with sample size as it does with actual differences between two data points. For example, the difference between 13% and 19% would not be significant if based on a data set of 100 completed surveys. That same difference, 13% vs. 19%, would be significant if the data set had 500 completed surveys.
Track the Story, Not a Single Metric
Because the changes in most B2B brand tracking studies are likely to be small and lack statistical rigor, Isurus recommends evaluating the overall trends holistically. Rather than focusing on individual metrics such as unaided awareness, B2B marketers should look at the overall story within the data. Even if the changes are small, are multiple metrics—awareness, consideration, specific brand metrics—moving in the same direction? What do the changes look like compared to competitors?
Set Realistic Expectations
Collectively, the above recommendations relate to setting realistic expectations—within the marketing department, and with the executive stakeholders who want data that demonstrates an ROI. Something no one wants to do—not B2B marketers, not executive stakeholders, not market research firms—is to have a brand campaign second-guessed because a tracking study reports smaller shifts in awareness than were expected.
Sometimes it simply does not make sense to invest in brand or awareness tracking research. The budget can provide more value in other areas. That said, when B2B firms are committed to their corporate marketing efforts, tracking research can help evaluate and guide those efforts.
If you’d like to learn more about if brand tracking research is a good investment for your firm, fill out our contact form and we’d be happy to set up a call to discuss your specific needs.