Building a successful company is hard, really hard. There is a reason that nine out of ten startups fail.
The holy grail for all companies should be to start generation traction. After all, traction is the best way to improve your chances of startup success. Traction is a sign that something is working. If you charge for a product, it means that customers are buying. If your product is free, it means your user base is growing.
Traction is powerful. Any problem you might be facing as a company is easier to tackle when you got traction.
In other words, traction trumps everything.
And while it is easy to measure more people buying your product, it is a different story if you want to measure your brand awareness is growing. How the traction of your brand is happening.
In previous posts we talked about the different building blocks of a brand, we talked about finding your ideal customers, we talked about creating your brand story, we talked about finding a name and a logo for your company, building a visual brand and your brand voice. But all of these different building blocks of your brand have been mostly untested for now; they are still assumptions.
If you want to grow the awareness around brand you need to start running tests and validating the different building blocks of your brand. Eric Ries coined the term “validated learning” in his book the lean startup:
Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high-quality goods. The unit of progress for Lean Startups is validated learning, a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty.” – Eric Ries
When building a lean brand, we need these same principles to measure our success. After all, a high equity brand gives you many advantages.
In addition to the obvious benefit of driving market share, a strong brand can command a price premium, augment customer relationships, ensure successful line extensions, and help an organisation attract talent to name a few.
In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of building brand awareness and how to measure it, so that you can add structure and success to your brand building efforts.
The three pillars that make a brand
Before we can start to measure though, let’s first map out all the different components we have that make up our brand.
Every brand consists of three major pillars.
The Story, the Symbols and the Strategy.
All the various elements we build in previous posts can be mapped out on a simple canvas that we call the Branding Components Canvas
Now that we’ve got all the elements in place, we can start to figure out how we can measure the potential success of our brand and see if our brand gets any traction.
Measuring your brand building progress with the Brand Building Progress Report Board
We need a good way to record our progress though. Through years working and teaching lean startup experiments, the Startup Foundation in Rotterdam came up with the Progress Report Board already in 2013, to quantify and measure your lean startup experiments, with a few adjustments we can easily adapt the progress report board to measure and validate your different branding components. That’s why we want to introduce the Brand Building Progress Report Board.
This board will help you keep track of your assumptions, the experiments you ran and how you measured them and at the end the results of your experiments and what your next steps will be.
But first things first, why measure at all?
Why would I be running brand traction tests?
When you’re starting out with the building blocks of your brands, you make a lot of assumptions (aka hypotheses) about who your target audience is and how they like to be talked to, about the colours and other visuals that spark a connection with your target audience, etc.
Every marketing goal, brand traction included needs a strategy, and every strategy must be measured to determine:
- Whether it is working
- How well it is working, and
- How to fix what is not working
Brand awareness and more importantly brand traction are important things to measure, after all, the greater the traction you have as a brand, the higher amount of brand awareness you’re getting, the higher top of mind you will be and the higher your sales are likely to be.
Does your target audience know your name, what you sell, what you as a company stand for? Is there a desirable set of people you’ve yet to connect with? Measuring these things will not only show you what people think of your company but also where you could be better allocating your time and money to get a bigger exposure.
So, your most important task as founder, as a brand builder is to make these assumptions explicit and test them. By doing this, you reduce uncertainty and the risk building that true connection with your audience that might help them turn into your first customers and in the end into true brand ambassadors.
Assumptions are all the things that need to be true for your branding to work. It’s very easy to list these once you shaped your initials thoughts using the Brand Components Canvas.
When you have your list of assumptions, you need to identify the most important thing that needs to be true for your brand to work, to start building that connection. That’s the assumption or hypothesis you will test first.
For example, you might think that the target audience of your product or service is generation Y, while in reality, it is baby boomers. There is a significant difference on how to talk to them and where you can find them online.
Keep in mind that you might have to throw away all other assumptions on your Brand Components Canvas if your most important assumptions turn out to be wrong. If you’re wrong, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board (aka the Canvas) and rethink the building blocks of your brand.
Be aware of vanity metrics
There are two things you need to keep in the back of your mind though, the first one being vanity metrics and the second one being almost an example of vanity metrics raising just awareness.
First off, vanity metrics. Vanity Metrics are numbers or stats that look good on paper but don’t mean anything important, or as Eric Ries says:
If you get caught up tracking things that don’t matter you’ll look back after a few years and see how much energy you wasted maximising stats that don’t matter.
Looking at any industry though, there seems to be a significant consensus of what it is that is the driving force of any successful business, and that, are customers. So the thing you want to focus on with all the efforts that you’re doing, with all the work you’re putting into building your brand, is what does this do to my bottom line, to me getting more customers.
You want to focus yourself on actionable metrics or statistics that tie to a specific and repeatable task you can improve and to the goals of your business. If a metric is not actionable and you can’t do anything to make it better then why are you tracking it?
In the past marketers would easily enough “historical data” to suggest that there is an indirect relationship between an increase in awareness and a corresponding increase in sales.
There probably might, but as Sean Ellis (the person who coined the term growth hacker) writes on his blog, awareness building at a start-up stage is a waste of resource, which makes sense based on the vaguely identifiable relationship between awareness and sales.
So, for now, we’re going to park awareness in the “vanity” ballpark and purely focus on traction.
The efforts that you do in regards to your brands need to deliver enough traction that gets you new customers, that allows you to keep them, and finally, that will enable you to grow them into even more sales.
Steve Blank and Bob Dorf came up with this idea, also known as the get, keep and grow (GKG) tactics of Customer Development. After all, a successful business needs robust strategies not just to win new customers, but to maintain their loyalty and, ideally, grow their purchasing or influence.
- Get: Employ awareness and acquisition tactics while reducing customer acquisition costs.
- Keep: Reduce attrition and retain customers via loyalty programs, product updates and quality service.
- Grow: Increase customer lifetime value by upselling, next-selling and cross-selling.
The different stages of brand success
Now that we know the importance of running a brand test, we need to define at which stage of brand development your brand is. As a brand building you can recognise six different stages of development for your brand, all the way from a low equity or unformed brand towards a high equity or fully formed brand:
- Consumed & Satisfactory
These six steps can also be perfectly aligned with the GKG tactics of Customer Development, as each stage requires a different marketing priority, starting with the basic awareness stage and concluding with building customer loyalty so you can grow your customer base and increase their loyalty.
Stage 1: Your brand should be recognisable
Half the battle in building a trustworthy brand is for your potential buyers to recognise your brand or say “Yeah, I’ve heard of them”. The standard measurement for this stage is aided awareness. Having a low aided awareness requires you to get your name out, this can be done via (traditional) advertising but also via the usage of content marketing and especially guest posting.
Stage 2: Your brand should be memorable
After people start to recognise your brand, the next logical step is to become “top of mind”, so that your target audience may start to consider your offering as part of their evoked set of purchase options. Almost like the previous step where we used aided awareness, in this stage, we’re using unaided awareness and top-of-mind awareness within your product or service category as the level of familiarity.
At this stage just putting general (educational) content out there is not enough to help your brand move to the next level is content that educates people about your brand, such as the type of products or services your brand is offering.
Stage 3: Your brand should be favoured by your target audience
At the next level, your audience should start to view your brand as THE brand that meets their needs. This includes a basic trust in your brand, your beliefs and your value proposition. Your brand should be perceived as the best in class. You can measure how favoured your brand is by using NPS scoring, where people are rating your product or service on a scale from 1 to 10, based on how much they would recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague.
If you lack in this area, you need to start building more trust and respect through your messaging. Your message may be related to your value proposition, emphasising features, or it may directly establish credibility for your brand through the ability to meet your customer’s needs.
Stage 4: Your brand should be distinctive
When the consumer or prospective buyer is ready to start buying, they will choose the brand that fulfils the promise they desire, but just that desire is not enough to drive their choice. Your brand promise should be distinctive and unique. Otherwise, you risk the fact that your brand will be commoditized.
People perceive brands at both a functional and an emotional level. While your value proposition and your brand promise are mostly in the functional spectrum, brand components like your brand personality, your brand hero’s journey, the typography and colour used, your logo and imagery etc. are more in the emotional spectrum.
Trying to measure the distinctiveness of your brand can be done through quantitative image rating. Where you rate your brand and your competitors on a series of carefully selected image attributes.
Stage 5: Your brand should be preferred
Two steps further than your brand being favoured by your target audience comes the stage where your brand is the preferred brand or choice of your target audience.
Deep awareness and a clear and distinct value proposition will help you to translate your brand into a preferred brand with your prospective buyers. At this point, it becomes easier and easier to measure the effectiveness of your brand. Because at this stage there is already behavioural buying intent with your target audience. I
If your brand is not yet at the level of being preferred yet, but your audience does believe in your promise, your value proposition and all the other treats that make your brand, you might need to encourage buying intent by offering a trial to shift those purchase inclinations.
Stage 6: Your brand should be consumed by your market, and they should be satisfied
Of course, even the best brands in the world sometimes mess up a little, your customer could get that one bad item in a batch of perfectly great product. And while an excellent product or service starts to build its momentum through referrals (building that viral loop from the GKG tactics of Customer Development), the short-term results for a low satisfaction is that there will probably not come a repeat purchase and it will be difficult to grow your customers.
The long-term impact of satisfaction is, of course, the maker or breaker of the perception of your brand. As a result, you should be continuously measuring and asking questions about consumption, satisfaction and willingness to recommend (there come that NPS again).
If your brand is suffering, work needs to be done to improve product or service quality.
Measuring brand traction
When looking at overall traction, it seems fairly easy to measure different easy quantifiable items like:
- How much does it cost to acquire a new customer?
- How many registered users are converting into paid users?
- How profitable is my business?
But when it comes to something that is mostly being seen or felt even on an emotional level such as branding, how can you start measuring if you’re getting any traction?
Thankfully thanks to the digitalisation of the global economy we’re now living in a time were brand communication channels can be measured for impact. Where in the past brand communication strategies seemed almost impossible, and most of the branding components you’ve built over the last posts could only be tested by using your gut feeling.
Now, almost every platform, almost every service has some form of analytics build in. And what better way to determine if you’re getting any traction by looking at this data to see the immediate reaction and response people are giving to your brand components, to your brand strategy.
That most essential response you’re of course looking for in the end is conversion. In trying to understand how much our branding and marketing strategies are helping the client move down the conversion funnel into an actual customer, we will need to figure out how much of a pull they are generating.
If you examine how strongly your audience is reacting to your product or service concerning your primary goal of conversion you can have a relatively good understanding of how effective the different branding components are.
So whatever test you decide to run and whatever numbers you’re looking at, always make sure there is that clear connection between your brand’s main revenue stream and the brand component items you’re testing. Otherwise you may just end up looking at some nice vanity metrics, and in the end, you’re fooling yourself.
Easy items to think of that you can use as excellent testing grounds straight away are your landing pages; there are lots of different branding components on there that you can start testing straight away.
In short, the question you would like to get answered is:
“Does any of my branding and marketing efforts trigger conversion?”.
If you keep that question in the back of your mind, you are safe.
How to use the Brand Building Progress Report Board to track your branding experiments
Okay enough with the theory, time to put on our lab coat and start designing experiments and tracking how well our banding components are performing and helping with our ultimate goal. Delivering a better ROI and a higher conversion for our product or service.
Let’s have a look again at the Brand Building Progress Report Board and guide you through how you can use it to design your experiments.
As with any good experiment, you start out with the basics; you write down which of your branding components you’re going to test and what the date is when you start with your experiment.
Next up are customer segments, or your different buyer personas. When working in a team, have each team member write out one customer, decide which of the customers you’re going to focus on for this test and write it down in the buyer persona section.
Now that we’ve got the basics covered it is time to start thinking about the assumption you want to test, the hypothesis is just the statement that you want to get validated for.
For example, this could be your brand personality, or it could be your Unique Value Proposition. Your brand personality, reflects in the way you write your copy and present yourself online, so what statement can you make about it to test your brand personality?
For example: If we write our copy in a more joyful and simple matter our target audience would understand our product better, and that would lead to more sales.
Or, let’s take the example of Inbound Rocket, our Unique Value Proposition is:
For small and medium businesses
who struggle to get qualified leads from their website
our product is an easy to install WordPress plugin that helps turn anonymous website visitors into valuable and qualified leads.
We’re assuming; this will set us apart from our competitors who are more difficult to operate and require custom platforms instead of the WordPress website you’re already having.
After that comes your Branding Hypothesis. You need to come up with a correct hypothesis of what it is you’re going to test for you to be able to validate your assumption.
If we do X, then Y% of customers will behave in way Z.
Although it might sound almost the same as your assumption from the first step, this is the first step into making it more quantifiable.
As with our example; we’re going to change the copy on our landing pages to reflect our assumption. This will then reflect in higher conversions.
Time for our experiment itself, what type of experiment will you run to test your assumption and hypothesis?
And what will be the measurable behaviour and target metrics or success criterion for your experiments? For how long will you run it?
Once the experiments are over, be sure to record your results, as well as all the learning and insights you got from running the experiment. Based on the results, you need to make a decision.
Did the experiment validate or invalided your assumption? And what will you do? Will you pivot or iterate? If so, start from the top again with a new assumption (or keep the assumption the same but change the hypothesis) and run another experiment, by starting from the top again.
You can then use this new data, to make your next decision. This process will keep on repeating itself till you’re happy with the results.
If the experiment was a success, you can persevere and start creating a new board for a new branding component to test.
The easiest way to use the Brand Building Progress Report Board is to print it on A1 sheets of paper. Stick it on the wall, so it is visible for the entire team and then use sticky notes to fill in the individual boxes.
Sticky notes are ideal equipment for writing down your thoughts because the small size of the notes forces you to be concise. It forces you to break your problems into small enough components that you can run successful experiments without losing track of the goal and potentially sidetrack the experiment. The idea of keeping all experiments on one canvas makes you able to see all iterations of your experiments at once, so you can quickly make connections between multiple insights and get a true sense of your progress.
Not enough convincing data? Time to try split testing
Sometimes, however, when running an experiment, even though you set up a great experiment, follow all the steps, etc. you might end up with a test result that isn’t convincing enough yet to draw a hard conclusion. The data is there, you’ve seen something moving, but it is not strong enough yet to convince you. What to do?
Split testing, sometimes also referred to as A/B testing (or when testing more than one variation multivariate testing) is a great to take your experiment to the next level. This way you can conduct a controlled, randomised experiment with the goal of coming to a better conclusion to see what converts better.
Digital marketing really revolutionised how you can test and improve your brand quickly. Split testing is an ideal way for you and your brand to test different variations of a branding component. By sending incoming traffic to your website or landing page to two variations, the original version (or control version) and the different variations without any of the visitors knowing that they are part of an experiment. You then compare the results of each variation to determine which variation showed the biggest improvement.
Ideal testing places to for this are social media (using ads), landing pages, signup forms, or any other part of your website where a measurable goal can be improved.
In our branding component setup, they offer an ideal situation as well, where seemingly subjective choices can be made objective. The data collected from these experiments will either support or undermine your hypothesis on which you can make objective decisions on how to move forward. After all, demonstrating Return On Investment (ROI) is easy when tests are created with a quantifiable goal in mind.
Using the right tools, almost everything can be set up for a split test on your website, that means for testing out your branding components you’re in luck. You may try testing:
- Visual elements (like pictures, videos, and colours)
- Text and copy (think of headlines, calls-to-action, and descriptions)
But also more general items like:
- Layout (like the arrangement and size of buttons, menus, and forms)
- Visitor flow (how does your visitor get from point A to point B).
When you start split testing on your website be sure to include some best practices. The fewer different elements you have on a page, the fewer distractions you have in regards to your conversion goal. You should always aim for the global maximum; testing with the overall goal of figuring out if your branding components are working and not just the goal of an individual page and finally, you should always deliver a consistent experience. Make sure that the visitor has a consistent flow to improve conversions at every step of the process.
Using split tests, you’re performing a controlled experiment; it’s a methodology that can be applied to more than just web pages. It originated even with direct mail and print advertising campaigns. In those days they used different phone numbers on the ads and direct mail to track which version was performing better.
But no matter where you apply it, it is a great way to test quicker and with a higher level of accuracy anything worthwhile testing. And when applied properly it can move your brand experiments to the next level.
There is no right way to learn. There is only not learning
As Steve Blank used to say:
a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model
But not just startups any business that is just starting is also searching for relevance. To become relevant and to become the preferred brand of choice with their target audience.
There used to be a time when all the efforts you put into branding where just wild guesses and there was no way to measure your efforts objectively. One of the core items the lean startup thought us that humans have difficulty taking an objective view, to take a bit of distance from your assumptions and realise indeed they are assumptions.
There is hardly any product imaginable on the web anymore that doesn’t offer any analytics build in. This analytics can help you bridge the gap between branding investments and their returns.
By using these build in analytics and by using the different tracking options in ads, in emails, on websites, you can follow you’re customers and prospects across the web and measure all the branding efforts you’re taking and their impact on your ROI.
Running experiments is the core for any organisation to keep on evolving and to keep being relevant. Experiments like the one mentioned above can create insights for any startup or company as long as they produce measurable and insightful validated learning.
The goal of any experiment is to test the assumptions you’re having in such a way that you can get the proof for that gut feeling you’re having and know you’re on the right track.
Although there is no right way to learn, not learning at all is even worse. By validating your assumptions, by settings up experiments for continuous learning, you can make sure that you’re organisation is on a winning track. The Brand Building Progress Report Board can help you track that progress and help you to move forward.
To help you determine what you should test, take a look at your business and the branding components sheet. What is known versus unknown, what assumption you think are having the biggest impact on your business? Start with the ones that you think have the biggest impact and takes the least amount of effort to test and move your way upwards from there. Decide the different ways you can run the experiments if the results are strong enough for you to validate or invalidate your assumption go to the next one, if not try to come up with a different experiment to prove your right or wrong.
The only way to move forward is to keep on running experiments, talking to your users in any way you can.
Now it’s your turn, are there any experiments you can think of right away to start testing all the different branding components of your organisation? How are you running tests at the moment? Can you think of different ways to validate or invalidate your branding components? Will you be using the Brand Building Progress Report Board in your organisation? Leave a comment below!