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Fame, Feeling and Fluency: When Brand Tracking Meets Behavioral Science

Brand research is not being well-served by the brand tracker. Traditional brand tracking doesn’t really help much to guide and predict brand growth. Integrating new data sources is not the solution. A whole new approach is needed for brand tracking.

Speedometer with needle racing through the words Revolution, Change, Shake it Up, Status Quo and Stagnation


By Tom Ewing

Brand tracking: in need of change

The great thing about science is that it simplifies and clarifies things. And if there’s one thing that needs simplifying and clarifying, it’s brand tracking. When we at BrainJuicer decided to tackle brand tracking, we took our inspiration from the behavioral sciences – psychology and behavioral economics – and came up with a model rooted in the science of how people really make decisions.

Before we look at that, we need to identify where current tracking goes wrong. Traditional brand tracking doesn’t really help much to guide and predict brand growth. Marketers have often criticized it for being backward looking, not predictive. And modern frustration with brand tracking is also rooted in its inability to get to grips with the myriad of new data sets available to marketers – more online data, more customer preference data, social media data, mobile data… the list goes on.

The obvious solution – and the one most suppliers are promising – is to try and integrate new and traditional data sources. But this has been a painful process. The truth is, brand tracking has never been brilliant at taking behavioral data into account, even before the digital revolution. Its fit with CRM and sales data has been messy and required serious work.

But why has brand tracking had these problems? The major issue is that brand research has tried to do two things at once – set strategic goals and inform tactical decisions while being a poor fit for either of them.

Brand trackers have always looked to give a big-picture view of a brand’s fortunes and market position. At the same time they have looked to provide tactical advice based on movements in the market. In an ideal world the big-picture metrics would let marketers make strategic decisions, and the trackers would show how they are paying off.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. Neither piece of the puzzle – strategic or tactical – has been served well by brand research.

Most of the criticism has focused on the tactical piece. Brand trackers always delivered a delayed view of data – sometimes months behind actual events. This was never ideal, but in the era of up-to-the-minute sales and social data it feels farcical. The gap in speed is a big reason why simply integrating the instant data of social media into traditional trackers hasn’t worked.

This is well understood. What’s less understood is that the strategic element of brand tracking is also deeply flawed. Put simply, we’ve been asking the wrong things. And this is where behavioral science comes in.

Fame, Feeling And Fluency: How people buy brands

Strategic branding research tends to assume that people make considered decisions about brands, becoming aware, then experienced, then finally loyal – and that the innate differences and attributes of brands guide them in this decision making. But Behavioral Science shows that this is very rare.

What the Behavioral Sciences tell us is that we humans are fast and frugal in our decision-making. The truth is that people think much less about brands than we, as an industry, previously believed. People don’t evaluate options carefully, but instead rely on mental shortcuts – rules of thumb – to help them decide between options quickly and effortlessly.

There are three key mental shortcuts that help people decide between brands. At BrainJuicer we call them Fame, Feeling and Fluency. To consumers’ fast-thinking, System 1 minds:

  • If a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice (Fame).
  • If a brand feels good, it’s a good choice (Feeling).
  • If a brand is recognizable, it’s a good choice (Fluency).

These rules of thumb are what behavioral scientists call the ‘availability heuristic, the ‘affect heuristic’ and the ‘processing fluency heuristic’.

Why should these fancy terms be of any interest to a CMO, a CEO or a company shareholder? Because large brands have created these shortcuts in spades and are beneficiaries of them; small brands haven’t (yet) but need to if they are to grow. Taken together, these three heuristics explain market share across categories and regions with an average correlation of +0.9. That’s very explanatory. People hate thinking too hard about which brand to buy and avoid it whenever they can; a truly successful brand is one that people will buy without careful evaluation or consideration. The marketer’s task expressed at its simplest is therefore to create Fame, Feeling and Fluency shortcuts for their brand, such that it becomes the obvious, automatic, default choice.

The 3Fs in Action

Each of the three Fs play an important role for brands. Fame is the dominant indicator of current market share. Feeling, meanwhile, predicts a brand’s future market share. If a brand has greater positive Feeling than its size would suggest (we call this ‘surplus Feeling’), then it will grow the following year. If a brand is coasting on its fame, and neglects its Feeling so that it drops below the required minimum for its size, then it stands to lose share the following year. We saw this with UK supermarket Tesco – the dominant player in its market, we tracked its feeling and saw it drop sharply. The next year, it issued its first ever profit warning and has been in decline ever since, losing market share to newer, cheaper rivals – competitors who also enjoy a surplus of feeling.

So in rethinking brand tracking, we take how a brand performs on the three heuristics and translate the scores into a 1-5 star rating. A 1-star brand will have low levels of fame and low market share; a 5-star (famous) brand will have high market share and be the most obvious choice for most people – an automatic, default choice that requires no deliberative thought. In addition, we assign a star rating prediction for the future, based on the brand’s surplus or deficit amount of Feeling.

Above all else, the marketer’s task is to make as many people feel something positive towards their brand as possible. Feeling simplifies and guides decision-making, it provides a ‘lift’ that helps people to decide in favor of your brand over another. Besides share growth, there are many other benefits of having a surplus of Feeling – it provides a buffer against PR problems (think VW) and gives brands permission to extend into new areas, and it lets brands charge more. Feeling is what economists might call ‘demand’. If you feel nothing, you’ll do nothing; if you feel more, you’ll buy more.

As for Fluency, the early indications from our database is that it enjoys a strong relationship with price. Strong, clear, brand assets make a brand easy to buy, and more powerful as a means of signalling status. The ability to charge a price premium is a brand’s most valuable asset, so brands with high fluency find themselves in a strong position. An example is Santander, one of Spain’s biggest banks but a relatively new entrant to the UK market. It’s enjoyed a remarkable rise in fame and scores strongly on feeling and fluency, thanks to its distinctive branding and simple offering. It’s now felt able to raise the prices on its offers by 150%.

Strategic brand tracking in the analytics age

Fame, Feeling and Fluency offer a way out of the impasse that brand research has found itself in. The problem was that brand tracking tried to mix the strategic and the tactical, and failed on both counts. The tactical element was out of date by the time it was charted. The strategic element was based on a misconception about how people choose brands. The result has been tools that fail to predict the future and can’t even handle the present!

Instead of trying to marry outmoded metrics to modern data sources, why not reinvent brand research from the ground up? Stop trying to ride two horses at once, and separate the tactical and strategic roles. Use behavioral data analytics to build a monitoring tool that gives you just-in-time tactical insight on what your customers are really doing and saying. But then use Fame, Feeling and Fluency as navigational aids to set broad strategic priorities. They let you create easy to understand, top-level performance metrics that give you a way to focus and clarify the day-to-day frenzy of brand activity. Modern branding is just too fast and complex for one-size-fits-all solutions at the tactical level: marketers need analytics. But alongside them you need something more high-level, human, and predictive, that gives you the opportunity to take a big picture view, set goals, and breathe a little.

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15 responses to “Fame, Feeling and Fluency: When Brand Tracking Meets Behavioral Science

  1. HI Tom,

    Great article. I just finished Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’ and think this fits in very well, especially with the term Brand Saliency. It would be great to hear your opinion on this.



  2. Hi Guy –

    Thanks. Yes, Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow is probably the most important branding book published in the last 15 years – it fits very well with the System 1 approach we’ve been using for a while, and provides empirical marketing science proof for a lot of what psychology would predict. The HBG philosophy – penetration not loyalty, reach not niche – has been a big inspiration. Sharp also coined the term “distinctive assets” to describe the material aspects of a brand – the stuff that makes it recognisable.

    (By the way, Jenni Romaniuk and Sharp’s How Brands Grow Part 2 is just out and looks to be as essential as the first volume covering luxury brands, developing markets, and more.)

  3. Hi Martin –

    We use active questions (tweaked to get closer to System 1 responses) but there’s no reason they couldn’t be collected passively if you have passive tools that can do the job. Off the top of my head I can’t think what those would be!

    There are quite a few ways to measure the concepts represented by the 3Fs – different research companies will have different ways of measuring salience, for instance. We have methods that – obviously! – we think are the best ones, but I didn’t go into those in the article, as it’s more about introducing the heuristics and how useful they are.

  4. Hello Tom:
    Very interesting approach, specially because it is based on System 1 line of thinking.
    I have a question related to Fame, Fluency, Feeling. Besides measuring them, is there a specific set of metrics that help you understand *why* you have any given results?
    In traditional trackers, you usually have a set of attributes that sort of try to explain why (usually with statistical analysis, e.g. reggresions, correlations) you have a given result in the KPI of brand health that the tracker has.
    Of course, these techniques can be criticized as very rational / system 2. However, I’d like to know how this FFF approach would try to explain these results?


  5. Hi Tom,

    Love the article, esp as I grapple with two tracking beasts! My question is how the 3F would translate to a monopoly situation. Our customers have no choice in their service provider as it is based on geographic location.


  6. Hi Tom,
    I can hardly understand what’s new on your 3Fs concept. You’ve just reduced the list of standart KPI’s to the above three.
    Still no hint on how and why this would greatly reduce the timing on data collection.

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