Do brand loyalty, commitment, engagement metrics work ?

Interviewer:
So Byron, you’ve posted a couple of comments (one and two) recently to Robert Passikoff’s blog where you debunk his claims regarding the predictive validity of Brand Keys.  What do you have against Brand Keys ?

Byron:
Goodness, nothing.  I’ve made these sorts of comments about a number of proprietary brand equity services. Robert’s working hard and doing a great job at getting publicy for his company, and that’s how he attracted my attention.  I suppose perhaps I’m unwanted attention, but if you make public claims then you have to expect scrutiny.  I’m sure Robert doesn’t take my comments personally.

Interviewer:
But you don’t like these brand tracking services ?

Byron:
There is an industry that provides special scores on brands, based on surveying customers.  These services mostly claim to be measures of things like brand loyalty or brand equity.  They usually have exotic names like commitment model, brand esteem, brand voltage, brand asset valuator.  They offer to diagnose whether the brand is sick or not, and maybe to pin-point what is wrong, and suggest what to do about it – though most of the claims made for these services are simply about telling how weak or strong your brand is.  Essentially they claim to be able to predict whether the brand is about to gain or lose market share.

I think any claims made for these proprietary products should be subject to independent examination.  It’s the job of academics to do this testing.

Some of the claims are so extraordinary, and so important that they deserve to be checked out.  If they are turn out to be true that would be fabulous.

Interviewer:
And do these proprietary brand health surveys, these metrics, work?

Byron:
Well that’s just the thing.  No-one knows.  In their sales pitches there are claims of ‘validation’ studies that ‘prove’ they work but when I look at these studies I find they prove no such thing.  Bigger brands have more buyers who are more likely to say something (nice) about the brand in a survey – and that’s what appears to drive these metrics (that and sampling and other errors).

Interviewer:
But some of these services do claim to be validated by academic studies.

Byron:
Don’t get me started on this…it dismays me is when I see academics cosying up to the providers of these services and offering paid endorsements, or where academics themselves develop proprietary research approaches that they won’t allow others to test.

I don’t see any replicated tests by different teams of independent academics who aren’t being paid for their endorsement.

Interviewer:
So this sort of market research is pointless, we should just look at our sales figures ?

Byron:
Sales figures can be distorted by the stocking levels of the distribution system, but most marketers are well served by market research that accurately tracks sales and market share – and can break down the market share into penetration (numbers of customers) and behavioural loyalty metrics.  This sort of market research data is very valuable.

Interviewer:
You said something nice about market research.

Byron:
I say lots of nice things about market research, and market research consultancies.  I only sound grumpy when I hear people making bold empirical claims that haven’t been subjected to independent open tests.  I don’t like ‘black box’ methodologies, and I especially don’t like ones where they haven’t had (or won’t let) people independently check out their claims.

Interviewer:
Are you offering to do this?

Byron:
Absolutely.  I keep making the offer to the people who sell these services.  I point out that they have a lot to gain by having an independent test.  They often agree, but so far, sadly, an excuse seems to always pop up later why they can’t send the data or even a full description of previous analyses.

Interviewer:
Presumably the data is commercially valuable or confidential.

Byron:
Yes but they could send old data.  They could disguise it a bit.  They don’t have to necessarly reveal what’s inside the ‘black box’, for example, if they say that their black box predicts when a brand is going to change its sales trajectory then they should at least make some public predictions and then we can all wait and see how accurate they are.

Interviewer:
I guess they have everything to lose and little to gain – especially if their ‘black box’ brand loyalty measure is already selling well to marketers.

Byron:
That sounds like the same reason that psychics and astrologers tend to avoid independent tests.  But I would  hope that the market research industry operate to a higher level of ethics, and a greater respect for science.

Interviewer:
Well I suppose the solution is for the clients of these services to demand independent testing?

Byron:
Yes, there is nothing stopping marketers from doing this.  When they market their own products (like pharmaceuticals) they have to have their benefit claims backed by independent science.  They should demand the same from the people who are selling them ‘black box’ market research.

www.MarketingScience.info

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