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It's time for a new perspective on measuring brand identity and awareness.

If you're a marketing leader in any industry, any country, your top priorities are to protect and enhance your brand's competitive position and drive its growth. The data-rich brand measurement strategies the industry has come to rely on are a thing of the past, however. So, what data can tell the story?

Perhaps we never needed all that data on individual users. Could information from a smaller pool of identified users address the same questions? And if media agencies are evaluated by measuring campaign and brand successes, do they have to know whom they are reaching? Or is it simply enough to know they are reaching the right prospects and customers?

Every signal out there indicates that the answer to those questions is yes.

Therefore, to achieve success, the marketing discipline needs to level-up.

The Evolution of Measuring Brand Awareness

The strategy for measuring brand awareness and reputation has evolved radically in the past few decades.

Marketers traditionally relied on focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and benchmark studies across a defined, consistent database that matched the customer profile. Through the recruitment process and the face-to-face nature of in-person interviewing, brands and agencies knew exactly from whom feedback was being derived.

Flash-forward to the recent past: Through digital marketing, brands and agencies could save time and money by gathering all that information virtually through readily available data, including cookies. Third-party cookies provided even more insight than focus groups. Drawing conclusions from all the details of a user's Web browsing habits, marketers could build and analyze a comprehensive profile of almost any person and use that data to their advantage.

Now we are in a situation where people are becoming aware of and concerned about their privacy. Fully 64% of consumers said their concern or awareness about data privacy had increased in the past 12 months, one survey found. Two-thirds of consumers say they want personalized ads, but 45% are uncomfortable sharing data.

So how can we reach those privacy-conscious users with ads relevant to them? Therein lies the challenge.

But are we even asking the right question?

The cookie revolutionized brand advertising. Now we're at a new turning point, struggling to redefine brand measurement. Google may have delayed third-party cookie retirement once again, but marketers are still working to fill the void that will be created—and not just in campaign measurement.

The best marketers are now looking for data to demonstrate evidence of growth in the brands themselves.

But the question they should be asking is not who is being reached over time but where the company needs to advertise to reach the right audiences.

Tracking Brand Identity: The New Challenge

There is no perfect solution to monitoring brand identity in the new privacy-centric landscape.

Cookies tell us who is assigning value to our brand. Without third-party cookies, we will have much less personal information to use to develop a target audience. There's no shortage of new identifiers being introduced to replace those cookies, but some of the new solutions may not truly be privacy-friendly—and, at this point, performance and opt-in rates are still open questions.

The result? A smaller set of available first-party data that will not be enough to provide actionable insights for audience targeting.

That's exactly why we need to change our perspective. Rather than focus on trying to piece together data on anonymous users, we should shift our perspective to using the best technology created by leading data scientists, such as machine-learning, to make the most of the data we do have: data from people who have agreed to share their information, and from interactions with the brand's own website and ads.

Here's a bold statement: It doesn't matter exactly which specific people make up a brand's identity. We just need confidence in the overall audience size, characteristics, and behavioral traits to understand the brand's best audience. And that audience is ever-changing, as prospects shift continuously with changes in habits, preferences, and actions.

If all other things are equal, knowledge of individual users does not provide any more insight than the raw numbers. In place of the data set of individual behaviors to which we have grown accustomed, the power of numbers and characteristics combined with Web behavior can be used to inform brand success.


Measuring brand identity—not to mention every other aspect of marketing—is becoming more complex, and it's not for the faint of heart. Marketers, the most tenured especially, need to continuously learn to embrace new tech and rise to the never-ending challenge.

No one would argue that even in the near future marketing will not look anything like it does now. To succeed in this field, brands and agencies alike must be open, active, and willing to test and adopt new strategies and tools or quietly surrender to those who will.

I believe credentialing and regular evaluation should be required, similar to how financial advisers are credentialed and reassessed over time. Requiring certifications and upskilling should help ensure that marketers are equipped with expertise and innovative practices to meet the changing responsibilities of marketing, including creating strategies and policies that respect privacy and consumer wishes while accomplishing brand goals.

Continuing education will help those in the field level-up. Technology continues to evolve and new regulations are continually being introduced; marketing professionals need to keep up with what's happening now, not what was current when they started 10 years ago. Students in this discipline also need to embrace that spirit, understanding that learning will be lifelong if they're going to be stars in the field.

Working with research leaders such as Forrester and Gartner can give valuable insight into the market and user behavior. The more knowledge you have, the better you can perform.

You can help your fellow colleagues level-up by publicizing your findings on techniques and strategies as a brand marketer. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve.

It's time to retrain our brains and reframe our perspective on audience tracking. It's not the specific users who matter; it's the confidence in reaching the right users. And although measuring brand identity will continue to become more of a challenge as the amount of data decreases, perhaps we will realize that we could have been doing more with less the whole time.

More Resources on Brand Awareness and Measurement

Your Brand Tracking Program Is All Wrong: Five Tips to Fix It

How Effective Is Your Brand on Social Media? Here's How You Can Measure That.

How and When to Measure Your Brand's Health

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Reframing Brand Measurement: It's Not Who, But Where

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image of Patti Boyle

Patti Boyle is the CMO at Dstillery, a custom audience solutions company. She is also the CEO of Sapience Leadership, a joint venture with the University of Pennsylvania's Pennovation Center.

LinkedIn: Patti Boyle

Twitter: @boylepatti