What’s your Brand AURA?

March 17, 2023

Escaping Decision Paralysis as the Economic Skies Darken

As we move into Spring, many are continuing to cast an anxious glance at the economic forecasts and indicators and wondering how the financial climate will continue to impact their business this year. The IMF provided some early cause for cautious optimism when upgrading their global growth forecasts for the year but many are still expecting a bumpy ride, and the most pessimistic predictions suggest we’re in for the long haul.

Of course, unlike some of the more novel global challenges of recent times, economic woes are nothing new, which means we have some idea of how things will play out. One scenario we’ve seen time and time again in periods of turbulence, is brands falling victim to decision paralysis, a state of extreme caution that causes a reluctance to make meaningful investment decisions.

We also know that economic turmoil disrupts consumer behaviour, creating opportunities for some, and threats for others. In this context, doing nothing with your brand can seem alluringly safe but, in reality, is fraught with danger. But how to break through the paralysis? Well, the good news for those making these difficult decisions is that, used correctly, the research industry can be an invaluable partner during tough times.

marketoonist comic strip showing a man telling a person to cut marketing spend when revenue drops Resisting the Temptation to ‘Go Dark’

It’s no secret that when things get tough marketing budgets, and particularly resources for brand building, tend to be one of the first areas to come under pressure. Both, the financial crash of 2008 and the peak of the pandemic saw organisations pulling back – and with UK marketers cutting up to 67% of TV advertising investment – this potential recession looks to be no different.

23 years’ experience as a leading human-first partner to some of the world’s biggest brands has convinced us (and others, like Mark Ritson) that cutting back on comms during a down-turn is a false economy.  Time and time again we see how developing and maintaining strong brand equity plays a crucial role in long-term brand success. Those organisations that invest in brand recover quicker and gain competitive advantage in difficult times.

In fact, this looks to be particularly true during this recession. With pandemic-and-war-induced supply chain issues and reduced short-term consumer spending power limiting the ROI on short-term activity, brands that plan now for the long-term – getting closer to their customers and future proofing their positioning – look the best set to emerge into growth.

It is vitally important for us to look beyond the budget and see the cultural, and ultimately human, role that brand building can play during these darker times. Much has been made of the role of brand purpose, as a way for organisations to stand up and tackle the big challenges we all face together. We (and one of the world’s most successful business leaders) passionately feel this to be true now more than ever and, whilst financial realities may be challenging, the human role for brands does not go away. We need brands to stand up and be a force for good.

So, whilst the stakes are undoubtedly higher and the margins for error painfully narrowing, we strongly believe that all brands – irrespective of size – should be making use of the tools that can inform and guide crucial brand building decisions.

Brand Equity Modelling as an indispensable tool

Brand equity models are an indispensable tool to guide those crucial brand building decisions. Most research agencies have developed their own philosophy and models – each the product of significant amounts of developmental time and intellectual investment. As the end user of a number of these models, I can attest to their excellence – they are an essential tool for the client-side insight specialist.

And they’re getting even better! Historically, these models provided a rear-view mirror, a mechanism for evaluating the effectiveness of brand building activity already undertaken. Now the models are focussed on predictive power, getting ahead of the conversation to provide guidance on the ROI of brand positioning work, and the “real world outcomes” of campaign activity.

Brand equity models are great, but there is a catch….

There’s Always a Catch

Most of us who have worked in the area of brand equity modelling long enough have had at least one conversation with a senior stakeholder where our sophisticated and powerful analysis has been undermined by the dreaded “black box”.

Agencies who’ve invested huge amounts of time and thought into developing their models are understandably keen to safeguard the intellectual property that underpins them, and the unfortunate by-product is a degree of secrecy around their inner workings i.e., a “black box” approach. This can render them opaque, difficult to explain or understand. As someone who’s spent time agency- and client-side and been charged with trying to explain equity models to internal stakeholders, I’ve seen this first-hand.

This creates particular difficulties during economically precarious times when investment decisions face even greater scrutiny. Asking stakeholders to follow the recommendations of a “black box” demands a leap of faith that is, for many, too far when the ROI on short-term activational activity is so easily monitored, measured, and reported.

marketoonist cartoon showing the fallacy between long term brand building and short term marketing effectiveness

And black box approaches also introduce a rigidity that can make it difficult for them to adapt to the unique needs of very particular client businesses, each with their own distinct culture and objectives. Again, this can be a blocker to wider adoption and usage.

Then we get to the biggest catch; all the development time that powers these super-charged brand equity modelling tools doesn’t come cheap, meaning these models can be expensive to access. That may not be too much of an issue for the biggest brands, but for small and medium sized brands whose insight budgets are under pressure, it can effectively bar entry.

At a time when the economic context means there is little room for error, we believe that all brands are in need of accessing the secrets of growth. As marketers we should have easy access to a clear, concise brand equity model that does not come with significant financial barriers to entry or necessitate long-term commitment to a “black box.” We believe that the insights from brand equity models should be democratised

A more accessible Brand Equity Model, introducing…

brand aura logo

We’re proud to be launching a new solution that harnesses all the future-shaping possibilities of the best equity models, but is more accessible to small and medium sized brands with lower insight budgets – or bigger brands who want an intuitive, marketer-friendly iteration that can be easily understood by stakeholders across their organisation. We’ve drawn on all our experience of how brands work, to create a solution that we call Brand AURA.

Our roots are in qualitative research and as we’ve evolved and expanded to become a truly method-agnostic strategic insight consultancy, we’ve never lost our focus on a people-first, human-centric way of understanding brands and consumers. We drew heavily on this legacy when creating Brand AURA, the foundations of which stem from thousands of hours of conversations with real people and real marketers. These foundations were then built upon using our extensive brand tracking experience across many categories and markets across 6 continents, and a deep exploration of data and analytics. It’s through triangulating these diverse inputs that we developed our strong belief that the very best brands, the ones that grow and impact their culture, generate Attention, Understanding, Relevance and Authenticity (AURA).

diagram showing details of aura attributes - attention, understanding, relevance, authenticity

Belief based on empirical observation is one thing, but we were keen to statistically validate this belief across multiple categories. Having successfully completed that task we’re now happy to present AURA: a model that enables our clients to access the future-facing capabilities of contemporary equity models, stitch brand health performance to sales outcomes, understand the relationship between media investment and brand equity, and identify the elements of brand equity most likely to resonate with different elements within their target universe.

Brand AURA has been specifically designed so that it’s intuitive, easy to understand and act upon, and it’s malleable so we can tweak it to meet the unique needs of each business and their consumers. Perhaps best of all, it’s not a black box solution, and we’ve deliberately designed it to ensure it is accessible to all brands, whatever their size and Insight budget. As these brands experience the choppy waters ahead, we believe Brand AURA is the compass that can help them navigate their way through the jagged rocks of decision paralysis that can be so costly.

If that sounds interesting, or just too good to be true, we’d love to have a conversation about how Brand AURA can help you and your brand, showing you behind the curtain while we are at it.

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