Why measuring brand loyalty is not the right way to measure marketing success

On March 1, Reader’s Digest Association, publisher of the magazine brand, said it would sell the company to McQuarrie Partners LLC, a private equity firm. The news sent internet blogosphere into overdrive, and the…

On March 1, Reader’s Digest Association, publisher of the magazine brand, said it would sell the company to McQuarrie Partners LLC, a private equity firm. The news sent internet blogosphere into overdrive, and the reaction, while at times hysteria, was not devoid of intelligent deliberation.

The issue that had many looking at the money frame of things: Apparently, the idea that brand loyalty can be measured—or quantified, or quantifiable, or understood?

And just how valuable the brand is, relative to other brands in the consumer’s sphere?

The question of just how many brand loyalists do consumers have, and how to plan their marketing strategy with that in mind was particularly perturbing to many people.

I was part of this new group of critics. Admittedly, the feelings I had upon hearing the news—feeling a mixture of disbelief, anger, sadness, and resignation—were a lot to take in.

Here I was in the middle of going through my own brand identity and marketing campaign and deciding what kind of system I wanted to use—especially the value system that defined it—to ensure my brand remained relevant and useful to potential readers in the first place.

As much as brands seek to utilize data and be thoughtful about it—advertisers love analytics, certainly—data-based decisions about the value of a brand are inherently flawed.

There’s nothing inherently valuable about a brand if consumers either don’t realize that the company provides value, or see value as something incremental. This is a particularly powerful fact with the Bible (in any format), where a small investment is added to an already massive surplus of riches.

Same goes for Facebook and Twitter (and, now, Reader’s Digest, which is a bit different).

Simply put, it’s hard to prove that a brand is valuable—in the long run—if we don’t understand how we could be more profitable.

Engaging consumers around specific values is just one way brands engage with and connect with their customers. Another option—very popular on the internet—is to advertise in a way that does not necessarily call to a good value.

For example, I recently saw a commercial that utilized tension and ambiguity to keep you guessing as to whether the device or the interaction was going well.

This isn’t to say there are no brands and companies out there who want to offer advertisers a return on investment. In some ways, great return on investment is all about understanding the scope of what you offer, how it fits with what other products or services you offer to the market, and how an advertiser can make the greatest return from that offering.

But to assert the sustainability of brand value is not just a question of ability and intent, but a question of knowing what you have and knowing how to get the most value out of it from a marketing standpoint.

If you are still not convinced of the utility of tracking brand loyalty, you can ask yourself whether or not a brand loyalty system is worth your while, especially when it feels as though it’s being used to drive down loyalty to marketing dollars.

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