January 24, 2019

by Nigel Hollis

Recently a client asked how various digital behaviors impact brand equity. Answering this question is challenging; not just because of the widely varying forms of digital behavior, but because that behavior can both influence equity and be influenced by it.

Let us consider how behavior and equity are related across a few different interactions, starting with direct online experience of a brand. The interaction could be as simple as making a transaction on the brand’s web site, for instance paying a bill using a bank’s mobile app. If that interaction is simple, easy and intuitive for the user it is likely to add to the positive impressions and feelings that the user has about the brand and so make them more likely to continue using it.

The big problem is that brands need to mind the gap. If people’s expectations are out of line with experience, then the resulting discontent could undermine the likelihood that they will continue using that brand. But experience and expectations are not independent. People will focus things that they have been led to expect through marketing, e.g. the pizza really does taste homemade or the TV screen really does look sharp, even though the actual difference might be imperceptible in a direct comparison.

Another digital behaviour that worries many marketers is the dreaded skip. Looking at our global database we find that YouTube videos are viewed for an average of 7.7 seconds before people skip. Does that imply a lack of interest in the content? Or a lack of brand relevance? It is tough to tell without the asking people why they skipped. If the skip simply implies, ‘I have better things to do right now’, it may not be a problem. But if it signals, ‘That’s so lame’ or ‘No way would I use that brand’ then it is a problem.

In the case of last response brand equity is influencing behavior. Negative mental associations are leading people to reject the brand before they even try it.  But positive equity might cause people to view an ad for a brand simply because it is one they already use. They might not even reflect on why they are watching but pre-existing positive ideas and feelings trigger an instinctive desire to hear what the brand has to say. This is why it pays to be cautious about accepting findings from attribution modeling at face value unless the modeler has done their best to take prior effects into account.

The last example used views instead of clicks, but I suspect we can assume the two are similar in terms of the interaction between equity and behavior. In some cases, the ad will lead to a click (based on positive expectations) and subsequently consolidate that equity once the brand is bought. In other cases, equity will precede the behavior; for instance, people click on an ad offering a deal because they already like the brand. This may explain why there is no correlation between clickthrough and changes in brand equity or sales. Advertisers might assume that exposure to the ad is driving behavior but in many cases people’s pre-existing relationship with the brand may have far more influence on behavior and the ad is simply a trigger for behavior not the root cause.

As my colleague William Pink would note, while we can cannot always identify causality what we can say is that marketers need to create a self-reinforcing network of positive expectations and experiences in order to promote sales and growth.

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