Tracking research is an ongoing survey research tool that collects key measures of brand health. Tracking is equally appropriate for new or established brands.
Surveys & Forecasts conducts tracking studies in a variety of circumstances. These range from monitoring new brands in small test markets, to tracking established brands with national distribution. Most large, nationally distributed consumer packaged good brands routinely use consumer tracking to monitor their brands and those of their competitors. Tracking studies are also used in conjunction with syndicated sales data, and media spending data, to paint a more complete picture of brand health and marketplace dynamics.
Typically there are usually no visual stimuli for tracking studies (other than the questionnaire) – but there are exceptions. In some fragmented categories, consumers may only be able to distinguish between brands at an aggregate level. If we need to track specific SKUs (e.g., brand awareness for a specific sub-brand), the use of photos, or even an in-person interview format, may be used.
Two basic tracking designs are used: point-in-time, and continuous. Point-in-time studies are conducted as waves, generally quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. Continuous tracking is ongoing, with interviews conducted each week, and then "rolled-up" in much the same way as retail sales data is collected and reported. The choice of one type over another depends upon (1) the rate of new product innovation, (2) category media spending; and (3) category cyclicality. In predictable, cyclical categories, point-in-time tracking is usually more appropriate, while continuous tracking is usually more appropriate in non-cyclical, dynamic categories. Most tracking studies are conducted via telephone, but mail and in-person (and even online) designs are used, with sample and category issues driving the methodology.
Measures typically include:
Unaided brand and ad awareness
Aided brand and ad awareness
Sources of awareness
Main point communication
Ever tried, tried in past six months, past month, most often
Classification and demographics
Tracking samples are generally comprised of a random sample of category users unless, as in the case of a new product, the brand may draw from an unclear or undefined universe. Versus product or concept tests, sample sizes are larger because of the need for greater test sensitivity, as well as to have adequate bases for subgroup or regional analysis. Common per-wave sample sizes may be from 300-500 respondents.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Measure of brand health that is a leading indicator of future in-market results.
Cons: Costly; measures may not be detailed enough to diagnose subtle problems.
Given typical sample sizes (n=400 per wave), cycle time from field start to results is typically several weeks.
Tracking is an ongoing program, so there is often no pre- or post-step per se. If tracking data indicates problems, it may be followed by copy initiatives/copy testing, positioning studies, media weight tests, pricing research, sales analysis, or qualitative research (e.g., focus groups among trier-rejecters, aware non-triers, etc.).