Why Your Persuasion Measure is Out of Date

This morning when I got up and went into the bathroom, there were 4 brands of soap, 2 brands of shampoo and 2 brands of conditioner from which to choose. After showering and dressing, I went into the kitchen and selected breakfast from 15 different boxes of cold cereal that sit on our pantry shelves. When I packaged my lunch, I had three brands of yogurt in the refrigerator from which to choose. Fortunately my wife and I are empty nesters; were our daughters still living at home, our product arrays would doubtless be even broader.

Such proliferation of brands within our household repertoire might suggest to many marketers that we do not represent particularly brand loyal consumers when in fact the opposite is true. Most of the cereals, yogurts, soaps, shampoos and conditioners are brands we have purchased repeatedly and even advocated to our family and friends. But our loyalty does not take the form of loyalty to a single brand within any given category and we are hardly alone.

Andrew Ehrenberg, late of the London Business School, when talking about brand loyalty, said that consumers select from a “portfolio of brands” often simply because they want a change. This observation has significant implication for brand managers. Building brand usership levels is not merely a matter of winning dedicated customers over to your brand. It is a far more complicated process as brand users switch between a favored set of brands for a variety of reasons. The classic tagline from the famous Peter Paul commercials for their Mounds and Almond Joy brands, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t,” is indicative of consumer spontaneous decision making that takes place in a wide array of product and service categories, not just impulse purchase categories like candy bars. Brand managers in the new marketing landscape are challenged with the creation of advertising that breaks through, reminds consumers of the availability of their brand, and primes it in their minds. But advertising must also reinforce brand traits that keep the brand within the consumer’s portfolio, and informs them of news about the brand, such as product improvements and line extensions in order to invigorate the brand and broaden its appeal over other portfolio brands. Both of these ends, priming and meaning reinforcement, contribute to creating preference and passion, which deliver substantial monetary value through loyalty and advocacy.

However, as marketing communications have become more sophisticated in their appeals to consumers, encouraging them to engage more deeply with the brand, persuasion measures used to gauge the effectiveness of those communications have not kept pace and remain rooted in the 1970s. Standard persuasion measures employed by many of the more popular copy testing methods are pre/post attitudinal change measures. Diagnostic tests rely on even more basic one-dimensional rating scales.

Pre/post attitudinal change measures grew in popularity in the 1970s as researchers began to believe that recall-based systems needed an additional measurement to provide insight into how well an advertisement helped develop a preference in the consumer’s mind for the advertised brands. The marketing model in vogue in those days was still focused on winning customers to the brand in the belief that, once there, they would become exclusively loyal users. Consequently, these persuasion measures saw the world in simple, brand-switching terms.

In a standard pre/post persuasion measure, respondents participating in an ad test are asked to indicate the brand they prefer in the test category as well as a number of masking categories prior to seeing the program or reading the magazine and accompanying advertising. Typical question wording instructs the consumer to “select the brand you truly want.” After exposure to advertising, respondents are asked again to select their preferred brand in each category using identical question wording. “Persuasion” occurs when a respondent who did not select the test brand initially selects the brand after ad exposure. This model intends to mimic the circumstance of a consumer with no prior preference for a given brand being “persuaded” by advertising to “truly” want the brand to the exclusion of other category brand choices. As such, it purports to measure the extent that consumers who formerly selected a competing category brand are persuaded to “switch” to the advertised test brand.

However, a “brand switching” mechanism of this type provides little information about how persuasive the advertisement has been in the realistic, far more complex world wherein consumers accustomed to preferring a portfolio of brands may have been influenced. In a “brand switching” mechanism, respondents who indicate preference for the test brand before seeing the advertising are not investigated further; their preference is taken for granted.

By the same token, many very basic diagnostic-style copy systems use a unidimensional scale, which asks respondents to simply indicate how likely they are to buy the brand after seeing the advertisement. For consumers with the brand already in their portfolio, intention levels are high and greater insight into the effect of the advertisement on brand purchase intentions cannot be derived with this measure.

In order to provide greater insight into this complex persuasion dynamic missing from standard persuasion measures, Gallup & Robinson developed Advanced Persuasion, a multi-dimensional metric grounded in engagement theory. Advanced Persuasion incorporates the entire persuasion dynamic, investigating ad effect among both consumers who already include the brand in their portfolio as well as those persuaded to the brand for the first time. Research has shown that standard persuasion measures can miss as much as 82% of the persuasive effect of an ad by failing to consider consumers with the brand already in their portfolios. These are the consumers standard persuasion measures fail to investigate and for many established brands, they represent the foundation of brand profitability, returning to the brand again and again.

Moreover, these consumers may be influenced by an ad along any of a number of dimensions, consequently Advanced Persuasion incorporates multiple measures in order to capture changes in consumer attitudes toward the brand along a number of key fronts where response has proven to be both sensitive to ad messaging and indicative of subsequent purchasing.

For those brands whose advertising needs to be about more than breakthrough, buzz, and liking, Advanced Persuasion provides an important new measurement option that will help lead to better, more informed advertising copy decisions.

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