Brand Lift Studies: Seeing the Full Picture

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Photo by Una Laurencic from Pexels

As we’ve been working on brand lift studies for radio, podcasts and music streaming lately, I’ve found myself thinking about my trips to art galleries.

Sometimes, a gallery visit can be like taking an art history course. You can start by seeing what was valued by an ancient culture through their sculptures or pottery. Then you can visit the Italian Renaissance painters, Dutch masters and French impressionists as they take you through their lives and times. Finally, you can come face-to-face with our own consumer culture in the pop art of a Warhol. Together, as you trace the changes from one type of art to another, you see the progression of society and culture revealed through art.

Likewise, the typical consumer journey follows its own kind of progression. It starts with brand awareness, moves through familiarity and brand affinity to consideration and finally to the transaction. Brand lift studies give advertisers perspective into how a campaign is performing in the early steps of the consumer journey. Meanwhile, sales figures and conversion data can give you insight into what’s happening at the end of the journey.

The Growing Need for Brand Lift Studies

Brand lift studies have added relevance now as COVID has caused many advertisers to shift their focus from immediate sales to long-term brand-building. The hope is that once life goes back to “normal” (whatever that will look like), their brand will be top-of-mind.

Similarly, as podcasting matures, ad spending is shifting from direct response ads to brand awareness.  The IAB/PwC reports that brand advertising as a share of total podcast revenues has nearly doubled in the U.S. since 2016 (27% to 45%), while total ad revenue for podcasts has exploded (+418%). Brand lift studies are helping advertisers validate this spend in the same way that promo codes have helped direct response advertisers track the effectiveness of their sales-based campaigns.

What Kind of Brand Lift Study Do You Need?

One way or another, all survey-based brand lift studies are designed to show the impact of hearing an ad, branded audio or campaign on brand awareness and/or affinity. Beyond that, they are a sort of “choose-your-own-adventure.” The type of methodology and the survey questionnaire itself is best customized to fit the brand, the nature of the buy and the campaign objectives. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Among the possible approaches:

  • Pre- and post-studies are probably the best-known, tracking listeners’ awareness and perceptions prior, during and after the campaign.
  • A similar type of study splits the sample into two groups, checking for brand lift among a sample who has been exposed to the campaign—say, regular listeners to the radio station carrying a campaign—and pairing it with a matching sample who hasn’t heard the campaign. The advantage of this approach is that it can be easier to separate impact from other marketing the brand may have been doing during the campaign.
  • Controlled exposure studies can be effective when it’s difficult to capture the campaign “in the wild.” They are the go-to option when looking at listeners to a specific podcast whose select audience lies beyond the reach of a broad market survey. A sample of podcast listeners reflecting the audience target is recruited from a panel, then split into one exposed group who hears the ad in a podcast segment and a second group who hears the same segment without the ad. Both groups are then asked a series of questions to compare the “lift” achieved by the ad.
  • We often use a variation of the controlled exposure study for branded podcasts. In this case, the full podcast is played to the exposed segment target to verify its appeal, adding in brand metrics that are compared to a sample who hasn’t heard the podcast.

Each type of study may provide slightly different results, but they all do roughly the same thing. The type that’s right for you depends on the circumstances surrounding the campaign.

Sample sources can also vary depending on what’s available and fits the objectives and budget. You can use broadly representative online or telephone samples, proprietary listener databases, or calls-to-action inviting listeners to participate in the survey.

Some of the questions you should be prepared to bring to your vendor to get the most value out of your brand lift study:

  • What defines success for the campaign beyond short-term sales impact? Is the goal awareness, affinity, consideration, or changing brand perceptions?
  • What’s the demographic or consumer profile of the campaign target?
  • Is it a niche buy with a small select audience, or a mass appeal buy with broad reach?
  • Is this a new or an established brand?

The customer journey doesn’t always follow the same path. Where the consumer ends up doesn’t tell you much about how they got there.

Think about it: people from all walks of life find themselves in an art gallery at some point. Some are on field trips, others are dragged there by friends or family, still more are tourists looking to absorb the local culture, and, finally, others are just crazy about art and can’t get enough. Poring over the gallery’s admission receipts doesn’t tell you much about what brought them there, and why they chose that path. Brand lift studies help paint that picture.