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Published October 25th 2023

The Importance of Brand Perception and How to Measure it

Knowing what shapes brand perception is vital for every business. Spoiler alert: Improving the perception of your brand starts with listening to your customers.

The ability to share information instantly has democratized the perception of brands. Customer opinion is more influential than ever in determining brand perception.

If we want to know how to improve brand perception, we first need to understand what those opinions are.

What do consumers believe the brand represents? What is their view of its products and services? How does this perception compare with competing brands and the wider market?

What is a brand? Experts don’t agree.

There are many competing definitions of what “brand” actually means.

Marketing strategist and best-selling author Seth Godin defined a brand as a set of “expectations, memories, stories and relationships” that, in combination, drive the decision to choose a particular company, product, or service.

Primarily a mental concept, it helps consumers tell one company apart from another. 

Perceptions are in part shaped by shared experiences, and they are necessary to make sense of and navigate a highly competitive market.

What is brand perception, and why is it important?

Brand owners may feel like they understand exactly what their brand represents. However, this image may be more reflective of their aspirations for the brand rather than the reality of public opinion.

Brand perception is owned by consumers, not brands. Regardless of your message, whatever people are thinking and saying about your brand, that is your brand. In many ways, perception is reality.

Brand perception is how people view your brand and what they think about it based on their interactions, experiences, and impressions. It's the mental image people form about your brand, which is shaped by the accumulation of all their interactions with it, including advertisements, word of mouth, customer service experiences, and actual usage of the product or service.

What makes up your brand?

To understand your brand effectively, you’ll want to look at the different variables that together make up your brand in the eyes of your customers and consumers at large.

There are many ways to conduct market research around a brand and many elements to evaluate. It's also important to note that brand perceptions vary from one consumer to another and tend to change over time, too, based on evolving consumer needs. 

One of the easiest ways to research what people are saying about your brand is to use social listening to find relevant brand mentions within the billions of unedited online conversations.

Using social listening, brands can monitor for brand share of voice, sentiment in conversations, how it’s changed over time, and other metrics that can help paint a more detailed picture. And the nature of social media makes it very easy to gather consumer thoughts and opinions around any topic, including your brand, and gain a clearer understanding of how it’s perceived.

Why are brand perceptions important?

How consumers perceive a brand can significantly impact consumer trust, loyalty, and purchasing decisions.

In today’s digital landscape, consumers are more informed, demanding, and connected online than ever before. You want to stay informed about even the slightest shifts in consumer perceptions of your brand, competitors, and industry. This understanding can help you adapt and shape your brand strategies effectively in response to changing consumer preferences. 

Brands that excel in monitoring brand perceptions online

If you are looking to influence consumer perceptions of your brand or campaign, you want to understand whether your efforts are resonating with the audience. 

Below are four examples showing global brands using social listening to successfully track and influence consumer perceptions.

1. How Potential Energy Coalition influence key communities

When brands speak up about an environmental crisis, they want their audience to also care deeply about the issue.

A recent initiative by the nonprofit Potential Energy Coalition (PEC) aimed to engage a very specific audience – mothers – in conversations about protecting their kids' future.

Using Brandwatch Consumer Research, the PEC team was able to understand how the topic of climate change is discussed online by the target audience, and what the biggest topics in those conversations are. 

After the launch of the Science Moms campaign, the team actively gathered immediate reactions and monitored sentiments in conversations. These efforts helped PEC tweak the campaign in real time, making it more personal and relevant to their target audience.

As a result, PEC reported seeing noticeable shifts in sentiment within online conversations, indicating a change in perception as many of the campaign-related themes began to shape discussions. 

2. How Fetch Rewards assess the impact of new app features on brand perception

Last year, Fetch Rewards used social listening to gain a deeper understanding of the brand perceptions after the launch of a new app feature. The analysis of sentiment in brand-related conversations confirmed that the initial negative reactions to the app feature didn’t prove to be damaging to the brand image; they represented just a fraction of the overall conversation.

Through social listening, Fetch Rewards effectively discovered user concerns, helping them to refine the app feature. This, in turn, enhanced overall user experience and satisfaction with the app – positively impacting the perception of the Fetch Rewards brand.

3. How Entel create positive viral marketing 

Entel, a telecommunications brand in Chile and Peru, used Brandwatch social listening to monitor social conversations and identify real-time trends and opportunities. 

On one occasion, Entel spotted the South Korean pop band BTS’s fans campaigning online and quickly identified it as an opportunity to capitalize on the online engagement presented by a large audience of fans. 

By finding a way to entertain and delight the fans, Entel increased the volume of online conversations by 196%. The effort also helped shift brand sentiment from predominantly negative, commonly associated with the telecom industry, to positive mentions, shaping the brand perception along the way.

4. How Carlsberg are building a brand-defining content strategy

One of Carlsberg’s past initiatives aimed to promote regional efforts and create content that would enhance the brand’s image on a local level

Carlsberg’s marketing team analyzed regional conversations online. They carefully planned and launched brand narratives that would focus less on the product and more on relevant stories by location and department. This push made it easier for regional brand managers to interact with local markets.

Creating geographically and culturally relevant content and engaging more frequently with local communities helped strengthen Carlsberg’s brand perception on a local level. 

3 ways to measure brand perception

1. Do brand perception surveys

Surveys are an excellent data source, and they can play a significant role in any strategy to measure and improve brand perception.

The main benefit of running surveys is that you can craft your own questions and share your survey with as many people as you’d like. 

Surveys can be done in person, over the phone, or online. Many popular online survey tools exist, from easy-to-use like Google Forms and Jotform to more customizable solutions like Qualtrics.

Depending on the method, the costs of running a survey can vary from free to racking up thousands of dollars when done in person or over the phone. 

While surveys are a great way to collect opinions and perceptions of a brand, there are a few downsides you should consider: 

  • Crafting your own questions creates a lot of room for bias and may skew your results. 
  • Running large surveys can be resource-intensive, expensive, and time-consuming.
  • Processing large surveys may take too much time, resulting in research findings becoming outdated.

Another big disadvantage of running surveys is finding the right people to gather opinions and perceptions of your brand. Lying on a survey is nothing new. Whether it’s intentional – and, perhaps, incentivized by a reward for completion – or unintentional and influenced by personal bias, with surveys, there’s always a risk of how reliable the information you are getting is.

Another (easier) way to run a survey is by gathering unprompted opinions of your target audience in real time using Brandwatch Ready to Use Social Panels, where you can analyze pre-built groups of consumers based on specific common criteria. 

2. Conduct focus groups

Focus groups are another well-established market research method that can be used to measure brand perceptions. Brands can reap several advantages from conducting focus groups. You can learn more about what your target audience thinks and feels about your brand, ask follow-up and open-ended questions, and get very granular insights into the brand-consumer relationship.

On the downside, qualitative research is limited to your sample size, as you’d be discussing your brand with a handful of people. Additionally, some people are more open to sharing opinions in a group setting than others.

Focus groups are also very costly. They are difficult to scale and conduct on an ongoing basis. 

That’s where social media listening research beats both surveys and focus groups. 

3. Monitor your social media using social listening

The inherent traceability of social networking sites means you can start from nothing and quickly build a thorough picture of your brand perception reflecting the current reality.

By analyzing social conversations, brands can better understand what aspects are contributing to consumer perceptions. These insights can then be used to help support initiatives to reshape and increase brand perception.

Social listening platforms, like Brandwatch Consumer Research, allow you to measure the sentiment of the talk around your brand, products, and campaigns.

Analyzing conversations with negative sentiment will help you identify the various customer issues that could harm your brand perception.

By looking at these metrics over time, you can work out what causes spikes in the conversation around your brand, and how perception changes over time.

Of course, brands never exist in isolation. Measuring the brand perception of your competitors can help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

The unique benefits of social media research include:

  • Real-time insights that brands can immediately use to tweak their strategy.
  • Alternative data sets offer unprompted, unbiased, and unincentivized opinions.
  • You can save hours of researching and processing data for your team.
  • Social listening is highly scalable. Your team can run as many research projects as often as they’d like in-house.

Top metrics to analyze brand perception online

1. Brand awareness

Research indicates that heightened brand awareness among consumers not only increases their inclination to make a purchase but also makes them more likely to consider the brand in favor of its competitors.

With social listening, brands can quickly measure the size of the online conversation and their share of voice, which relates to the brand and compares it to its competitors. 

Share of voice is a good indicator of a brand’s position relative to its competitors, and this metric can help assess market presence.

Reach is another metric that can determine the size of the audience brand posts will potentially be seen on social. 

Engagement can assess whether the audience is actively interacting with messages shared by the brand. Measuring brand perceptions should not solely rely on a large follower base, particularly if a significant portion of those followers are inactive. 

2. Change in online performance

Benchmarking changes in the mention volumes puts your numbers in perspective. Whether it’s share of voice, share of conversation, reach, or engagement, it’s important that brands monitor how their online performance changes over time. 

The example above shows that while Brand 1, Brand 2, and Brand 3 have all experienced a decrease in the volume of mentions, Brand 1 saw the largest drop in conversation compared to its competitors. If Brand 1 is your brand, you may want to investigate further the reasons why consumers are talking about you less.

3. Sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis can help brands measure the overall sentiment (positive, negative, neutral) associated with their brand. You can also run this analysis on your competitors to establish benchmarks. 

In the example below, Brand 3 and Brand 2 saw the highest share of negative mentions relative to the overall conversation. Brand 7 and Brand 1 gathered the highest share of positive mentions. 

4. Emotion analysis

The online conversation is often very emotional. That’s why brands should monitor emotions associated with their brand name to gain a deeper understanding of the emotional impact consumer conversations create on it.

The chart below explores emotions in conversations relating to two watch brands. 

Your brand analysts could take this research further and look at the emotions over time to identify any changes.

5. Brand associations 

We’ve already talked about the importance of brand awareness and for brands to be recognized by consumers.

Brand associations play a vital role in helping build brand identity, and they directly contribute to brand perceptions.

A brand association analysis can help brands identify products closely associated with their own. Insights from this research can be fed into various areas of the business, from marketing to product to sales.

The following example shows brand associations for two competitive beverage brands, indicating that Brand 2 was a lot more discussed in conversations about pizza, and Brand 1 saw a higher portion of mentions in conversations about burgers.

You can use the same analysis and look into the product performance, buyer purchase triggers, and get many other questions answered in a matter of minutes.

6. Price perception

Is your brand considered expensive or inexpensive?

How consumers perceive the pricing of your products and services influences your overall brand perception. Running a price perception analysis can surface valuable insights to help you determine, for example, whether a potential price increase would be considered too costly. 

The chart above shows that Brand 2 gathered the most mentions of “expensive” relative to the overall brand-related conversation, signaling that Brand 2 is perceived as more expensive than other brands in this analysis.

7. Demographic insights 

How does the conversation around your brand shift when benchmarking different demographics? For example, how do men talk about your brand versus women?

Is there a difference between how different generations discuss your brand in conversations?

Key themes, keywords, and topics in conversations among different demographics can give brands a better idea of how they are perceived by different generations.

The visual below shows the Dunkin’ Donuts conversation among Gen X (the left topic cloud) compared to Gen Z (the right topic cloud). 

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, this gives you a good idea of the different metrics you can look for when analyzing consumer perceptions of your brand.

Get to know your customers

Knowing your customers, things like their general age, gender, location, language, professions, and interests, is vital when considering what shapes your brand perception.

It’s not just about what people are saying but who is saying it.

Every person’s experience of your brand will be different, but there may be some common themes that social listening can uncover.

Fortunately, information collected from social listening comes fully hydrated with data that will tell you more about the people behind the conversations.

With Brandwatch Social Panels, you can segment the data by gender, generation, professions and interests, political preferences, etc, giving you a detailed overview of the people talking about you.

For example, several years ago, Durex partnered with Automated Creative to reposition their brand and attract consumers in Southeast Asia. When looking at location data, Brandwatch’s sentiment analysis showed that the market in the Philippines was very conservative, and that wasn’t enough educational information. This discovery created an opportunity for Durex to come in and offer educational content and to connect with Durex’s audience in Asia.

All brand perception metrics at a glance and useful resources

  1. Share of Voice: What is Share of Voice and how to measure it.
  2. Reach: Learn more about Reach and Reach KPIs.
  3. Engagement: What is the engagement rate on social media?
  4. Volume of mentions: How to measure the online conversation.
  5. Sentiment analysis: How to evaluate social sentiment
  6. Net sentiment: Learn more about net sentiment.
  7. Emotion analysis: How to understand consumers’ emotions.
  8. Brand associations: How to discover and measure brand associations.
  9. Price perception: How to measure consumer price perceptions [Guide].
  10. Demographic insights: Discover 5 audience insights in minutes using Social Panels.

Act on your knowledge and improve your brand's perception

Once you have worked out your customers’ perception of your brand, and you know some more about what makes those customers tick, you can act on your findings.

With close to 5 billion social media users worldwide, social media is by far the easiest way to influence and improve brand perception. The word-of-mouth aspect of social is part of what makes it so effective in improving brand perception.

Knowing who your customers are, what they think of your brand, and what else they are passionate about, gives you the information you need to harness the power of social, word of mouth, and influencers to take control of brand perception.

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