pie chart graphic

Image by Juan Pablo Bravo via the Noun Project.

We diligently track pageviews, display ad impressions, click-through rates, subscription rates, Likes, favorites, and followers. As marketers, we hunger for data so we can test, measure, and refine everything we can get our hands on. Everything, that is, but brand.

Once defined as an identity or slogan, the definition of “brand” is now wrapped up with emotional signals like “promise,” “feeling,” “idea” or “story.” It’s this kind of abstraction that exempts “brand” from the scrutiny most marketers apply to practically every other business function. Can something abstract be quantified in a meaningful way?

You bet it can. In fact, we do it every day.

Let’s talk about the weather

Your weather app doesn’t just notify you that tomorrow is going to be 70 percent weather. Why? Because that won’t tell you if you need an umbrella or not. On its own, “weather,” like “brand,” can’t be directly observed. It’s an abstract idea. In statistics, such abstracts are known as constructs.

When studying a construct, the statistician’s first step is to define proxy measurements, a set of quantifiable factors that when combined can stand in for that construct. In the case of weather, proxy measurements include temperature, humidity, wind speed and precipitation. We use IQ as a proxy measurement for intelligence, and quantify health using blood pressure, BMI, heart rate, and dozens of other metrics.

Turning brand myth into brand science

When we treat brand as a construct, we can shift the discussion from the subjective and speculative to the objective and – here’s the best part – actionable.

Let’s go back to our weather example. In the absence of proxy measurements, discussions look something like this:

“We should plant when I can walk barefoot through the fields.” -Village Elder #1

“We should plant when my tooth stops aching.” -Village Elder #2

“We should plant when my home isn’t overrun by wolves.” -Village Elder #3

The elders have convened over the crucial business of the harvest, but they can’t agree on how to describe favorable planting conditions. Without shared proxy measurements, the council’s discussion becomes less about facts and more about perception. Maybe you’ve had similar experiences with your own stakeholders or clients.

Proxy measurements pave the way for the one thing most organizations need to move forward: Consensus.

If we say today is a nice day because it’s 72 degrees and sunny with two percent humidity, we can agree objectively whether tomorrow is as nice. Even if some people think today is lousy, as long as they describe their preference using the same measurements, the conversation can continue to advance.

If no two people at your board table are using the same criteria for discussing your brand, what kind of decisions can they reach? How can you move forward?

When you shift your focus from brand as a construct to brand as a set of proxy measurements, you can more accurately diagnose, identify trends, and make predictions. You can stop guessing and start knowing.

It's only by measuring the proxy measurements of "weather" that we can agree on whether it's a nice day. Image by bjornmeansbear via Flickr.

It’s only by measuring the proxy measurements of “weather” that we can agree on whether it’s a nice day. Image by bjornmeansbear via Flickr.

What construct should you use?

So now that we have an idea of the proxy measurements used to measure a construct, let’s take a closer look at health. Health, it turns out, can mean different things to different doctors. A podiatrist and a cardiologist, for example, use different proxies to assess the health of their patients.

Both specialists use the set of proxy measurements that allow them to quantify the construct (in this case, health) in a way that supports their goals (accurate diagnosis, a healthy patient, etc.). This means a cardiologist might deem a patient healthy, despite her serious case of athlete’s foot, because her blood pressure is normal, her heartbeat is regular and she’s got a solid BMI.

Just as a podiatrist and a cardiologist use different factors to quantify their patients’ health, you will first need to identify the proxy measurements that best support your goals.

We often refer to a brand’s personality. Personality happens to be a construct supported by decades of psychological research. The familiar Myers-Briggs test, and scores like it are classic examples of quantifying a construct: You. With a little work, you can adapt such a test to quantify your own brand.

Changing the conversation

By all means continue to define your brand as “a promise,” but push your internal team to identify the proxy measurements that allow you to quantify how you’re fulfilling that promise.

You’re a scientist now. Remember – if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.