OPINION1 June 2015

Time for a new perspective on ad testing


We should stop thinking of ad testing solely as a tool for checking whether communications are strong enough to run says Millward Brown’s Amanda Phillips.

In a world where a 360-degree brand experience is critical, insight on how consumers view the brand has never been more important. By researching advertising within a more strategic context, insight directors can cast themselves in a central role in brand experience – making a wider contribution to help drive business ROI.

A Millward Brown analysis of the world’s most valuable brands (the BrandZ Top 100 ) shows a direct link between brand value and great advertising. The brands that grew their value fastest over 10 years are those that have an excellent brand proposition – one that consumers see as distinctive and unique – which is fully amplified through marketing. Insight directors are best placed to strengthen this link, by keeping advertising firmly connected to the brand and to the business.

Matching the collar to the cuffs

The marriage of proposition – or promise – and experience is critical. Brands that create, market and live a compelling promise, and then communicate it with one voice across all touchpoints, are able to influence purchase decisions and build perceptions that lead to sustained loyalty.

To achieve this, insight directors need to provide key stakeholders with an understanding of exactly how the promise is being expressed and consumed in the marketplace. They then need the ability to quickly and accurately respond to what they learn – equipping internal stakeholders with the right information to adapt messages and positioning to align the customer experience more closely with the promise, for example.

This becomes even more important as digital and programmatic technologies evolve. Given that, globally, 39% of online ads have a negative impact on purchase intention, it’s essential that the business has accurate data on which ads will perform well in-market.

In the hands of a forward-thinking insight director, ad testing can add value to the entire customer experience – providing a clear and simple way of getting a read on how consistently and effectively the brand promise is being communicated and consumed. It is even more effective when combined with brand tracking data.

A holistic approach

While it’s tempting for an organisation to let its attention and budget be swayed by experimenting with the next ‘shiny new thing’, brands must still evaluate marketing programmes on a continual basis to understand the overall impact on brand and what’s required to drive its performance in the future.

This doesn’t mean there’s always a need to invest in full, in-depth evaluations across the board. A new breed of fast-turnaround, automated tools provide an agile and cost-effective way of checking each execution before it goes out. Ads can be tested more quickly and frequently by asking a streamlined set of questions; just enough to establish whether they reflect the brand promise and will engage and predispose consumers to buy.

If testing shows the ad will be well-received, in-market brand tracking can be used to measure what people felt and believed as a result of seeing it – allowing marketers to flex and change messaging to better reflect the brand promise. Consumers are influenced by more than one or two ads.

Earlier in the creative development process, more in-depth, immersive and qualitative research can establish whether the campaign platform and core ideas are delivering against the brand experience. This will help ensure that all the separate pieces of brand communication built on those creative foundations keep the brand in focus.

Joining the dots across the organisation

The brand experience is created through the collective activities of individuals from all parts of the organisation, who have varying levels of understanding of brand and the metrics used to evaluate it.

Ad testing gives insight directors the ability to bring together the different internal audiences they serve, and help them all to become more brand-focused, by providing a simple, clear common language to talk about data on the customer experience and how to apply it.

The era of brand experience brings with it an opportunity for insight directors to speak with a truly influential voice, connecting themselves and the information they provide more deeply within the business. Ad testing is a really effective vehicle for showing senior stakeholders how brand insights can pay back to the bottom line.

Amanda Phillips is head of UK marketing at Millward Brown