What is a tracking study?
A tracking study (or tracker) is a generic term for research conducted over time to track and measure brand and competitor performance. These studies can either be continuously in field or it may be periodic, aligning with seasonal patterns or strategic marketing initiatives to assess their impact on the brand’s competitive position.
Tracking studies help you to continuously monitor a research topic by repeatedly fielding the same questionnaire and comparing how your data points have changed over time.
The topics you may want to track as a business typically range from changes in your target group (e.g. demographics, values, attitudes, media consumption), the perception of your brand (e.g. image), the customer experience (e.g. frequency of purchase, customer satisfaction, customer retention) to the effectiveness of advertisement campaigns (e.g. brand awareness). In addition, tracking studies are very common in electoral polling, e.g. monitoring the preferences for political parties or the relevance and importance of certain topics for voters.
How to set up a tracking study?
Let’s explore the typical considerations and best practices, when setting up a new tracking study or changing an existing one. In an ideal world, you would try to avoid changing a running tracker, as every change in your method or questionnaire may affect your time series. Therefore, it is key to preserve a high comparability of all points in time.
Here is 5 steps to initiate a tracking study:
- Define the cornerstones of your tracker
What are you striving for? Unaided or aided brand awareness, a better brand image, a high usage of your product (i.e. the market share) or a high Net Promoter Score? These could be the cornerstones of your tracking study. Use a handful of very short and simple questions to assess your target variables.
- Pre-test your questions in an Omnibus
Use an online or telephone omnibus to get first answers to these questions. Most providers will deliver additional background variables when you are booking an Omnibus. This will allow you to dig deeper into the data and detect patterns. Check if the results fit with previous findings and if the data quality meets your expectations.
- Repeat the study with the same Omnibus
After a couple of weeks, you should repeat the study with the same Omnibus. Try to figure out what has changed over time and to what degree. Maybe you even expected changes that didn’t show up in the data. Do you have a hypothesis to explain these effects? Incorporate further questions into the study that can help you explain your results in the future.
- Set up a standalone tracking study
While an Omnibus usually doesn’t allow you to define all the field parameters, you should now put some thoughts into the right target group for your subject, the amount of participants and the frequency of your tracker. Adapt these parameters to your individual needs.
- Upgrade your tracking study
As you repeat the same steps from wave to wave, you will soon identify ways to better embed the tracking into your business practice. You might have some scripts that analyse the whole data at the push of a button. You could even think of interactive dashboards that update the time series automatically and allow you to explore changes.