Brand Strategy’s Number One Metric: “Good Things”

Brand Strategy Concept Art

A long time ago (so long ago that Nickelback still had hits), my marketing leader would ask me how we could measure brand strategy. He would ask what value my brand-building programs added to the business.

My answer to him was always the same: “Good things.”

Halfway through 2024, brands are desperate to make every piece of content catch their audiences’ attention. That’s no easy task in the “For you” feed era.

But chasing short-term attention and performance too often comes at the expense of the long game — building and deepening brand trust.

Marketers that try to build a case for brand strategy often default to the short-term view because they believe that the CFO (or whoever the approvers of such things like budget are) must associate metrics (pageviews, click-throughs, comments, etc.) as a means of saying “yes, you are approved to go do that.”

I see this all the time with my clients. There’s the nonprofit that desperately wants to measure its brand impact on stakeholders. There’s the AI startup trying to measure how its content affects its audience share with its competitors’ buzzword-filled treatises. There’s the enterprise brand trying to maintain its relevance in an evolving industry. The marketers all make the case for more time/budget for brand building. And it’s always the first element to get x’d out.

Yet, despite the measurement difficulty, brand awareness remains the most common content marketing goal mentioned in CMI’s B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research year after year.

In that way, brand awareness is like exercise. We all know it’s good for long-term health. But the incremental changes that improve our chances to that result are hard to spot.

And that, ironically, makes brand-building programs really difficult to justify in a performance-driven culture.

Transactions are easy; triggers are hard

So, we often hear the critique in brand strategy, that we’re only focused on “vanity metrics”. But, you know, when you think about it, aren’t all “awareness” metrics “vanity metrics” by definition? After all, we’re measuring the questions “have you heard of me? And, if so, how attractive to you find me?”


It’s not that real brand strategy metrics don’t exist. Myriad articles, classes, best-practice guides, tech products, and consultants claim to help you associate transactional data with brand value.

Now, they’re not wrong. But, anyone who has argued for more money for brand strategy (or content marketing as a lever to build a brand) will tell you those metrics won’t typically get you very far without one incredibly important ingredient: agreement..

Wait a minute, what does that mean?

All those metrics – even the vanity metrics can actually be a fine measure whether brand-building with content is working. The key (as with all measurement) is you have to get stakeholders to agree on the measurable objective, and then design for testable measurability that you will all agree on. So, when we actually ask “how do we build a better business case for brand marketing?” what we are really asking is “how do we get our colleagues/bosses to agree on a measurable goal on which we will all agree we are making progress toward building a stronger brand?”

In other words, coming back to the fitness metaphor, you must measure your fitness level first, then get everyone to agree on your fitness assessment and how much change would equal “good progress.” Then, you can design an exercise plan to improve your fitness level.

Now, can you self delude yourself and agree on things that don’t matter. Well, of course you can. I can also define my fitness level by how many pizzas I ate in the last six months. Agreement doesn’t assure accuracy – but it’s the only way that assures learning and progress.

Brand Strategy = Good Things

For example, an enterprise financial services organization client wanted to increase brand trust among its existing investors and financial advisors. To measure the increase, we first agreed on – and then conducted – a trust survey to compare trust in that brand with trust in the brand’s competitors and mainstream news media outlets that covered financial services. The agreed-upon idea would be that it would set the foundation for brand trust.

One year later, we conducted the same study again. This time, we surveyed the same kind of audience but also added a segment of the brand’s customer base — subscribers to their blog and thought leadership platform that had been launched a year earlier.

The organization performed better than its competitors on the previous survey. So, yay, its integrated branding efforts (such as TV, print, and online ads) worked. And then when we surveyed the customer subscribers to their blog, that segment ranked my client’s brand as even more trusted than some mainstream financial news sources. Goal reached: the blog contributed in a big way to brand value.

“Hold on,” I hear you saying. “You proved that brand strategy with content was working, but the question may still be, ‘So what? What value does that provide for the business? What happens as a result?’”

That’s when you’re ready for the actual, right answer: “Good things.”

You might still frustrate that CFO. But it’s now a meaningful answer.

By spending some percentage of your effort working on the brand, you will build trust. And trust is bankable goodness that may express itself in many ways. You may not capture every granular transaction that comes from it, but good things will happen.

Think of it this way. Could you measure precisely how much running on the treadmill, taking your vitamins, or getting enough sleep contributed to your fitness improvement in any given week? Probably not.

But what happened after you decided to invest a portion of your overall effort in your long-term health? Good things.

You can (and of course should) easily measure more transactions: traffic, more votes, more engagement, and more downloads and more trust. Measuring transactions isn’t hard. But, measuring the trigger that contributed most to any one of those things is complex, and honestly probably so intertwined with other activities that trying to attribute it scientifically will be a fool’s errand.

So what should you do?

Just accept ‘good things’

People have spent their careers building business systems for consistency. They’re trained to laser-focus on eliminating operational conflicts and anything that hinders consistent, predictable, harmonious processes.

And many view measurability as a foundation for that predictability. The old saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” comes from this thinking. This trope sometimes morphs into the idea that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. And that’s nonsense.

I’ve learned over 32 years of marriage that doing good things for my wife provides good things in return. I could easily measure the transactions, but I don’t. How could I connect them to the value of the good things I get in return?

Think for a moment about the love you have for someone special in your life. Maybe it’s your partner, mom, dad, children, or even a dog. How much love is there? Have you measured it lately? If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count, right?

Sometimes, the most accurate answer to the question of what comes from brand-building activities is simply: “Good things.”

Yes, more revenue, more savings, better customers, more trust, more brand equity, and more profitability. But you’re just not going to try and quantify it.

So, how much brand-building should you do?

My answer? Enough. Do enough. Just don’t spend so much time arguing over “how much” good it will do that you never end up doing any.

Do enough. I promise, good things will happen.

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