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The 3 Best Measures of True Branding Success Are Tough to Quantify Validating your branding efforts with emotional-value metrics is unavoidably a blend of intuition and analytics because brand loyalty is anything but rational.

By Jeremiah Gardner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In recent years, it has become more and more common for startups and corporations to adopt the lean principles to running their business: start small, experiment constantly, and learn from the market.

However, there's one area of business where everyone still seems to do things the old way: branding.

But, like the rest of the business process, companies' branding efforts would benefit from being put through the filter of the real world. The illusion that a supposed brand genius can lock himself in a room and come out with the perfect idea has been shattered. What today's best organizations are realizing is that using audience feedback to learn and iterate your brand will lead to much better results.

It's more difficult to quantify the human emotion created by brands than simpler metrics like revenue or page views, but it isn't impossible.There are a number of indirect proxy metrics you can use to reliably discover how your audience is relating to your brand. Using these Emotional-Value Metrics, we can gather objective data on the success of our branding efforts and learn what really works.

The 3 key metrics -- interaction, engagement, participation

We all like to think we're rational decision-makers, but that's rarely the case. In reality, most people interact with brands - whether that's through buying, sharing, or engagement - based on an unconscious, underlying set of expectations about the organization.

Because of their emotional nature, these actions can accurately be used as a heuristic to judge which branding efforts are resonating with your audience, and which aren't. These mini-tests will allow you to get an accurate feel for which messages connect with your audience in the real world.

Related: Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands


Interaction is the starting point of any relationship. Any time a user expresses some connection with a message and an affiliation for what it has to say, that's interaction.

Measuring interaction is simple: Has a customer taken action based on your emotional-value offering? For example, Does someone click the link? Do they walk through the doors? Do they watch the video? Do they open the email?

You should look at interaction as a non-exclusive, open-minded action that allows a customer to "flirt" with an organization without committing to a real relationship. You may have test driven a Tesla, but you probably don't own one.

This is where many organizations make a mistake: They stop. Interaction feels good, especially because it's a game of big numbers. Having armies of Facebook fans and thousands of Twitter followers can provide a big ego boost for a small company or startup.

Don't mistake interaction for the depth that emotional-value can and should attain. Interaction is a starting point, a place from which to launch a relationship, not something to brag to investors about. To discover value, you must dig deeper than clicks and likes and start uncovering the reasons behind these actions.


Engagement is the next level of emotional-value depth. When a customer actively responds to an interaction with you, that's engagement. Engagement is about the quality of the interaction and how far someone is willing to go once they've interacted with your brand.

In order to measure engagement, track response to the things your business is asking of customers after they interact with you. Will a customer give you their email address? Do they sign up to pre-order? Do they sponsor your crowdfunding campaign? Does someone comment on your post?

If interaction is speed-dating, engagement is (as the old-timers say) "going steady." When a customer chooses to engage with you, it usually means they are choosing you as the company in your space they relate most to.

Warby Parker is changing the eyewear industry almost single handedly. Their secret? Beyond their great designs and affordable price point, their home try-on offer (which ships five pairs of their glasses to potential customer's homes for a five day try-on absolutely free) has produced a radically engaged customer base.

Although engagement proves a clear level of emotional-value, it can be deceivingly temporary. If your relationship stagnates at the engagement level, all it takes is another company to come along with a more enticing offer at the right time to lure your customers away from you. Engagement alone cannot sustain your emotional-value in the long run. To do that, you require participation.

Related: 5 Strategies to Instill Brand Loyalty in Today's Young Customers


Participation is the deepest level of emotional-value in the brand-customer relationship. When a customer is truly, devotedly passionate about you and performs actions to exhibit that devotion, that's participation.

To measure participation can be more difficult than the other emotional-value metrics, because the behaviors are least concrete. However, people who fit the description in the above paragraph do perform certain measurable behaviors. For example, does a customer brag about their purchase? Does someone consistently show up to your events? Do they recruit others to the cause? Are they excited to identify themselves as a customer?

If interaction is speed-dating and engagement is going steady, identity is a committed life-long marriage.

Tough Mudder is a great example of a brand that has developed this level of connection. Their customers not only enjoy their outdoor obstacle race events, they take pride in the fact that they are the kind of person who would participate. They share photos and wear t-shirts, not to help the brand, but because they are genuinely proud to. This is the strongest form of brand-customer connection, because it turns regular customers into rabid brand evangelists.

When someone participates they can begin to take on the identity of your brand reaching that fascinating place where terms like "Mac-Guy," "Coke-lover," and "Gucci-Girl" enter the story. It's also the place where Harley-Davidson tattoos and naming your children "Twitter" or "Facebook" begins to make sense. The line between you and your audience becomes dynamically blurred. When that line becomes blurred, your emotional-value becomes irreplaceable. Every startup should focus on optimizing their brand development for participation. It is the most potent relationship you can have.

Related: Be Like That Great College Roommate. Build Brand Loyalty in 4 Ways.

How to measure emotional value

Through the lens of these three metrics, we can begin to form a strategy for measuring your brand's emotional-value. In order to know which stage customers are at, we need to track their behavior. How to do that depends on a lot of factors, the most significant being the size of your company.

If you are a small company or startup, you can take the best and most important route: get outside the building and in front of customers. Meet with people, learn about their needs, discuss their challenges, and share their dreams.

This is common advice, and every startup founder has heard it, but few act on it. This is unacceptable. In the early stages of a startup, you need to be out with customers, learning about their relationship to your brand (and about their feedback on your product). Companies that don't do this risk falling into the Field of Dreams Fallacy, where companies delude themselves into believing that "If you build it, they will come."

Unfortunately, this isn't always scalable, and larger companies will need other tools in their toolkit. Technology has allowed us to scale understanding customers beyond simple surveys and focus groups. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as the markers of interaction, participation and engagement will be different for each company, but you are limited only by your creativity. Customers inevitably will take some action to demonstrate that they have moved from one step to another in the emotional-value stream. Your job is to figure out which behavior that is and track it.

As always, be careful not to take this too far. Technology can help summarize a huge amount of data into something digestible, but it can't digest it for you. Don't expect analytics to give you the full picture. The human brain is the most important tool you have. You need to dive into the answers that technology provides you manually and connect the dots.

Experiment often, fail quickly, measure your learnings, validate your assumptions and build on what works.

Don't ignore emotional value

Companies interact with customers through both their functional-value and their emotional-value. Yet entrepreneurs tend to be obsessively focused on functional-value, using this as the only measure of the value their company provides. This makes sense, as most entrepreneurial endeavors start by observing a problem that you think you can solve, but it isn't how great brands grow.

Your product should absolutely create functional-value in the market, but stopping there can be detrimental to tapping the full value-creating potential of your organization.

Thinking only about your functional-value forms value tunnel vision that sells you short of realizing the full potential your company can have. Breaking from the value-tunnel-vision pitfall requires expanding both your definition and development of your value to include emotional-value. And emotional-value requires intentional branding.

Branding is about authentic, consistent and purposeful relationship building. People create allegiances and loyalty to brands. People care deeply about which brand they buy and what that says about them. People care about the difference between Coke and Pepsi, Apple and PC, Wal-mart and Target. Why? Because we care about the relationship we have with them.

Don't develop value-tunnel-vision. Appreciate the importance of emotional-value to your brand development efforts and use it to take your relationship with your customers to the next level.

Related: Richard Branson on Building Brand Loyalty

Jeremiah Gardner

Author, Speaker, Lean Brand Practitioner,

Jeremiah Gardner is an author, speaker, lean brand practitioner, and bulldog lover. He helps startups, entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 organizations reframe the way they think about brand innovation, culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Lean Brand, the first book to apply lean principles to branding.

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