Ever wonder how challenging it would be to measure the return on your brand investment? For professional services firms, it may be easier than you might think.

The professional services industry is defined by its skilled and talented individuals. New business comes more frequently from visible expertise than casual business-social connections . After all, professional services buyers put a lot of money on the line, so they seek out experts they believe can solve their problems most efficiently.

In this highly competitive marketplace, strong branding can help communicate expertise, credibility and visibility.

Many fast-growing firms approach marketing in a scientific way — conducting tests, measuring results, adjusting and repeating the process. Last year’s study on high-growth firms showed firms that conduct frequent research (at least annually) on their target audience grow twice as fast as firms that do not research their target audience (see figure below).


One way this research-based approach to marketing stimulates growth is through a practice known as brand tracking.

What is brand tracking?

Brand tracking is the process of measuring changes in brand perception over time. It quantifies a return on brand investment and supports brand strategy decisions.

With enough data and the right tools, you can measure this perception almost instantaneously. For example, consumer brands with a large social following are able to track their brands in real-time using social media data and web analytics. Sadly, most professional services firms don’t have a large enough social following to make this kind of real-time brand tracking practical.

But that doesn’t mean professional services firms can’t do brand tracking.

With a complex buying cycle and long lead times, firms have to approach brand tracking a different way. For instance, by embedding data collection in the business development process, firms can measure buyer perception.

By tracking your brand, you will be able to see where your firm excels and where there is opportunity for improvement. How does the process work? It boils down to 5 steps:

  1. Establish baseline metrics
  2. Embed data collection in business development process
  3. Adjust brand strategy
  4. Aggregate and analyze the results
  5. Repeat

Step 1: Establish baseline metrics.

One proven method to measure brand strength is to conduct brand research. Only by understanding how buyers see you — your strengths and weaknesses — can you know where to focus your attention.

Brand research is a balancing act of qualitative research and quantitative analysis. The data you gather allow you to establish powerful baseline metrics such as:

  • Relevancy – how relevant are your services to clients?
  • Value – how valuable are the services you provide?
  • Delivery – how well do you do what you say you will do?
  • Loyalty – how likely are your clients to work with you in the future?
  • Referrals – have your clients referred your firm? What is your Net Promoter Score?
  • Reputation – how good is your reputation in the marketplace?
  • Visibility – how visible is your firm in the marketplace?

Step 2: Embed data collection in the business development process

Some professional services firms leverage their website for lead generation. Potential buyers are willing to exchange information for content — the digital equivalent of dipping a toe in the water before deciding whether to jump in.

Capturing the right information at the right time is paramount to a successful inbound marketing strategy — and it’s equally important in brand tracking. Firms that invest in digital infrastructure can poll their web visitors when an action is taken, collecting data used to measure brand perception.

Don’t fret if your firm doesn’t have the capabilities for digital brand tracking. There are alternatives. Brand perception can be measured just as well with a talented client-facing staff trained to poll prospects and clients at the right time.

They can pose questions in regularly scheduled phone conversations or send clients a link to a short survey. There are plenty of ways this data can be collected.

Step 3: Adjust brand strategy

Einstein supposedly said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This practice can be seen today in the professional services world. Many firms cling to outdated or undifferentiated positioning and messaging hoping to build a stronger brand.

Your brand research exercise should uncover strengths you can build on and challenges you can address — and suggest changes you should make to your brand strategy. Using metrics uncovered in the brand research as a baseline, you can track the impact of any strategic decisions you make.

Step 4: Aggregate and analyze the results

The point at which you aggregate and analyze data you’ve collected can vary. Client engagement life cycles are different for every firm. For some, tracking brand adjustments can take a few months. For others, it may be well over a year before brand performance can be evaluated.

Before analyzing the data, try to predict what the results will show. Then compare your hypothesis to your actual findings. Calibrating your understanding of your firm’s brand will help make future strategic branding decisions easier.

Keep your baseline metrics in mind. What areas improved? What strategic brand adjustments could be attributed to the improvement?

Step 5: Repeat

Using the principles of the scientific method, brand tracking is a cyclical process of continual brand growth and development.

To compete in today’s fast-changing marketplace, you need to continually take the pulse of your target audience. Only knowledge will equip you with the information you need to stay relevant in their minds. Brand tracking gives you essential tools to collect and makes sense of these changes. It also offers a quantifiable way to prove return on the marketing investment.