What Are the KPIs for Brand Marketing in Social Media?

The purpose of brand marketing is to generate sales. Whether we specialize in traditional or digital media--whether our focus is paid advertising or earned publicity--the sole reason for our existence is to get consumers to buy. Yet this idea gives us pause. We tend to associate immediate sales impact with ephemeral price promotions that we know produce short-lived sales bursts and precious little in the way of true brand growth. We know from decades of research that price promotions function essentially as giveaways to existing customers and play a very minor role in the acquisition of new customers. Meanwhile, given the nature of brand marketing, we're rarely able to demonstrate the full impact our efforts have.

The good news is that we know with a high level of certainty that our efforts are effective. As Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science states in his recent book, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know, "40 years of single-source-based analysis has delivered solid empirical evidence that advertising drives sales among those who are exposed to it (and some advertisements are vastly better than others)." This is no surprise to brand marketers. Yet the question of the sales effect of our efforts is still a challenge. The issue is measuring the precise return on our organizations brand marketing investments.

Four decades of research have demonstrated that brand marketing works by building and refreshing memories in the minds of consumers. Marketers must consistently communicate brands' distinctive elements to consumers over time. If a campaign is successful, consumers will choose the brands that had previously been marketed to them. As a result, sales are very thinly layered over long time periods.

In "The Power of Like 2: How Social Marketing Works," comScore, Inc. and Facebook presented the results of a study that showed that exposure to earned media on Facebook generated incremental sales over time, just like brand advertising. Yet social media faces the same challenge as the brand marketing channels that preceded it. Very few campaigns include budgets for studies of individual exposures using single-source data to gauge precise sales impact. Perhaps there is another way to measure and track effectiveness in the absence of precise ROI measurement?

Fortunately, research has shown that successful brand marketing has two primary characteristics-noticeability and reach. Both of these characteristics can be easily expressed as key performance indicators (KPIs) for brand marketing content in social media. In the absence of precise ROI measurement, these KPIs allow marketers to measure the effectiveness of their social media content and to continuously improve its sales impact.

Noticeability Research from the fields of neuroscience, advertising, and psychology strongly suggest that the more consumers like an ad, the more likely they are to notice it and remember the advertised brand. Erik du Plessis presents findings from numerous studies that show this connection in his recent work, The Advertised Mind.

Listening is the key to understanding what potential customers like and what types of visual and verbal content will capture their attention. Once these verbal and visual cues have been identified, the task then becomes generating the creative assets that will build and reinforce brand memories. If likeability drives noticeability then the aggregate sum of favorites, likes, positive comments, retweets and sharing can be used as a KPI for brand noticeability.

Reach: Listening plays a major role in expanding brand marketing content reach as well. Brand marketers must listen across all social media channels to identify which channels will be the most suitable for reaching as many potential buyers as possible. Designing content for likeability is also crucial for expanding reach since it determines how many consumers interact with brand marketing content thereby exposing it to others across their networks.

Brand marketers can use the impression, as a KPI to track the number of consumers exposed to their social media content. By ensuring that these KPIs continuously increase, brand marketers can increase the probability that their social media efforts will generate sales, even if they don't have the resources to measure the ROI of their efforts.