Tracking for a new era.
By Michael Alborough (Founder of MAC Research).
It seems that trackers are having a bit of a renaissance. A few years ago, actually probably a bit longer than a 'few’, it seemed that trackers were going out of fashion, with the advent of more agile, self-serve platforms, combined with the popularity and access to social listening, they seemed quite cumbersome and expensive - and not always actionable. A popular opinion at the time was that social listening could replace trackers as you could see what consumers were saying about your brand. However, social listening, which can be hugely useful, cannot replace the hard figures and trends that conventional trackers bring, within a known, defined audience.
Many things in life and research are cyclical, and it seems that these traditional trackers are making a bit of a comeback. It’s not surprising really as they are so valuable – if done right - to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a given market at any point in time.
With the advent of new technology via online dashboards, scripting tools and respondent access software, trackers are taking on a whole new look and feel. ‘Always on’ (continuous fieldwork) studies combined with advanced dashboard functionality allow the marketeer and researcher to look at the data across any point in time at the click of a mouse. It was not so long ago that tracking results would be presented annually by the agency, reducing the opportunities to spot early warning signals and course correct in a timely fashion. Many trackers also cost a small fortune. Not any more.
Our approach to tracking combines accepted best practice principles married to modern technology, but the technology is used in a completely bespoke, customised way by experienced research professionals who have worked client-side and agency-side and so understand the unique pressures around managing big tracking projects from both sides of the fence.
Central to our modern way of delivering results is the use of a dashboard platform - Displayr - that has been designed from the ground up by market researchers for market research. Diving deeper into the data is very easy, apply sub-group filters, look at any time period you want to and even create your own bespoke filters or run your own cross tabs and visualisations. Being online we update the dashboards centrally, meaning no more sending around huge PowerPoint slide decks and trying to remember which version you should be looking at. Have a look at some interactive examples on our Smarter Reporting page here.
A MAC Tracker also won’t use up a huge chunk of your research budget. The combination of employing these new technologies and being a smaller agency that mainly works virtually together rather than physically together in an expensive office enables us to pass these considerable savings on to our clients.
So, having spent the past few years developing expertise in marrying these new technologies with accepted wisdom on tracking across six continents (we’re only missing Antarctica), we thought we would share a few MAC recommendations for a successful and effective tracker programme:
Get buy-in from key stakeholders, ensure the tracker is aligned with business strategy, be clear on who is the lead decision maker on the client-side team; and for global trackers, understand the role and influence of local markets.
Go for big sample sizes: do consider using a good chunk of the cost savings you will enjoy from MAC by increasing the sample size, this will mean fewer bumps in the trend lines due to a lower margin of error.
Aim for always-on/continuous fieldwork: this means you will never miss capturing the effect of any competitor activity or unforeseen economic events. It also means you can capture any date period in time via the dashboard reporting facility.
Bear in mind when designing the question formats that the majority of respondents will complete the survey on a mobile phone, so will have a different visual experience from those on a desktop. Make sure there is question variety within these constraints to minimise respondent fatigue. Monitoring data quality and respondent engagement is even more important on a tracker so keep a close eye on that on an ongoing basis.
Consider a modular approach: For instance, you might want to turn on or turn off certain (customised) modules in certain markets depending on what activity is happening in that market or the broader economic landscape.
Provide regular dashboard updates: this is a key way to maintain stakeholder engagement. While updates every month is entirely possible if there is a lot of market activity, we have found that every two months is usually frequent enough to observe changes in the data. Our dashboards are online but you can download the charts and data into editable PowerPoint, Excel or PDF if you want to!
Reporting/analysis: It’s important to have senior experienced researchers working throughout the lifetime of a tracking programme, from set-up/design through each update and reporting phase. Odds on we will be thinking about your tracker between updates too!
Refresh/innovate: to keep stakeholders engaged it’s important to keep asking yourself is there any additional analysis that can be done to test hypotheses/add value. Have a good think about how you visualise these outputs.
Be available and responsive.
A successful tracker should be consistent in its core for a number of years, so be mindful of mission creep over time with regard to primary objectives vs nice to haves.
There’s more to say, but we hope you get the gist that we love trackers and think that with MAC they can be more actionable, more frequent and visible, offering a better return on investment.
Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss some of your tracking or ad hoc research needs.