History has always been a series of pendulum swings and the same is true with marketing.

The industry has been hyper-focused on conversion rates and direct response tactics for years but is now increasingly rushing back to embrace brand marketing as a key driver of long-term company success.

And with the renewed interest in branding has come an increased desire to measure brand marketing outcomes, or brand lift.

This comprehensive guide covers: what is brand lift; why is brand lift important; why is brand lift so hard to do, and the five components of an effective brand lift strategy.

(While you’re here, you’re welcome to contact our experts for a free consultation to discuss brand lift specifically for your brand. Brandata has partnered with hundreds of marketers to develop bespoke measurement programs for brands of all sizes. Whether you’re building an in-house brand insights program or searching for an experienced brand measurement partner, we’re happy to help you get on the right track.)

What is Brand Lift?

What is brand lift? Brand lift is the measurement of how your marketing, advertising or customer experience efforts are changing consumers’ recognition, perceptions and behavior towards a brand. It is often the main key performance indicator (KPI) of a branding campaign or the branding function within a marketing team.

How is brand lift measured? In concept, brand lift tests are fairly simple to create and typically work something like this:

Step 1: Create new brand materials (e.g., a new ad or creative campaign)

Step 2: Divide your audience* into an expose group (i.e., people who see the ad) and a control group (i.e., people who don’t)

Step 3: Show the the brand stimulus to the expose group

Step 4: Ask both groups brand-related questions around brand recognition, sentiment, distinctiveness, purchase intent, etc.

Step 5: Compare metrics from the control and expose group to determine if any brand lift was detected in the metrics due to the ad

*Optional: Perform steps 2-5 with the same target audience before and after a brand campaign instead of using control/expose groups. This style of pre/post brand lift testing is also referred to as brand tracking.

There are many approaches used to measure brand lift, but let’s first touch on why brand lift is so important in the first place.

Why is Brand Lift Important?

There has never been more interest in creating brands than there is today.

And yet, most of them fail because only 3% of marketers report measuring the impact of their branding efforts.

You can’t improve what you’re not measuring. That’s why measuring brand lift is so important.

Brand measurement and lift programs help align branding efforts with marketing goals, which in turn leads to better long term business outcomes for the company.

There are five major components to consider when creating an effective brand lift strategy.

5 Steps for Successful Brand Lift Strategies

The real reason why so few marketers implement brand lift programs is because there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach and knowing exactly what to do isn’t clear.

At Brandata, we’ve found that there are generally five major considerations for developing an effective brand lift strategy: 1) Context, 2) Objectives, 3) Budgets 4) Tactics and 5) ROI.

1. Understand Your Brand’s Market Context

Markets have complicated life cycles that are subject to growth and change, just like the brands and companies that compete within them.

Understanding where a market is in its life cycle helps marketers determine if their brand’s lift efforts should support formative, iterative or disruptive brand objectives:

  • Formative: Brand lift testing that supports the creation of the category or brand
  • Iterative: Brand lift testing that shows the impact brand advertising has on existing sales and market share (i.e., creative pre-testing or in-market brand lift studies)
  • Disruptive: Brand lift testing in support of disruption or redefining of an existing brand or category

For example, it’s more important for brands in their formative stages to focus on understanding, defining and becoming synonymous within their category.

Brands in the iterative stages should be generally more focused on increasing their ability to quickly scale recognition and salience.

And finally, brands in their disruptive stage will be more likely to want to explore and affect brand sentiment as they look for ways to maximize and consolidate market share.

2. Set Your Brand Lift Objectives

There are a lot of different aspects to a brand, so it’s important to set brand lift objectives that support your company’s business goals and are realistic given the brand’s context.

In the groundbreaking brand measurement book, How Brands Grow, Dr. Byron Sharp uses decades of brand lift research and market share data to make an empirical case for how brands grow over time.

His main findings suggest that in order to grow, most brands must grow physical and mental availability to keep it top-of-mind and in good favor with consumers during purchasing situations.

It follows that metrics that support awareness and distinctiveness are typically at the heart of most brand lift studies given that they tend to correlate strongly with downstream company outcomes like revenue and market share.

In the best case scenarios, companies will first perform their own brand equity analysis that creates statistically significant connections between brand metrics and business outcomes. In these cases, brand lift objectives become even easier to select.

Once the goals of a brand lift study are clear, specific brand metrics and the associated survey questions that support each brand objective can then be selected for the project:

  • Category Considerations - “Which of the following considerations are important when purchasing shoes?”
  • Brand Recall - “When it comes to shoes, which brands come to mind?”
  • Brand Recognition - “Which of these shoe brands do you recognize?”
  • Distinctiveness - “Which of these words come to mind when you think of Nike?”
  • Sentiment - “How does Nike make you feel?”
  • Purchase Intent - “Which shoe brand would you be most likely to buy the next time you purchase shoes?”

3. Establish a Budget For Brand Lift

How much do brand lift studies cost? It depends. In a few cases, brand lift testing can be done for free. Most brand lift projects range between $5k - $20k. Ongoing brand lift programs can cost $20k - $100k or more depending on their scope. Most companies begin with brand lift projects that evolve into brand lift programs.

Brand Lift Experiment: Free - $5,000*

Some ad platforms offer free brand lift experiments (*if you meet their minimum advertising thresholds).

For example, Google’s Brand Lift tool is free if you spend $10k over the course of a week on any U.S.-targeted YouTube campaign.

Facebook requires you to spend $30k on a U.S.-targeted campaign in order to use their Brand Survey Tests.

These experiments are smart complements to existing advertising metrics dashboards and can be set up quickly and easily for campaigns that meet the spending thresholds.

There are also a number of ad hoc or DIY brand lift experiments that can be undertaken for $5,000 or less including AI-powered creative pre-testing, in-market search and headline copy testing, etc.

Brand Lift Projects: $5k - $20k

Getting into traditional brand lift projects, a basic brand metric snapshot study offered by platforms and research companies can start at around $5k while it’s not uncommon to see brand lift tests that either show the before/after or control/expose effects of branding can average between $7.5k-15k.

Brand lift projects typically support new brand launches, rebranding projects or brand advertising campaigns and are commonly included as a line item on the overall budget for these larger initiatives.

Brand Lift Programs: $20k - 100k+

Once companies begin to see the impact brand lift can have on revenue, it’s not uncommon for them to start investing in more sophisticated brand lift tools, processes and expertise either in the form of agency support or in-house teams.

For in-house teams, most brand lift SaaS solutions offer flexible, credit-based pricing models that are based on the number of brands/creative in each program, variety of brand metrics included, type of consumer targeted, geographies being tested, etc. Annual software contracts that start between $20k - $70k aren’t unheard of.

Alternatively, many companies opt to hire research firms instead of building their own internal brand lift programs. Here again, $20k is often a starting point and it’s not uncommon for well-established brands to be spending more than $100k per year on brand lift programs with their agency or consultant partners.

4. Select Your Brand Lift Tactics

The brand lift tools and services category is incredibly fragmented with no single brand or approach standing out as the best solution.

Generally, solutions end up falling into four categories: Ad platforms, brand lift platforms, proprietary brand lift products and survey/cx platforms.

Ad Platforms

As previously mentioned, many brands begin brand lift testing with the products available to them in one of several ad platforms. These tools are helpful because they show the incremental impact that advertising efforts have on brand growth within that platform.

These platforms all work fundamentally the same by employing control/expose groups within existing ad campaigns to demonstrate the impact of brand advertising on the expose group.

In order to detect lift with statistical significance, each platform has campaign budget minimums in place in order to guarantee the impressions needed for the test to reach confidence.

Current brand lift offerings available from the major ad platforms include:

Brand Lift Platforms

Specialty brand lift platforms exist to demonstrate incremental brand performance gains outside of the walled gardens of Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.

And while the ad platform brand lift solutions generally all work the same way, there is generally much more variety in the methodology and approaches that specialty brand lift platforms use.  

Brand lift providers of note include:

  • Upwave: Brand lift testing across different types of media including digital, linear, addressable and CTV without use of cookies, emails, MAIDs or PII
  • Swayable: Panel-based creative pre-testing for brand lift and other creative testing purposes independent of ad platform
  • Brand Metrics: Retargeting-based, panel-less brand lift solution for publishers that builds and targets respondents within the actual digital environment
  • Audience Project: Cross-device brand lift solution that works without or without cookies by choosing the best suited identifying methodology among identifiers and other factors
  • Latana: Longitudinal brand analytics SaaS that measures brand lift over time and across all efforts within a brand’s entire target audience

Proprietary Brand Lift Products

Beyond the specialty brand lift platforms, there’s another tier of proprietary brand lift products that are offered by major measurement and consulting firms in the advertising industry.

Some of these companies have been around since the golden days of TV and have either acquired or built their own proprietary brand lift solutions over time that complement their suite of broader advertising, measurement and research solutions.

The most noteworthy providers in this space include Nielsen, Kantar, Ipsos, Lucid, Momentive, Core Brand, Morning Consult, Savanta and YouGov.

Survey/CX Platforms

Last but not least, some survey and customer experience (CX) solutions offer brand lift as one of many use cases for their platforms.

These SaaS products are typically used for a wider range of qualitative and quantitative research projects but can be tailored to create brand lift studies with the right planning and execution.

While the other categories of solutions described here tend to specialize in control/expose brand lift methodologies, survey/CX platforms tools are more commonly used to measure brand lift over time.

Survey/CX Platforms can also be a good fit for brand lift programs in highly niche markets where panels or advertising audiences may be harder to develop or reach with statistical confidence.

They are also often the smartest choice when brands wish to include brand lift as one of several objectives in a larger consumer insights study or brand tracking project or program.

Survey providers that commonly support brand lift projects, among other things, include:

  • Pollfish: Panel-based surveys with access to 250+ million respondents in 160+ countries sourced through mobile apps and refined through AI
  • Qualtrics: The industry leader in Experience Management (XM) and use by many  leading brands; Studies can be administered to respondents in any industry via panels, email, ads, social media and more
  • Attest: Internet panel-based studies with access to 110 million people in 49 countries that boasts impressive AI and extra human checks to verify data quality
  • Suzy: End-to-end qualitative research solution that supports surveys, video interviews and focus groups to help create a more complete view of the customer journey
  • Google Surveys: Another panel-based survey solution; Very good for quickly and cheaply getting brand insights from easy-to-define consumer audiences
  • SurveyMonkey Audience: A decent email or panel-based option for small-to-medium businesses looking to occasionally run DIY brand lift and consumer insights projects inhouse

5. Maximize ROI from Brand Lift

The final strategic factor to consider when it comes to brand lift is return on investment (ROI).

We opine in this video that measurement costs money, which is one of the factors preventing many marketing teams from tracking brand lift.

Of course, it should go without saying that if your company is spending above the minimum threshold to run a free brand lift study in a given ad platform, you should absolutely be running free brand lift studies regularly as a part of your advertising strategy and operations.

But beyond that, it’s important to remember that brand lift investments should be proportional to the brand lift they help create.

In order to maximize the ROI of brand lift programs, Brandata recommends a three-phase approach:

Phase One: Brand Tracking

When brands first begin measuring brand metrics, it’s not initially clear which brand factors are most important and are key to ultimately increasing revenue and market share when improved.

At this stage, it’s a good idea to measure a brand from as many different angles as possible to fully index it across different categories and dimensions.

We recommend creating a robust baseline brand tracking study that explores multiple aspects of the brand, category and competition for any brand new to brand lift.

Brand tracking helps establish a baseline for the brand and create a comparison for lift for subsequent follow up brand lift efforts.

Phase Two: Brand Equity

As marketers begin to understand the velocity of their brands through insights gathered from brand tracking programs, the question becomes increasingly clear: Which brand metric(s) have the biggest impact on company growth?

Being able to tie branding efforts to financial outcomes is key to building a data-driven brand. This is where brand equity analyses become important.

Brand equity is the portion of company value that can be attributed to its brand.

By comparing brand tracking data to downstream consumer behavior (e.g., organic search demand, website traffic, leads, new sales, etc.) through statistical analysis, relationships can be confidently established between gains in brand lift and corresponding increases in key company business outcomes.

At this point, brand measurement efforts become increasingly valuable because it’s possible to develop financial models that calculate the ROI of branding and brand lift experiments in real dollars.

Phase Three: Brand Lift Experiments

In this final phase, marketers can create brand lift experiments focused specifically on affecting their most important brand KPIs.

Brand lift experiments can isolate statistically significant differences in brand KPIs between people who were exposed to the brand advertising and those who weren't.

Brand lift experiments are infinitely more impactful when using the metrics developed in phase one and a model developed in phase two, but marketers will also often skip directly to this step if they already have brand objectives in hand.

There are multiple styles of brand lift testing, the most common of which include:

  • Creative pre-testing: Branded materials are tested with consumers outside of ad platforms
  • In-market media testing: Branded messages and creative are tested with consumers inside ad platforms (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
  • Branded search experiments: Branded messages are multivariate tested with consumers using Google Ads
  • Branded A/B testing: Branded messages are tested with website visitors using conversion rate optimization software
  • Market Mix Brand Testing: Different branded messages are tested across all mediums in specific geographic cohorts to see which combinations of media work best together

Keeping these phases of brand lift maturity in mind and their supporting tactics helps marketers understand the right time, effort and investment to dedicate to brand measurement and maximize its ROI as part of a healthy brand management strategy.

Brand Lift, In Summary

Measuring brand lift is one of the keys to building a data-driven brand. Done right, brand lift programs measure the outcomes of branding efforts and can help drive increased brand equity and value for the company.

It’s important to have a strategy for each of the key factors of brand lift programs—context, objectives, budgets, tactics and ROI.

This guide aimed to help create clarity around how to maximize each of those elements to produce the most success, but every brand and situation is different.

If you’re researching brand lift at your company, don’t hesitate to contact the brand lift experts at Brandata for a free consultation. Our team has explored brand lift for hundreds of brands and can be a springboard for your own brand lift endeavors.