Measurement is the most painful part of what I do. Not because it doesn't matter (it does, a great deal), but because it is so often misguided and misused.
There are two ways to measure a brand experience. One is to look at the experience you create with a critical eye and interrogate it both quantitatively and qualitatively. Asking, in other words, did you attract the right numbers of the right kinds of people? Did you tell the right stories, create the right experiences, and inspire the right emotions and behaviours?
Brands that approach the act of measurement this way are ones that are clear and sure about their strategic direction. They know in advance why the experiences they are creating matter so much (whether they are temporary or permanent experiences, for employees, channels, media, or customers). Their pre-experience objectives clear, their immediate post-experience questions are always "Did we get the experiences we created right?" not "Were we right to create the experiences?".
Of course, over the long term, these brands will look at consolidated big picture metrics and data (again qual and quant) to assess and modify their strategies, but they will not impose short-term experiences or activities to this kind of constant scrutiny and uncertainty.
The other approach to measurement is short-termist and reactive. It's about asking, in other words, after every experience "Did it work, did it work?". It's about seeking justification in results not in strategy. It's about flip-flopping, getting impatient, and losing faith. It's about failing to do the hard thinking up front, and replacing it with supposedly hard (but, in truth, merely shallow and cynical) measurement at the end. It's about obsessing over the sales results, the polls, and the bottom line the day after you act and expecting to see the difference (and, when you don't see it, changing direction).
Why does this matter so much? Simple. Because building a brand is about setting a direction you believe in and then staying the course. It's about narrative consistency, authenticity, and conviction. It is not about whim or constant tinkering. That's the essential difference between building a brand and driving sales (or, to take politics as an example, between building support and getting out the vote).
Want proof? Want to see the consequences of these two approaches in action? Look no further than Obama versus McCain. Or Red Bull versus Mother. Or Coke versus Pepsi (the New Coke debacle excepted). Or iPod versus Walkman. Or Ikea, Southwest Airlines, Nike, [yellow tail], and Target versus hundreds of pretenders. Look at any example of brands that have sought to measure and calculate their way to success (without vision, authenticity, or conviction), rather than plan for success in advance and stick to their guns.
All that said, forget proof. You either believe this stuff or you don't. And the hunger for proof is part of the problem.
I was thinking about this while re-reading Chasing Cool,a great book by Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman. As the authors say in their introduction, and as all brand marketers need to understand...
"More than ever, there's a perception that you can chase cool and bottle it. If you want it badly enough, you hunt it down and apply it...The chase comes in many misguided forms...Chasing outside insights via focus groups...Chasing other people's successes...Chasing short-term marketing gimmicks...Chasing quick hits..."
The authors go on to outline their antidote to the chase...
"We believe that cool is not the outcome of a chase but rather the province of a tasteful visionary who maintains a personal, authentic point of view."
For 'tasteful visionary' read intuitive, strategic brand builder. Not shallow, middle-of-the-road, short-termist, sales executive. Which do you want to be? And which do you think is more likely to make you happy and successful?
UPDATE. Another way to think about this is to think about the difference between leading and following. Seth Godin made this point powerfully in a recent post about the secret of the great blogs. He points out that the most successful bloggers all lead a tribe of people with a total sense of conviction and purpose (and certainly don't wait to be led by what people want to read). Blogs or brands, it's all the same story really.