The challenge of creating brand lift studies for influencer marketing

Ahhh, the brand lift study.  

A tactic so tried-and-true in the marketing world that a search for ‘brand lift origin’ on Google returns 2.18M results and nothing on page one actually answers the question.

Perhaps the creator’s name is lost to time. Perhaps I needed to go to page 2.  In truth, it doesn’t really matter.  

What does matter however is the importance placed on brand lift studies today. 

If you manage a brand, or work for someone who does,  you know how integral brand lift studies are to proving return on media marketing investment.  

There is a problem though.  Whomever, and whenever, brand lift studies were created predates social media. 

It’s easy to simulate seeing an ad in a magazine or on television, but the effect of an influencer via someone’s instagram feed—that’s something entirely different.  

If you just want a quick summary and an answer to this problem, click here to jump to our 1-minute video with #paid’s Measurement & Insights Lead Richelle Batuigas.

The problem with measuring influencer marketing brand lift

There are 4 big problems with the application of brand lift studies to influencer marketing:

  1. Limited scope
  2. Poorly simulated real world conditions
  3. Study timeline
  4. Benchmarking

Today, in-market brand lift studies are the default for digital marketing.  If you’re not familiar with in-market studies, an example would be a multi-cell brand lift study, like those run by Facebook or YouTube. 

In-market studies are run on campaigns that are already live (i.e in-market), are limited to 5 questions, and the campaigns total reach needs to be fairly large, otherwise a campaign is ineligible.  

This combination of limits make it incredibly hard to run insightful and actionable brand lift studies for influencer campaigns.  

Influencer content creation takes time, which makes it difficult to pivot during a live campaign.  Being limited to only five questions makes it hard to get to the true why of what is or isn’t working.  And as for reach limits, many influencers campaigns just wouldn’t meet the threshold imposed by Facebook and YouTube.  All these combined really limit what a marketer can do.  

The simulation issue is one that seems simple, but is actually quite complex. How you encounter an ad in mediums like print or broadcast vs. when one is shown to you as part of a brand lift study isn’t vastly different. 

The same isn’t true of an influencer ad on instagram. 

Without the platform, without the posts the study’s participant is accustomed to seeing, without influencers or creators they actually follow, the experience is too far removed from the real thing.  

As such, any data that could be gathered is far too artificial, and is incapable of measuring what you actually want to measure—the real lift to your brand.

Then there is the issue of study design.  Typically, brand lift studies are major undertakings.  They take weeks or months to be run. In the world of influencer marketing, that’s just too slow.  

The ads influencer and creators produce for brands are meant to be slices of their life.  Your product injected into their everyday. If you have them create something and then test it for several weeks, you risk it losing its authenticity—a major faux pas in this space.    

Finally, with this being such a novel problem, industry benchmarks haven’t been created. Without them, how do you determine if the lift you received is good, bad, or 🤷?

Creating brand lift studies for influencer marketing creator media

Once we figured out what was wrong with just porting over traditional brand studies used in broadcast and print media, all we needed to do was invent new tools, methodologies, and develop benchmarks…

Ok…that isn’t super simple, but we got to work and figured it out.  

I could write all about it here, or you could watch this video of Richelle Batuigas, #paid’s Measurements and Insights Lead, discussing what her team created to help our clients make better business decisions using brand lift studies:


A brand lift study is essentially a survey that helps us understand whether an ad or piece of creative was able to shift brand perceptions.

And we’ve adapted brand lift studies to capture the true impact of creator media.

For instance, we’re running these studies en masse so we can develop norms and benchmarks, which we’ve realized don’t exist in this space.

Second, we’ve optimized and expedited the process.

Traditional brand lift studies of this length can take anywhere from 5-6 weeks to get results back.

We’re able to get results back within a week.

And that way we can optimize our program in real time and inform our paid amplification strategy.

And then finally, we’ve embedded questions within our brand lift study to unpack the why.

You know, did we underperform or over perform because of the quality of content, because of the messaging, or because of the creator themselves?

And so all of these tweaks in tandem have helped us be able to capture the true secret sauce of creator media, but most importantly it’s helped our clients make more-sound business decisions.