Ask anyone an opinion on any brand or product. Maybe you are thinking of buying one yourself, or maybe you’re just curious. What you are asking for, ultimately, is a vote. Is it cool; good; not so much? These answers are the kind of information that brands continue to pay good money for every business day.

It's actually relatively easy to get that information, however. You find your customers, design your questions, and then ask away. Where this whole process gets tricky is not in simple scales of liking or who recalled the brand name. That's just counting. What's hard is really describing the target. What is the yardstick they are evaluating the product against?

Smart brands know that these sorts of statistics may not be lies, but they are deadly if they are counted on a predictor of fiscal reality. How people approach buying decisions is a mix of emotional and rational criteria, which changes depending on what they are buying. Meaning a brand can do something really, really well that consumers don’t care all that much about. We see this all the time with brands that regularly shout out about the heritage of the company, when legacy often matters less and less in a rapidly-evolving marketplace. The brand may score off the charts on this, and still find itself in layoffs.

We all hold an ideal in mind, even though we don't think much about it, never mind talk about it. You often don't know you even have one until you are face to face with buying your next smart phone and realize there are things that matter and things that don't. When that happens, that is the ideal at work: that hidden but critical criteria you have for what makes something worth buying or not. It’s what’s in play when your friend gives you her opinion about a product. She’s evaluating it against that emotional and rational dream device—perhaps not the one that exists, but the ideal one she wished existed.

It's a mystery why more brands don’t understand this, since there are actually humans at the helm. Those same humans who can tell a friend in detail what they want in a mate, yet not understand that the same process exists, albeit with far less personal risk, when buying a car. Until brands get the target right, all they are getting is statistics. And, after the banking crisis, we all know what that is worth.