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Improving Brand Awareness: A Guide for Brands
There are some brands that have become so ingrained in global culture that they’ve entered into the modern lexicon: “Kleenex”, for example, has entirely replaced the word for tissue in a number of languages. This phenomenon is an offshoot of brand awareness, and it’s the goal of many advertising efforts. Indeed, not all marketing campaigns are focused on pure sales and conversions — many are focused solely on getting a company’s name out in the wild and planting a seed in the consciousness of their target audience that will eventually lead them to make a purchase.
Even though it can take longer for the benefits of a brand awareness campaign to show themselves compared to direct response marketing, the results are no less valuable: successful brand recognition campaigns will insert your business’s name into the mind of your audience members and keep you top of mind when they’re ready to purchase.
Figuring out how to successfully integrate brand awareness strategies into your business’s marketing programs is no simple endeavor — it takes ambition, dedication, and a healthy dose of creativity. However, increasing your brand’s recognition is one of the most important things you can do for the longevity of your business.
In this guide, we’re going to go over the whats, whys, and hows of brand awareness. We’ll explore what brand recognition marketing is at its core, the different types of brand awareness strategies that you can utilize, and how they may fit into your business’s larger game plan.
So, without further ado, let’s attempt to expand your awareness of brand awareness!
What is brand awareness?
Let’s see if we can construct a brand awareness definition of our own. According to Merriam-Webster, a brand is “a public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted,” and awareness is the “knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.”
If we mash the two together, we can see that brand awareness is all about making the public aware that your brand exists.
Simple enough, right?
Brand awareness is a strange beast. While so much marketing these days is focused on performance and direct response, increasing your brand’s recognition is far more abstract — a successful brand awareness campaign may not see any measurable results for a fairly long period of time. As such, it’s much more akin to long-term investment strategies that will take a while to ripen and reach maturity.
Think of the world’s most recognizable brands: when Coke places an ad on TV, they’re not expecting you to immediately run out and buy a can. Instead, they’re hoping that their brand becomes so ubiquitous that anytime you think of having a soda, you immediately think of Coke. Even if you don’t want a soda for the next three weeks, when that time comes, Coke hopes they’ll be your first choice.
Brand awareness campaigns are fairly easy to differentiate from more conversion based advertising efforts. When Dove ran their Real Beauty campaign, they were hoping to improve public sentiment so that the next time you find yourself in the soap aisle of your local pharmacy, you’d reach for Dove. Compare that to a typical Old Navy commercial, in which the intent is clearly to entice you into the store with their 60% off back-to-school sale.
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Why should companies care about brand awareness?
Brand awareness is all about cementing your business’s authority in the space you’re working in. To see the benefits, you really need to think long term: imagine there are two carpenters, Jules and Ronaldo, both trying to corner an upscale market.
Jules consistently runs campaigns that say “Jules Carpentry: 20% off on carpentry work.” Ronaldo, on the other hand, spends his marketing budget on a branding campaign that says “Ronaldo: Cosmopolitan Carpentry for the Sophisticated Consumer.” Which of these two ads is more likely to catch your attention?
On one hand, Jules’s campaign is more likely to bring in customers immediately, but Ronaldo’s is doing something that’s arguably more valuable: he’s establishing an identity for himself as a high-end carpenter. Even though people at the bottom of the sales funnel may be more convinced by Jule’s direct response campaign, Ronaldo is implanting his brand into the brains of his target market so that eventually he becomes known as the artisan that crafts impeccable works of art, while Jules ends up being known as the guy who will do cabinets at a discount.
It can be argued that these two campaigns are targeting a different type of customer, but the thrust of the experiment still stands: Jules isn’t establishing much of an identity for himself outside of a discount, so when a new carpenter comes around offering a greater 30% discount, he could be in trouble. Ronaldo’s identity, however, will remain no matter the competition does.
Taking a quick look at the numbers, it’s clear how much effective branding campaigns can help a company: a 2015 study conducted by Nielsen showed that 59% of consumers prefer to make purchases from brands that are familiar to them. However, while brand recognition is clearly important, most companies will probably do best by running a mix of direct response and brand awareness campaigns concurrently.
Types of brand awareness
Brand awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses a few different implementations:
Let’s take a moment to conduct a mini Rorschach test. Note what comes to mind when you read the following product categories: cars, soda, computers. Did you think Tesla, Coke, and Apple? How about Audi, Pepsi, and Dell? No matter what you thought of, you probably have a good idea of what brand recall is after this little exercise.
In short, brand recall is all about product-brand associations. At the height of brand recall success, a consumer prompted with your product category should instantly think of your brand, inextricably linking them together so that it’s almost impossible for them to think of that item without your company springing to mind.
If you see two golden arches that look like an M or a curved checkmark, can you name the brand? If so, that means that McDonalds and Nike have achieved a good level of brand recognition. In fact, these two brands have achieved such a high level that you don’t even need to see the logo, you just need a description!
Brand recognition means the ability to identify a business by its logo, tagline, or marketing campaigns. Strong brands are instantly recognizable: when you see the golden arches, you think McDonald’s, when you hear “just do it,” you think Nike, and when you see an animated lizard, you think Geico. Making your brand more recognizable will make consumers more likely to purchase from you in the future.
Top of mind
The meaning of this term is fairly evident: a brand that has successfully achieved top of mind status is the first brand that pops into a consumer’s head when they think of a certain product. This is incredibly hard to achieve, but it is doable, especially in smaller niches.
Brand dominance is a fairly new term that originated in Aaron Pierson’s book Brand Dominance. According to his website, the definition of brand dominance is: “When such a strong emotional connection is created, not only does an audience refer their peers, but it rallies behind the brand in pursuit of the brand’s own growth.”
Although this sounds extremely difficult to achieve, smaller businesses sometimes have a leg up in this area — everyone loves the underdog story of the small local bookstore competing against Amazon. If your business operates in a fairly niche space like veganism of virtual reality, for example, you can often form deep emotional connections with your audience.
Ways to build brand awareness
Now that we’ve established what brand awareness is, the different types, and how it can help your business, let’s move onto the good stuff: how you can actually foster that connection with your audience. To help better explore this, we’re going to look at some brand awareness examples as well.
Omnichannel marketing is all about consistency. No matter how your audience interacts with you — be it through your website, physical store, social media account, or customer service chat — you want to create an experience that meshes with the rest of your brand. As an extreme example, you wouldn’t want to visitors to your business’s website to be presented with cute, pink drawings reminiscent of Hello Kitty, only to walk into your store and find themselves lost in a dark, cyberpunk Hot Topic spinoff.
Apple is a master at this kind of marketing. Their experience is seamless and their products, websites, and stores all maintain a similar aesthetic.
As you design your brand image, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and imagine how they’ll experience your brand.
What better way to introduce your brand to new people than to partner with another brand that has its own following? Partnerships can be a big deal for brands, especially smaller businesses that land a partnership with an established brand. The up-and-coming Impossible Foods recently made waves by partnering with Burger King, one of the biggest names in food.
The Impossible Burger was able to expand into a new market, and Burger King was able to appeal to a whole new demographic that’s interested in sustainable and animal-product-free eating — a clear win-win situation!
If you want to increase your brand recognition and expand your reach, look for brands that can go hand-in-hand with your own. For example, if you sell protein powder, see if you can partner with a brand that sells fitness gear.
If you’ve ever watched NASCAR, you already know how sponsorships can help to build brand awareness. The concept is simple: find some event, team, or person that needs some amount of financial backing and bankroll them. Sponsoring a local little league team is a classic example that works well for small, local businesses.
Here you can see how sponsorships can turn a person or event into a living advertisement. Sponsorships are a great way to implicate your brand in places that it normally wouldn’t be and thus expand your reach.
Red Bull is a brand that has their sponsorship marketing locked down. By sponsoring music and extreme sporting events, they’re able to cement their image as an exciting drink for go-getters in the mind of the public. Red Bull landed the sponsorship deal of a lifetime when they sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s skydive from the stratosphere. Millions of eyes ended up on the viral YouTube video, subconsciously increasing Red Bull’s brand awareness.
Paid advertising is probably the most familiar way that businesses build brand awareness and recognition. When you see an advertisement that doesn’t have a clear call to action such as “go to ponies.com to buy your pony now” or “come to Secondhand Socks for our spring buy one get one free sale,” chances are the point of the ad is to build awareness.
Take a look at the famous lime and coke ad:
There’s no sales pitch and no call to action. Instead, there’s just some polar bears throwing around bottles of Coke. But despite there being no clear sales goal, those polar bears have entered the public consciousness and now polar bears, an animal that existed for thousands of years before soft drinks were invented, have become part of the Coke brand. Now, even a trip to the Zoo can end up subconsciously triggering someone to buy a Coke when they get thirsty.
Aflac also runs great brand awareness ads, like this one, which has the specific goal of teaching the audience more about what they do:
Considering how much focus there is on social media marketing these days, the fact that platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can be used to improve brand awareness (and purchasing decisions) should not come as a surprise. As of 2018, internet users spent 136 minutes on average using social media, according to Statista. Clearly, proper utilization of social media channels can give your brand a lot of face time with your audience.
Starbucks’s social media strategy is entirely focused around brand awareness: they don’t mention many sales, instead opting to fill up their followers’ feeds with aesthetically pleasing images of their products. These posts may not lead to instant conversions, but they do cement a relationship with their audience.
Brands that want to establish themselves as an authority figure in their space should make a concerted effort to use blogging to their advantage. Blogs are a way for brands to provide value to potential customers free of charge. Once a lead has already derived value from a business, they’re more likely to return to make a purchase.
Oanda uses their informational blog to attract new customers. By providing useful advice on the foreign exchange and futures markets, the brand catches organic search traffic and builds a relationship with people who are looking for information about trading these financial instruments. When these people are ready to move ahead and open up a brokerage account, Oanda is one of the first names they’ll think of as they’ve already come to trust their advice.
Guest posting can also help brands reach a broader audience and further establish themselves as the dominant force in a market. The following guest post from Clever Real Estate helps display their expertise. By getting a blog post placed in a major publication, the brand is able to improve their reputation and authority status.
Slogans, sayings, and hashtags
A good slogan is like a catchy melody and you probably know all too well how it can catch on like wildfire. Hiring a copywriter who can put your brand’s identity into a few catchy words can provide a massive and long-lasting ROI.
Here are a few examples of timeless slogans:
- “I’m lovin’ it.” – McDonalds
- “Just do it.” – Nike
- “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” – M&Ms
- “Breakfast of Champions.” – Wheaties
- “Got Milk?” – California Milk Processor Board
A good slogan doesn’t have to be complex or even particularly creative — it just needs to be concise, memorable, and unique.
How to measure brand awareness
Although some marketers deem all attempts at measuring brand awareness as a waste of time since it doesn’t have a direct correlation to your conversion rate, it can never hurt to know more about how the public views your brand.
Here are five ways to measure if your brand recognition strategies are paying off:
- Website traffic: When analyzing your site’s traffic, look specifically for direct traffic, i.e. visits from people that typed your site’s address directly into their browser. This can help prevent confusion with other organic marketing campaigns you may be running.
- Search volume: Use Google Trends to see how many people are specifically searching for your brand’s name.
- Social listening: There are a number of tools like Brandwatch that allow you to scrape social media feeds and search for mentions of your brand. You can use this data to see how far your brand’s name is travelling on social.
- External links: Use tools like Trackmaven to monitor how many sites are linking to you. As your brand awareness grows, more blogs and media outlets will pick up on it.
- Earned media: Similarly to external links, when a major publication or news organizations writes about your brand, that’s a measurable sign of your growing brand recognition. Trackmaven and other similar tools can help you measure this as well.
With this information at your disposal, you should be poised to plant your brand’s identity in the collective consciousness. Remember: these strategies are slow burns — they’re not going to give you success overnight. Remain patient, keep at it, and results will follow eventually.
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