Picture this: you’re heading to a sports bar after work to grab a beer with co-workers. You’re at a crowded bar faced with a long row of taps and an expansive beer list. A hundred beers to choose from, and you recognize about half. There’s a line forming at the bar and your co-workers are waiting. How do you choose?
It’s not complicated: You choose a beer that you know that you like. Why? Because you know the brand, i.e. you have brand awareness.
What is brand awareness?
Brand awareness is familiarity with a brand by its name, how it distinguishes itself from its competition, and any unique values it may hold. The average person in 2021 is estimated to see 6,000-10,000 ads per day, according to Sam Carr of PPC Protect. Without even clocking it, customers consume advertising at every turn, but there are only a limited number of brands of which they have full brand awareness.
According to research from Penn State University, customers can be aware of a brand in one of three ways: aided, spontaneous, or top-of-mind.
- Aided brand awareness: a customer can pick your brand out of a list
- Spontaneous awareness: they can list your brand as one of several in your category
- Top-of-mind awareness: a customer thinks of your brand first, unprompted
Brand recognition vs brand awareness vs brand reputation
Brand recognition, like aided awareness, means a customer recognizes your name and logo. Brand awareness strategy goes further and aims at achieving customers’ understanding of your product, market fit, and brand voice. However, awareness stops short of brand reputation, which includes personal feelings about the brand.
Why is brand awareness important?
Brand awareness is a critical step in the customer journey. A prospect cannot become a customer until they are somewhat aware of your brand. They cannot become a great customer until they have full brand awareness. By building awareness, your company establishes trust, a competitive advantage, and long-term value.
Brand awareness builds trust
Your customers trust those that they know: their closest friends, family, and colleagues. Think of each interaction with your audience like building a friendship. Then, when a customer is at a purchase point for your product, they’ll think of you as a trusted confidant.
Customers are loyal to well-known brands
Brand awareness marketing compounds. Once you build this strong relationship with your customer, your brand becomes less penetrable to competition. As your customer becomes more aware of your brand, they are less likely to want to forge an unknown relationship with a competitor.
Brand awareness is a long-term strategy
A few years ago, I bought a blue Honda Civic—a style that I hadn’t ever noticed on the road. As soon as I signed the car title, it was like a thousand blue Hondas appeared overnight. I saw one anytime I left the house.
This is the frequency (Baader-Meinhof) illusion. Once someone sees something for the first time, they are aware of it every time they see it. In branding, this means it only takes one touch for your customer to become brand-aware. Once they’re hooked, they’ll see your brand everywhere.
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What is a brand voice?
Developing a brand voice is crucial for brand awareness marketing. Wendy’s has achieved a level of notoriety for being a unique example of a brand voice throughout social media and company branding.
“The company’s Twitter persona is a natural extension of the Wendy’s brand Dave Thomas founded in 1969. […] Wendy’s playful approach allows it to make its points in a likeable way, like trolling McDonald’s on National Frozen Food Day with tweets poking fun at the use of frozen beef.” - ‘Behind Wendy’s Epic Social Strategy,’ Fast Company (2)
When honing your brand voice, think about how you would personify the brand. Are you a rugged executive or a sweet grandmother? What about a cutting-edge expert or an empathetic teacher? Once your customers know who they’re talking to, they’ll develop meaningful associations and a greater familiarity with your brand.
How does your brand voice build strong brand awareness?
Your brand voice should feel similar in each instance where a customer interacts with you. By achieving this consistency, you will meet the expectations customers have of you. This will build your brand’s trust and reliability.
Muddled messaging means that your customers will have to put in more effort to get to know your brand. By being clear in each instance, you build quick trust with your audience.
Reflection of audience
Use a voice that your customers can relate to and trust. In the example of Wendy’s, they adjusted their brand voice to match that of their young target market. When customers can see themselves in your brand, they fill in the gaps to become brand-aware.
Earning brand awareness in the digital age
Brands have weaponized online reputation engines to build awareness. Online recognition is the ‘digitization’ of word-of-mouth marketing and can take many forms. It might be a recommendation via LinkedIn, or an Instagram influencer sharing a product. Online endorsements are a critical way to your build awareness strategy in relevant audience groups.
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For better or worse, online reputation can be easy to game. Companies spend millions of advertising dollars to appear popular and established among the right groups. Especially in emerging spaces, companies woo customers with flashy advertising and competitive prices. With the simplicity of online purchasing, switching brands may be easy and cost-effective.
However, brand awareness is an advantage when competitors outspend your advertising or undercut pricing. Even with cost savings, customers will not be able to estimate the cost of having so many unknowns when switching to a new brand. This gives the edge to the company with a stronger brand awareness strategy.
If your company doesn’t have a six- or seven-figure ad budget, brand awareness allows you to compete. Smaller companies have the opportunity to gain audience awareness by using digital marketing strategies that capitalize on the organic methods that customers use to learn about products before they purchase.
Using digital marketing to build your brand awareness strategy
Upwards of 87% of product research takes place online, according to Dan Alaimo of RetailDive.(6) To compete, balance your digital marketing presence across channels to control your brand’s messaging.
Content is storytelling about your brand. Content refers to blogs, templates, product information, videos, customer stories, and more. With content, you create a narrative that reflects your company, product, and values. Companies with strong brand awareness share their voice with their audience through content.
SEO, or ranking in top positions on Google Search
When conducting online research, your audience trusts Google (or other search engine) to show them the most valuable content. Increase your chances to be at the top of search results by optimizing your website with SEO (search engine optimization) best practices for digital marketing. High rank has a double benefit:
- Customers searching for relevant information see your brand.
- You build trust by showing that Google considers your content highly relevant and valuable.
Is your audience on Twitter? LinkedIn? TikTok? Regardless of the platform, these apps exist to enhance connections between people. A presence on relevant social media shows interest in connecting with your audience. Social networks also provide opportunities for friends and colleagues to recommend your brand. By capitalizing on these forms of digital marketing, you can build brand awareness among the most trusted circles.
Build brand awareness by getting the recommendations of thought leaders in your industry. By utilizing networks that tastemakers have built, you reach new audiences and customers. Often, this is pay-to-play, but in many industries, thought leaders give earnest recommendations.
Email is popular and used daily across the world. This makes it, still, the marketing program with the highest reach. Email analytics also provide unprecedented insight into customer behavior. Because of this, email can be used as a learning and listening tool to better understand your brand awareness.
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Paid ads & media placements
Awareness is not built on organic authority alone. Google, Facebook, and paid media ensure that brands’ ads will be seen by their audience. With advertising, your brand can have greater reach and potential for brand awareness. Find the best opportunities for your industry and budget your ad spend competitively. By aligning your content, SEO and paid strategies, you reinforce your message and build consistency across brand assets and channels.
Brand awareness is a journey
Improving brand awareness is an implicit or explicit goal of many marketing teams. We now know that brand awareness isn’t necessarily an objective, but a process. Brand awareness is expansive and includes customer interactions at all stages of the funnel. Yet, as you and your marketing team grow your understanding of what brand awareness is (and what it’s not), you can work to improve your mix of strategies and tools to reach your brand awareness and, ultimately, business goals.
- 10 Branding Statistics You Need to Know in 2021 [infographic], Oberlo, 2020.
- Behind Wendy’s Epic Social Strategy, Fast Company, 2019.
- Brand and Advertising Awareness: A Replication and Extension of a Known Empirical Generalisation, Penn State University, 2004.
- How Many Ads Do We See A Day In 2021?, PPC Protect, 2020.
- What the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Is and Why You May See It Again… and Again, Healthline, 2019.
- 87% of shoppers now begin product searches online, Retail Dive, 2018.