There, I said it.
As a marketer, I’ve worked for companies that range from just a few people to multinational CPG brands. In my experience, brand awareness has become a crutch for bad advertising — a way for people to remove their personal responsibility for a decision.
How many times have you heard something like this:
Many articles out there focus on attempting to measure brand awareness, but I will save you the trouble and tell you that most methods aren’t actually measuring it all. They rely on surveying customers and anonymously asking if they can recall seeing your brand before, which is actually just brand recall.
Let me explain why putting ANY emphasis on brand awareness is a bad idea. More importantly, let me give you an alternate way of thinking that can actually provide value to building your business and brand.
Brand awareness should not be a focus of your business
If your business isn’t a top 50 brand in the world, you should not be advertising with brand awareness as a goal, but don’t just take my word for it.
Famous marketing and brand expert Al Ries offers the exact same advice in his book The Laws of Branding. According to Ries, brand awareness is something that only these large companies should be concerning themselves with.
Marketing has changed
What were the last 3 ads you saw? According to many marketers, those were impressions that created “brand awareness.”
I couldn’t tell you the last 3 I saw. In fact, like many others I have an adblocker installed and actually just skip seeing them all together.
In the United States, 1 in 4 people are blocking ads and 69% of people say they distrust them. People do not want to be told what to buy. Instead, they want to be informed so that they can figure out what to buy on their own.
As a result, the old way of marketing is dying and arguably already dead. There is too much information readily available to any consumer to ever care what a single ad is telling them. They can get the exact information they need in seconds with a quick Google search, by browsing through a forum, or messaging a friend.
We are simply too informed for a brand impression alone to provide value to a business.
Brand awareness is not a metric that shows intent to purchase, is hard to measure, and is deemed useless for the average business by branding gurus. Does that mean brand means nothing? On the contrary it means everything!
Engagement is key, not brand awareness
Brand awareness focuses on mass appeal and getting in front of as many people as possible. It’s not a metric that shows purchase intent, is extremely hard to measure, and is deemed fairly useless for the average brand.
However, instead of implying that a “brand” is useless, this just means that the opposite approach is almost always a better strategy. You want to be as relevant as possible, making a smaller but more tailored audience a better fit.
By becoming more niche and intimate with who you are targeting, you can start to connect with customers on a real emotional level rather than on a purely transactional one. The amount of people who see your brand becomes irrelevant, and what becomes important is the amount of people who are willing to engage with it.
You can look at brand engagement in a number of ways, but I like to look at two main things: accounts created and interactions on a non-paid medium.
The amount of accounts that are being created at your store is a huge indicator of how much a customer is invested in you as a company as opposed to just the products you sell.
If the majority of your customers are checking out as guests, they are signalling that they see their relationship with your brand as merely transactional. They are going to make one purchase and leave, likely never becoming a profitable repeat customer.
If you are creating an emotional connection through brand engagement, they will have no problem creating an account because they plan on returning.
This is closely linked to the amount of customer interactions you are getting through non-paid channels. This could be comments and likes you are getting on social posts, subscriptions to your blog or content channels, or how many conversations are started on your site.
All of these natural engagement points are much better indicators of how your brand is doing than the amount of times someone has potentially seen it in passing — otherwise known as brand awareness.
Engagement leads to community, and community to sustainable growth
When you take the focus away from pushing a message to shoppers and put it on them personally, you start to see a change that the most successful brands already experience: you create a community of shoppers that is not just looking for the best price.
Dale Carnegie said it best with one of my favorite marketing quotes:
The amount of impressions or brand awareness you create means nothing today. Measure how often you are creating real customer engagement. Be real, care about customers created over sales created, and grow your business through a sustainable community.