Brand Awareness: The Music in Marketing

“Hey, don’t I know you? Aren’t you…”

For most people, being recognized by a stranger can be unsettling. For a pop singer or a company that’s been investing in marketing, though, that’s music to the ear. It’s called brand awareness, and it drives sales.

Think about it. You hear a new signer on Pandora. Sounds good. But you might have to hear that new singer many times before you are going o actually purchase a song, right? How often do you bother to go to iTunes on your first exposure to a new brand, I mean, singer? Not often.

So if you’re investing money in marketing — be it social networks, advertising, direct mail or whatever — a key metric of success is brand awareness.

Gauging Effectiveness

One way to tell if your marketing is working is to use an online survey to determine if brand awareness has increased among your target market. Did a recent campaign move that needle? If you’re a new company, it might be about going from 0 percent to 10 percent recognition. For a more established company, the goal might be going from 30 percent to 50 percent among your target market. Most big brands track brand awareness on a quarterly basis so they can see how their continuing ad campaigns and promotion efforts are paying off.

Be Subtle

A word of caution here relating to online surveys: Brand awareness is one of those areas where it’s critical we not reveal — even by inference — the survey sponsor. To assure that the person taking the survey can’t guess what brand is sponsoring the research, you have to keep it carefully balanced. For example, don’t ask ten questions about your brand and only two questions about others.

Unaided vs. Aided awareness

Typically in brand awareness surveys, we ask about unaided awareness first, followed by aided awareness.

Unaided — Here we give the respondent no hints. “When thinking about Product Category X, which brands come to mind?” That is pure awareness.
But what if that’s not enough? What about preference? “When thinking about Product Category X, which brands are you most likely to evaluate for your next purchase?” Still unaided, but a totally different question because now it combines brand awareness, preference and intent, all at once. This can be important — there are certain brands that I’m very aware of that I have no intention of ever buying. So choose your question wording very carefully. Space permitting (which will depend on what other items you have planned for your online survey), you may even break it into a series, such that you measure awareness first, then preference, and then purchase intent.

Aided — After the unaided awareness, we’re going to ask an aided follow up. Think about it from your own perspective. If I ask you what brands of television come to mind, you might only be able to name three or four brands off the top of your head. If I then showed you a list of 20 brands (this is the “aided” list), you’d probably check off eight or nine of them easily; it’s a lot easier when you’ve got that visual cue in front of you. Both are good measures of band awareness but they’re very different measures, and obviously we’d like our brand to be in the first group.

Nobody knows your name?

Let’s say that you’re in the exercise equipment business and you and a handful of other start-ups are launching a new product — we’ll call it the “Cardio-step-scalator”. It’s so new that chances are nobody’s going to have heard of you or your competitors. In the aided questions, then, let’s throw in some other well-known brands like Nordic Track and Bow-flex. Now we’ll have a comparative measure of what percent of people are aware of the big brands versus the new entrants, and over time this data can be used to track our progress in brand awareness. Choose that list of brands carefully to see what you can learn and what your goals should be. If you want your brand awareness to equal Nordic Track in two years, questions like this will allow you to track both your progress and the effectiveness of your marketing.

Now you know

Bottom line, measuring brand awareness gives you great feedback on how well your marketing investments, both time and money, are working for you. Just be careful to distinguish between awareness, usage, preference and purchase intent. Those all have value, but they’re not interchangeable. Awareness comes first, and can take a while to build before it impacts purchase intent. Though I confess, no matter how many times I hear a Beiber song, I just ain’t buying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Korostoff
Kathryn Korostoff taught market research best practices at Ask Your Target Market, and is the president of Research Rockstar, delivering market research training and support services. She can be reached at KKorostoff AT ResearchRockstar DOT com.