Your brand is the most potent weapon in your marketing arsenal. It’s the thing that teaches your audience who you are, why they should care about you, and—most importantly—why they should be buying from you rather than your competition.
But your brand can only do all of that if your audience knows about it. Awareness is only one stage of the marketing funnel, and brand awareness is only one part of your larger brand strategy. It’s also not easy to determine exactly how your brand is performing in this sense—it’s simple to track revenue growth, or to see whether people are clicking on an ad and whether they’re converting. Those are pretty typical marketing metrics that any modern marketer can get their hands on.
But how do you know whether your audience knows your brand? When people hear your name, do they recognize it? Are they confused? Do they simply not care?
These are critical questions for your marketing team to be able to answer. Let’s take a look at some ways that you can measure brand awareness in terms of your own business, so you can diagnose the problem—if there is one—and determine where to invest your budget and resources.
Why is brand awareness important?
This is a question you might be asking right now, especially if you’re relatively new to the marketing game. But there are a few ways that building awareness of your brand can really help your business grow. For example, as awareness of your brand grows, typically so too does the perception of your brand. There are exceptions, of course, but assuming you’re actually great at what you do, the more people know of you, the higher your esteem in the marketplace. It also helps you scale your business—expanding into new markets, whether that’s geographically or in terms of your offerings, is a lot easier if people know who you are already when you show up in a new place or a new way.
Additionally, trust and equity grow as your legend does. A brand that has a wide following has a lot more value, and a valuable brand allows you to do things like charge what you’re really worth rather than relying on discounts to close deals, or it allows you to drive social impact as a leader in your community. A brand that nobody’s ever heard of doesn’t have those opportunities. And it’s almost impossible to trust someone you don’t know; that’s only more true when it comes to businesses and brands. Your brand is your reputation’s delivery system—without it, building short- and long-term relationships alike becomes very difficult.
How can brand awareness be determined?
Now that we’ve established why you should care, let’s get into how you can take the temperature of this part of your brand. It’s important to start here before you just dive into a massive brand awareness campaign. Sure, there are always more people you can tell about your brand—even the most massive and famous brands still do awareness-building work. But assessing where you stand now is important as a guide towards what you need to concentrate on.
Is your most pressing issue that people have heard of your business, but don’t understand what you do? Or do people simply associate your brand with a past misstep, or even something negative that another business with a similar name did? Having a view into what people think about you today is the only way to make sure you don’t waste cash and resources on work that doesn’t need to be done—or work that’s less pressing than the real elephant in the room.
The problem, of course, is that measuring brand awareness is not a simple thing. There’s no one number you can point to. You need to talk to people and see what they’re saying about you in a whole bunch of different venues. So what are some tactics that you can employ to figure out whether people know the real you?
Brand research is the key
When you’re doing anything with your brand, whether it’s as involved as a rebrand or as simple as tweaking a color here or there, you need to be informed. Brand research is the process of diving into the worlds of your audiences and your competitors to determine the lay of the land in your industry, to see what potential customers are looking for and what the market is providing. In the end, you come away with a guidebook that shows you where there are existing gaps in the marketplace that you can fill in, and where there are holes in your own brand that need to be patched up.
This process can tell you a lot about the level of brand awareness your audience has. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups allow you to ask your audiences directly where they see you today, where they think you should go tomorrow, what you do well, and where you’re slipping up. Here’s a note on each, and what it can do for you.
In short, a survey is how you gather a lot of relatively surface-level information quickly. Get strategic with the questions you ask—don’t just wing it, because while this option is going to end up providing less in-depth information than some others, you need to make sure that you’re getting the info that matters. Don’t disappear into the weeds with a bunch of questions about your website navigation if you’re trying to determine your level of brand awareness. And take care to pick a survey sample that will represent your audience as a whole, not just the five best customers you have. Part of the benefit of a survey is that you can get a lot of responses. Cover a lot of ground in your questioning and your sampling, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of where your brand stands in the marketplace.
Diving into the interview process is going to take a little bit longer. Rather than putting together a single set of questions and sharing them with a multitude of people, you’re going to be sitting down with members of your audience one-by-one to learn from them. But, obviously, what you lose in rapidity you gain in depth. In an interview you can cater directly to the specific person you’re talking to. You can ask follow-up questions. You can allow the flow of the conversation to take you in unexpected directions, and you might even end up throwing out the things you planned to ask in favor of a new, better route to the truth. It’s a little harder to get a wide range of responses, but the depth is worth it.
If you want some of the benefits of the interview and some of the benefits of the survey, this is a great option. Focus groups allow you to get a wider range of inputs a bit more rapidly, and they also allow your interviewer to take the conversation in interesting directions as it’s going on. You also get the added benefit of the potential interplay between members of the group leading to even more divergent ideas coming through. The downside? There’s a potential for groupthink to take over and interviewees might be a little more hesitant to go against the grain individually, and also it’s a bit harder to schedule.
Really, the route you take here is your choice. Each option has benefits, each has drawbacks. If you have the time and budget, I’d suggest trying all three—that, obviously, is not always an option, though.
Social media and reviews
This is somewhat similar to what you’ll get from asking people, only it can be a bit more candid. After all, for the most part people who are talking about you online aren’t doing it to you—and even if they are, there’s something of a separation between you and them. When you’re face to face in an interview, it might be hard to get someone to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Anyone who has ever used Twitter or Yelp knows that is not the case online.
There’s going to be some bias here, most likely. For the most part, people aren’t incredibly likely to tweet about your business or review if they had an amazing experience. Or, at least, it’s less likely. People get fired up about something that went wrong and fire off an angry tweet, it’s just human nature. Some of the complaints you’ll encounter are going to be unfair, but you can learn something from examining them—and if you can engage tactfully and solve problems, you won’t just be measuring brand awareness, you’ll be improving it.
Additionally, if there’s not a lot there on social media, and there aren’t many reviews, that’s a good sign that you have a brand awareness problem. Building a stronger presence in the appropriate networks can go a long way towards building awareness. Think about where your audience spends time and try to engage with them there.
Search and web traffic
Some of what you’re going to learn from talking directly to people is going to be more on the subjective side. That’s not really a problem—a lot of what makes a brand good or bad is subjective, after all, and it’s useful to know what people feel. But for some more objective data on how people are reacting to your brand, you can look at your performance on search, and traffic to your website.
Search volume for branded keywords—that is, keywords that include either your business’ name or the name of products or services that are unique to your business—is a clear indicator of whether or not people are cognizant of your brand. If nobody’s searching for you, it’s far more likely that they don’t know you. If they are, obviously there’s a base level of awareness there. And any time you see drastic increases or decreases in branded keyword performance, that’s a clear signal that either you’re becoming more visible or you’re being pushed aside by competition.
When looking at web traffic (for example, in Google Analytics), direct traffic is going to be most relevant. That’s traffic from people who typed your web address into their browser, clicked a direct link in a newsletter, or followed a bookmark. Anyone who’s coming directly to your site rather than coming in through search or other means is more likely to know who you are already—they’re looking specifically for you, rather than stumbling onto you.
Awareness really does pay the bills
Your brand is pretty much useless if nobody knows it’s there. Brand awareness isn’t necessarily the first thing marketers think about when they’re building a brand—and when we’re building campaigns, conversions are far sexier than just saying hello. But without that first introduction, the sale never happens.
Know whether people know you. Find out how they feel about your brand, and if they feel nothing, then it’s time to get to work showing them exactly who you are.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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