Insights | By Howard Tiersky

Many Companies Don't Realize They Have a Brand Awareness Problem

At FROM we work with many globally recognized brands helping them increase their digital revenue.

We often hear the executives say, "Well, we don't have a brand awareness problem." And in fact, many of the brands we work with are household names, some domestically and some globally. However, when we conduct consumer research on behalf of these brands it’s not uncommon to find that they have major brand awareness problems! Why the disconnect? Because when people talk about brand awareness, they often are not considering its full scope. FROM has developed a simple 4-level brand awareness model that we use when developing digital brand strategies. The value of this simple model is that it often helps identify opportunities to increase revenue through improved brand awareness even at companies that think they have near 100% brand awareness and identify the areas where a brand strategy will deliver even greater opportunity.

What is Brand Awareness?

What does it mean for people to have brand awareness? Stephen B Shepard, former editor of Businessweek, defined a brand, "A great brand is a promise, a compact with a customer about quality, reliability, innovation, and even community." In order for a prospect to be truly aware of your brand, they must know more than your name, logo, and the general category in which you exist. They must have a sense of what promise you are making. This is where the brand awareness model becomes useful, to unpack the components of brand awareness that go beyond simple "I've heard of that company" recognition.
 
The Brand Awareness Model consists of 4 tiers:

Brand Being 

Brand "being" simply means that a prospect or customer knows you exist. It consists of three components:

  • Name
  • Logo and trade dress
  • Category

So if your prospect is shown a Nike "swoosh" and is able to identify that the brand is Nike and that Nike is a shoe company, you have achieved the first level of brand awareness. The customer generally knows who you are. But if the goal of a brand is to infuse a promise, then being generally recognized is only a first step. When the brand’s promise isn't communicated, "brand awareness" is incomplete.

Brand Breadth

Some brands are known for a single category or even a single sub-category, but in fact, they have products across a much broader range. Cisco is known for routers, but they make all kinds of software and hardware. American Girl is known for dolls, but they make kids craft, clothing, sell books, videos, and make movies. To many people, IBM is known today for selling personal computers even though they actually sold that division to Lenovo years ago. That's why they buy so many commercials to promote their "Watson" software that powers enterprise business intelligence systems. They are still working on creating awareness about the breadth of their brand.

Crayola is well known for crayons and markers, but it also sells hundreds of other products. This brand awareness positions Crayola in the small part of the larger creative-maker space. Many of their regular customers may well not be aware of large segments of their product line. Customers are less likely to explore the Crayola offering because the brand connects to a singular product. 

Brand Benefits

The core of a brand promise is differentiation. Why should a customer buy Nike shoes and how are they different from Reebok and Adidas? If customers know who you are (being) and the types of products you sell (breadth), but they don't know or can't articulate why it matters if something comes from you or your competitor, then you don't have sufficient awareness of your brand's benefits. Maybe your brand strategy does not capture or convey that meaning. Many airlines, banks, and hotel chains face this challenge where customers see them as interchangeable. This is one reason they have to spend so much money on loyalty programs, which are really just a form of discounting, to motivate customers to stick with them, because they have failed to create awareness, even among their regular customers as to what their brand stands for and why its benefits outweigh competitors. In contrast, companies like Apple, Under Armour, Geico, and Disney do an excellent job of communicating through both messaging and experience how their brand is different.

Buying from a Brand

In the end, we want customers not only to know who we are, what we sell and why we're different, we want them to know how to find us and buy our products or services. Therefore buying is the fourth critical tier of awareness. Some products or services are not available at your corner store, and if customers have to struggle to figure out where to get them, they may wind up with a more easily acquired competitor.

And even for products that are widely available, in today's experientially focused age, how you buy a product can be as important a part of the experience as using the product. Many companies provide their products and services through multiple channels, but in some, they can provide a far better experience than others (such as in their owned stores vs. third parties). Furthermore, of course, some sales channels are more lucrative for brands. Therefore it’s important to create awareness as to the very best place or manner to engage in a purchase process.

While it may feel good for companies to receive brand "awareness" and recall market research that tells them, they have an 80% recall of their brand name when subjects are asked, "Name a large bank," that's only part of the puzzle. For a brand to have traction in the marketplace, it needs to test for all four levels of brand awareness and to optimize the whole Brand Awareness Model. We particularly recommend looking at your existing customers for great opportunities to increase revenue through improved brand awareness. Sometimes companies assume their current customers must have good knowledge of their brand since, after all, they are already customers... but look around your house for example at all the brands you have purchased. For how many of these brands do you truly understand the breadth of what they offer? What makes the brand different, and what is the best way to buy more products from this brand? Many, brands have more work to do, and quite possibly so do you.

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