Brand Awareness: Three Myths as a Performance KPI

By UM: Curious Thoughts for Curious Minds Archives
Cover image for  article: Brand Awareness:  Three Myths as a Performance KPI

Creating brand awareness is often the foundation of many ad campaigns, but equally such a KPI can be deceptively simple since there are several pitfalls to avoid. Creating or reinforcing awareness seems a clear goal, but our expectations can be based on unproven assumptions about exactly how awareness works. Here are three leading myths surrounding awareness revealing it might not be quite what we expect.

Myth 1: Building Awareness Is a Clear, Single-Minded Aspiration

If we wanted to focus on building awareness of a brand, we could buy large billboards across the nation and plaster our brand name upside-down on them in garish colors. Brand awareness would soar, but we would have failed to move the brand's personal relevance, its quality of awareness. In other words, we would only be impacting and measuring one form of awareness, the quantity not the quality.

While building the quantity of awareness might seem useful by itself, it is deceptively simple because we would not have shifted people's perceptions of the brand. The advertising would not have reinforced the brand's equity that underpins its competitive standing, enabling it to withstand competitive assault or help convince prospects believe it's a brand worth paying more for.

Quality of awareness is critical to ensure a brand's competitive importance, and brand attributes are a strong measure of the quality of awareness. Brand attributes represent the quintessence of the brand. They distil the brand identity both in terms of its physical character and personality traits. For instance, these might cover the brand's personal relevance, integrity, competitive distinctiveness, and perceived marketplace value.

In short, any brand awareness measure needs to track both the whatof the brand, but also the why.This ensuresthe awareness metric reflects both the brand's literal and implied meaning and makes it more purposeful in a competitive marketplace.

Quality of awareness is a powerful metric – typically, it can strongly link to brand preference, the KPI that often is the most powerfully predictive attitudinal measure of market share. In their book, Accountable Marketing, the Marketing Accountability Standards Board, MASB, show that together with distribution and price, brand preference typically explains 87% of a category's market share over the midterm.

In any brand survey, the discriminating power of brand preference, sometimes referred to as first choice, is because we ask the consumer to select one brand above all other brands, and, as such, we can view the metric as a proxy reflecting most purchase or usage decisions.

Myth 2: Advertising Only Works on People Who Are Aware of the Ad

In 2006, copy-testing agency, Ipsos-ASI, undertook a large-scale analysis of 97,000 adults, who tested 500+ ads covering 65 categories, from 47 different advertisers. All test ads were for established US brands in CPG categories. Ipsos-ASI specifically examined respondents who had positively shifted their brand choice as a result of seeing the brand ad. They found that correct ad recall only accounted for 65% of the brand choice uplift. In other words, 35% of those who responded positively to the ad could not remember seeing it!

While ad recall is definitely valuable, we should not apply it as an absolute gatekeeper of advertising effectiveness.

This counterintuitive phenomenon was also confirmed in the online world in 2018 by digital research company, On-Device, who showed that "Three quarters of people who we know have been exposed to test ads, claim that they haven't seen them". For digital advertising, prospects who didn't actively remember seeing ads still saw a lift in unaided brand awareness of +10%.

A key insight by On-Device was that since advertising's impact happens for many panelists at an unconscious level in the study, they concluded "we have measured the System 1 (unconscious) impact of digital ads."

Championed by Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman, System 1 refers to the part of our human thinking that is automatic, immediate, and instinctual. For example, it is what makes us jump in fright if we suddenly see a large spider or snake. Our brain automatically kicks in its intuitive and instinctive mode. This is what makes the audience's unconscious reactions to advertisements still valuable.

Myth 3: All Brand Awareness Metrics Can Fit All Campaign Circumstances

In an age when we are all time-hungry, a wealth of information can often lead to a poverty of attention. Precisely because consumers have a poverty of attention, selecting the best awareness metric for campaign measurement can become critical.

This is where top-of-mind awareness, TOMA, as a key element of unaided awareness, can be useful. Top-of-mind awareness is the first response consumers give when asked to name brands that automatically come to mind without prompting. Essentially, when we select a metric such as top-of-mind awareness as a leading brand KPI, we are implicitly aiming to track the brand's ability to be top of mind at the moment of choice. Yet TOMA has its limits.

In an excellent article on top-of-mind awareness, Chuck Young, CEO of Ameritest, shows that the most appropriate brand awareness metric depends of the lifestage of the brand:

a. For new products, aided brand awareness

b. For established brands, unaided brand awareness

c. For category leading brands, top-of-mind awareness

Importantly, the threshold at which TOMA and unaided awareness become valuable is around 60% aided awareness. TOMA is often the more volatile of the two measures because it directly reflects a brand's most recent marketing achievements relative to its competitor's activities on a week-to-week basis. Conversely, TOMA appears to correlate well with ad awareness, a valuable measure of an advertiser's media marketplace presence with consumers.

Why Brands Grow

Awareness comes in various forms, and not all are suited to all brand circumstances. We shouldn't even assume that consumers need to be aware of an ad for it to have an effect. For awareness to be truly valuable, we have to customize the KPI to the individual brand lifestage and the campaign goals.

In his landmark book, Why Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know, Byron Sharp refers to one of marketers' 'commonplace marketing mistakes' as 'creating advertising that doesn't build or refresh relevant memory structures' in the consumer's mind. While awareness is a useful measure of consumer visibility, we also need to ensure the brand has the relevance and distinctiveness to ensure the campaign is achieving true standout in a competitive marketplace.

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