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Your ultimate guide to brand awareness

26 min read
Does your brand immediately come to mind when someone thinks about your product or service? Are you synonymous with what you do? Do new customers arrive at your door with existing knowledge of who you are and what you sell?


What is brand awareness?

Brand awareness can be simply explained as people knowing the name of, or recognising your brand. But taking this one step further, and is perhaps the most important aspect, brand awareness is also about what you’re known for. Generally, it’s better to be known, than not known.

Brand awareness is generally thought of as the first step in the buying process and the most important. Without awareness, the consumer will generally not consider your brand for purchase. There are rare cases (e.g. impulse buying, or some lower engagement categories) where purchase can take place without prior knowledge of the brand, but by increasing brand awareness, you’ll reduce your reliance on consumers finding you by chance – because you’ll find them.

The two types of brand awareness

Brand awareness is an important metric for gauging how well your target audience knows your brand. In fact, awareness measures are often used in research to assess brand performance and marketing effectiveness. For example, does increased awareness lead to improved brand performance?

We can assess this success through two levels – unaided awareness and aided. Your preferred measure will vary according to the size of your brand – for example, if you’re a smaller brand then unaided awareness will be particularly hard to achieve and therefore not much use measuring.

Unaided brand awareness

Unaided brand awareness is unprompted recall of the brand name or product, with a cue (which generally, the category of products). You can use this approach to assess how top of mind your brand is too – i.e. when your brand is the first brand to be named unprompted. “Top of mind” is a desired state because people tend to recall the products they use, so it is usually a strong indicator of performance and a predictor of choice.

You can then compare your brand’s top of mind to other brand’s top of mind scores. However, pay attention to brand size so you are making a like for like comparison.

For example, “What is the first brand that comes to mind when you think about refrigerators?”

“Can you think of any other brands of refrigerators,” is a typical follow-up question (and often referred to as ‘spontaneous awareness’.

The first question is referred to as Top of Mind Awareness, the net of the first and second questions is a brand’s Total Unaided Awareness.

This is a good metric but don’t lose sight that this is sensitive to how the cueing statement is written. For example “What is the first brand that comes to mind when you want to get something to eat out of your home?”

Compared with “What is the first brand that comes to mind when you want to get something to eat?” In the first case, you are likely to get brands of restaurants, in the second case, you may also get newsagents, pubs, supermarkets, and restaurants.

Aided brand awareness

Aided brand awareness is the recognition of your brand name when prompted with a list of brand names or logos.

Unaided awareness constitutes a much more difficult task for the respondent than aided, and brand size is usually a factor that needs to be taken into account. Typically the bigger your brand is, the more likely you are to achieve unaided awareness.

You can see examples of unaided vs aided survey questions in the guide below.

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How is brand awareness different from brand recognition or brand recall?

You may hear the terms “brand awareness”, “brand recognition” and “brand recall” all used interchangeably. This is incorrect. All three terms have distinct meanings.

Brand recognition

Brand recognition is another way of saying “aided” brand awareness. It indicates the extent to which consumers have some minimal awareness that the brand exists in the market. Brand recognition is used to gauge total awareness of a brand in a category, and sometimes to assess how well an ad is communicating the brand.

Brand recall

Brand recall is another way of saying “unaided” brand awareness. It helps marketers assess how well a brand is associated with a category. Here is an example:

‘What brand comes to mind when you think about toothpaste?”

Answer: Colgate.

This unaided method can also be applied to recall of advertising:

“Do you recall seeing any ads for toothpaste in the past two weeks?”

“Can you describe the ad?”

“What brand was featured in the ad?”

From answers to these questions we are able to gauge the extent to which an ad is present/salient among consumers and the extent to which consumers are connecting the correct brand to the ad.

These two approaches to awareness – recall and recognition – are used throughout brand and ad research and have important, nuanced differences that can help marketers evaluate how well their brands and advertising are establishing themselves in the consumers’ minds.

Brand salience: The ultimate goal of awareness

As we covered above, building brand awareness is important. But it’s not enough on its own. The most successful brands readily come to mind when a customer is thinking of buying a product or service.

This is called brand salience. The degree to which your brand is thought about or noticed when a customer is in a buying situation.

Brands should continue to build awareness and then increase their brand salience by creating cues that activate the brand at critical touchpoints. The best cues are those that become synonymous with the customer’s needs in that moment. The more you can differentiate yourselves in this moment, the better.

Benefits of brand awareness

People need to be aware of your brand. Without awareness, the consumer will generally not consider your brand for purchase, and this is why brand awareness is often seen as the foundation to multiple brand equity models.

  • Building (and measuring) brand awareness is an effective way of bringing together a team and organisation. It is the most common measure tracked from top-level executives because it’s just one measurement and it can be used to track your progress as a business. As a rule, if awareness goes up, this is a sign of improvement.
  • But what does improvement mean? Business success, and reaching your goals. If you know the percentage of people aware of your brand, and roughly what your market share is, you can compare and contrast these two numbers. The goal should be to turn brand awareness into brand consideration – and ultimately get more people buying from your brand, and that market share percentage will increase.
  • Building brand awareness can also keep your brand top of mind. It should be noted that brand awareness isn’t a one-time thing. Consumers are busy and have evolving needs, so it requires constant work and messaging to the right people, at the right time. This will help to keep you relevant. Prove your worth to the customer, and you’ll increase loyalty too.
  • Brand awareness is also a good signifier of whether your marketing initiatives are working. If you see an improvement in brand awareness, you know your campaigns are resonating. If brand awareness isn’t increasing, then you know they’re not effective and something needs to change.

Experience matters

We know that brand awareness is important to your business, but so is the experience – for customers, your product and your brand overall. Experiences may help bring attention to the brand too, hence why developing awareness of it exists, and it helps to reinforce it in the memory.

Make sure you’re not letting your marketing efforts down with a sub-par experience. Your consumers may know who you are, but you don’t want that to be for negative reasons.


How to increase brand awareness

Whilst there are some exceptions (such as building brand awareness through usage as mentioned above), generally the most effective way to build brand awareness is through implementing a carefully planned marketing program in line with your brand strategy.

Marketing strategies need to balance two things – short term acquisition, and long term brand building (in which brand awareness is an important part). The best strategies find a balance of the two, rather than focusing their efforts purely on one.

So, if you’re looking to build brand awareness, don’t forget that you still want people to buy from you today. And if you’re focusing on the here and now, remember that there is a tomorrow, and a successful way of growing your brand is to reach new audiences and grow your customer base over time.

Category Kings

A strategy that some brands try to adopt is to create their own category first, and then create demand and evoke awareness around that. That way, the brand is entwined with the category, and becomes the category leader, whilst simultaneously meeting their customer’s needs and demand.

Adopt an integrated strategy

When focusing on building brand awareness, an integrated approach that is tailored to your audience will bring the best results. This is because in today’s age customer needs are nuanced, there are multiple mediums and many more brands competing for attention. This way you’ll be able to reach your audience in more places.

Mediums such as TV and radio will always be important in achieving this, but there are signs that their power may be relenting – so it’s important not to put all your eggs (or budget) in one basket.

According to the Ebiquity report Mind the Gap, total LINEAR TV (not including OTT, connected, streaming TV) advertisement impacts were down by 4.4% in 2019. Whilst this is only UK specific, it points to LINEAR TV not being as effective as before. This is because habits are changing and we should be responsive to change.

For the younger 16-24s, 25-34s, and 35-44s, advertising served on YouTube and Facebook was found broadly to be able to match the reach delivered by LINEAR TV. It should be noted though that in terms of video time per day TV (collectively) dwarfs everything else. (Thinkbox)

What this shows is there are multiple ways to build awareness, which is why taking an integrated approach will work best because the report shows that ‘reaching large audiences to build brands in the decade ahead is going to be more difficult’.

There are multiple ways to build awareness — here are some of the most common tactics”:

1. Advertising

As we have mentioned above, advertising is an effective way of reaching a mass audience at once. This is “above the line” – because it is delivered to the masses, rather than one to one. The best advertising uses this tactic to drive awareness of a product, service in a way that people remember. Brands are constantly fighting for attention from the consumer, but only the brands that are distinctive and differentiate themselves from the rest will succeed in achieving their goals.

Mediums that you might advertise on include:

  • TV (Linear, and connected etc)
  • Radio
  • Social media
  • Web search engines
  • Print (For example, Out of home (OOH), magazines and newspapers)

2. Public relations (PR)

A form of communications, PR is a “below the line” tactic, because you are talking to people on a one to one basis. PR is an umbrella term, and there are different ways to increase brand awareness through this approach – which is “earned” coverage.

  • Media relations – working with journalists, editors and publications to portray your message in a positive, credible and valuable way.
  • Influencer relations – In the same way a journalist might try a product or service, influencers are a popular option too. With big followings on platforms such as Youtube and Instagram, they ensure your product reaches many people – quickly.

3. Sponsorships

This is where brands pay to endorse something for exposure in return. These sponsorships are typically in an environment where the brand will be exposed to a big audience. Sporting events and competitions, music festivals, TV programs are all examples where sponsorship is popular. But more importantly, these sponsorships are where the brand expects their target audience to spend their time.

4. Partnerships

Partnerships are similar to sponsorships in that they’re used to drive maximum exposure. However, partnerships are more “active” – and both parties often have something to gain. Examples of partnerships include influencer or celebrity, and media partnerships. The best partnerships are those that are authentic and feel natural. A good way to decide if this partnership is right for you, is to go back to your brand values and see if their values align to yours.

5. Events

Events are a really popular way of meeting fellow professionals and customers. This might be your own event – such as the Qualtrics X4 Experience Summit, or it might be a third party event that you attend with a booth, or speaking slot on stage. This tactic helps you meet as many people as possible, and often engage with them too – making it more likely you’ll leave a lasting impression.

Experiential events are another option. Popular because they are centred around delivering an experience that you wouldn’t normally otherwise, these moments can live long in the memory. These events are also often coupled with other tactics such as media relations so the event, and news of the event, can reach more people.

6. Brand activations / Launches

Traditionally, brand activations have been an in-person event. These are usually to launch a new product, and generate buzz and excitement for it. As new measures come into force around social distancing in the current climate and industries adapt to these protocols, these events will evolve. Social media and digital platforms will hold even more importance, and brands will find new ways to create awareness for their products that rely less heavily on in-person launches.

7. Thought leadership program

Build awareness by becoming a titan in your category and own it. A thought leadership program is built to set yourself apart from the competition and differentiate yourself. Therefore customers will feel they are buying from the best, or buying the best. Thought leadership programs might include tactics such as:

  • Speaker events
  • Bylined articles or opinion pieces in newspapers or industry publications
  • Roundtables with other experts
  • Media briefings with relevant journalists

You could also create:

  • Video tutorials or demos
  • Podcasts
  • Whitepapers

8. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Make sure potential customers are visiting your site by ranking highly on search engines such as Google. You can do this by competing for keywords – which are closely associated with the services and products your brand offers. This should be one of your biggest priorities as a business, because there is an untapped market of customers who might not have heard of you, when you could (and should) be listed on screen right in front of them, at the exact time your customers are expressing a particular need. Secondly, if your website isn’t showing up when a consumer needs you, then it’s more likely they will click on a competitor’s site instead.

When thinking about what tactics are best suited to achieve your goal, keep in mind the experience you give customers. There needs to be consistency in how you portray your brand too. For example, if you’re a premium brand with a premium experience, then your messaging needs to reflect this.

Building brand awareness through usage

Whilst generally the most common way to build brand awareness is through marketing campaigns and tactics, sometimes there are exceptions. There are cases where brand awareness is built through usage, such as water.


Edge out competitors for awareness with distinct advertising

You want to raise brand awareness, but so do your competitors. Therefore you’re competing in a crowded market where there’s lots of ‘noise’.

Advertising is a tried and tested way of reaching people on mass. However, brand recall is often really low. Only 20% will remember it the next day, and be able to attribute that ad to your brand. (Marketing Week)

There are ways to overcome this – by creating cues and signals that make the ads look more like your brand. Be distinctive, and make sure that people know that ad is yours.

But what cues are the most effective?

Ipsos brand recall chart

(Ipsos)

Ipsos studied over 2000 advertisements and found that characters are the most effective way of improving brand recall. Interestingly celebrities come up second. However, there are risks associated with this option, because you’re vulnerable to guilt by association if that celebrity is in the spotlight for negative reasons.

Research by Kantar suggested that the use of celebrities was generally seen to be ineffective because ‘few celebrities are instantly associated with particular brands’. In some cases, the celebrity overwhelms the brand/ad, so the consumer remembers the celebrity but not the brand on any specifics of the ad.

Consistency is an important component to make it work as an intuitive branding device. There are other options, Kantar suggests “the building blocks of brand assets, patterns, shapes and colours can combine to act as a powerful cue to consumers” and help brands become instantly recognisable.

The great thing about fictional characters is that you can own what you create.

Activate a set of benefits, and link it to something memorable. But this will take time. Some of the best advertising campaigns have run the same message for as long as it is relevant – in some cases over decades, to keep consistency and drive the message home. It requires repetition and reach.

In fact, Kantar outlined the three C’s for achieving a strong brand imprint:

Clarity

Simple, clean, uncomplicated, connected use of color, design, and phrasing. Employ a distinctive color palette to connect, amplify, and build a unique and instantly recognisable identity.

Consistency

Deploy brand assets over time, across channels and products— and draw on heritage where relevant. Expose your brand as much as possible, across all touch points and opportunities so you can embed your brand assets and reinforce recognition.

Communication

Reinforce relevant brand purpose, principles and messaging. Use your assets to invoke reminders of key messages and maximise their influence at points of decision making.

Free eBook: Maximising Brand Value in an Era of Rapid Change

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Benefits of measuring brand awareness

Top of Mind and Unaided Awareness help us measure the availability, accessibility, the salience to consumers of your brand in a specific category. Typically the leading brands in a category, are also the most salient and accessible to consumers. These measures can also be very sensitive to context, how you ask the question.

Aided awareness questions help you gauge the total size of your brand presence in the consumer mind. The advantage of this approach is that there is no ambiguity about the prompt or the answer. The disadvantage is that the consumer can claim to recall many brands when asked directly, but they just may not be salient, or relevant at time of purchase.

Looking at both Unaided and Aided awareness measures can offer even deeper insights. For example brands with high aided awareness and low unaided awareness are typically in decline–many people know of the brand, but few are thinking about the brand. We see this with older brands that have pulled back on advertising and innovation.

How to measure brand awareness

You can measure brand awareness through surveys, to see if someone can recall your brand. There are two types of questions in this survey – unaided and aided.

Unaided

Measure unaided brand awareness with questions that invite the survey respondent to name different brands in your category.

For example: Thinking about brands of toothpastes, which name first comes to mind?

(This is so you can assess what brands are top of mind)

Followed by a second question: Still thinking about brands of toothpaste, what other brands come to mind?

Aided

This involves providing a list of brands that exist in your category and asking the user what brands they recognize. You might use the brand logo to assess recall in this scenario.

There are challenges that come with adopting this traditional approach.

  • You have to be very careful about the cue you use – not too broad, not too narrow. For example, if measuring awareness for a beer brand, do you choose the category “alcoholic beverages” or “beer”.
  • There are nuances too. Taking this example further, most people would spontaneously name Heineken but would they recall Heineken light? Bigger brands may make it more difficult to recall smaller ones spontaneously.
  • Finally, brand awareness doesn’t inform the likelihood for the brand to come to mind in certain circumstances, i.e. day-to-day cues that people encounter. This is why measuring brand salience as a secondary metric is important.

You can try alternatives, such as turning a category into a need, and by doing this your measurements are more closely linked to an action.

For example: If you’re hungry, what brands do you think of?

Mistakes to avoid in measuring brand awareness

Avoid measuring awareness on a level that’s not useful to you, and make sure you are measuring awareness of your brand in the context that is most relevant to your business strategy.

For example, there is a difference between ‘financial services’ and ‘student loans’. You can track poorly in one, and well in the other. Make sure you are measuring awareness based on what you most accurately offer or want to assess.

But taking this example further, you may be a business that is currently known for addressing student lending as your primary service, but your plan is to be a more full service, financial services company. If so, then you should focus on the broader category of financial services and not on the smaller category of student lending. You may learn you have close to 0% awareness in financial services, but at least you know what you are up against.

 

Are you a big, medium or small-sized brand? This will determine which of the awareness metrics is most relevant to you. Large brands generally display high (and stable) levels of aided awareness, so they tend to focus on unaided awareness. Smaller brands may do one thing really well, and want to focus on building awareness around that niche offering, so they focus on aided awareness.

Measuring brand awareness through web traffic

You can also deduce brand awareness by analysing web traffic. If you’re bringing new users through to your site (which can be checked in Google Analytics) then you can feel confident that you are reaching more people, and resonating with them enough that they come to your site to view your products and services.

Start measuring your brand’s awareness today

As you think through your brand strategy and marketing campaigns, and decide how you’re going to build brand awareness, do it in the contexts that you want to improve, and evoke salience. Brand awareness is important, but getting the consumer to use your brand is even more so.

Qualtrics BrandXM can help. Take control of your most important asset, attract new customers and track how you’re doing every step of the way so you can take the right actions for your brand. Ready to go straight out of the box, you’ll be ready to go in no time.

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