Brand awareness

What is brand awareness? How does having brand awareness strategy benefit businesses, and what can they do to effectively measure and increase brand awareness?

What’s the difference between a brand everyone knows, and just another item on the shelf? Quite a bit, as it turns out: Research shows that consumers have a “higher purchase intention with a familiar brand,” and that high levels of brand awareness correspond to high market share for businesses. 

But valuable as it is, brand awareness has also been traditionally tied to intangible values, and thus tough to pin down. Today, though, the proliferation of social media, website analytics and other technological innovations and brand monitoring tools are helping leaders brand awareness in concrete terms, and tying it to metrics that can be measured and continuously improved upon. 

With these developments, brand awareness has taken on a renewed importance in today’s fractured marketplace. Here’s a look at just what brand awareness is, why it’s important for businesses to pursue, and what they can do to measure and increase it.

What is brand awareness?

Brand awareness is the net amount of knowledge about a brand that exists within a community. It can be within a specific customer base, for instance, or the culture in general. Ideally, this awareness will be positive — and many companies work actively toward and invest handsomely in that goal. 

In a larger sense, a company’s brand awareness reflects the frequency with which people think about it or talk about it. A “brand aware” customer is one who knows about a specific brand, and is more likely to purchase services or merchandise associated with it — whether that means choosing it in a lineup against competitors, or actually going through the trouble of seeking it out.   

In a world where consumers are more discerning than ever — and that offers more potential touchpoints with them than marketers from a generation ago could have imagined — having a positive brand awareness could make the difference between stagnation and business growth. It’s the ingredient that makes a company stand out as special.

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What’s the difference between brand awareness and brand recognition?

Brand awareness is the extent to which people are aware of a brand in general. And, while that often includes the ability to recognize it on sight, awareness is not the same as brand recognition. It’s important to understand the difference between brand awareness, recognition, and perception, and how these concepts support one another. 

A subset of brand awareness, brand recognition refers to the active identification of a brand by a consumer in a given situation — say, while at a store — while brand awareness is basic knowledge that it exists. In other words, achieving brand recognition requires first establishing brand awareness. 

As a qualitative evaluation in the minds of consumers, or the public in general, brand perception takes the branding hierarchy of awareness to recognition one step further. Brand perception isn’t just recognizing a brand, but also assigning value to it. Whether that perception is ultimately positive or negative depends on the relationship between the brand and buyer. EIther way, it all begins with awareness.

Why is brand awareness important?

Why is it important for businesses to build brand awareness? In addition to laying the foundation for brand recognition, perception and loyalty, building brand awareness is also an important step in building brand value and equity. In more basic terms, a higher level of awareness simply translates into “a higher purchase intention than a less well known brand,” as researchers have pointed out

It stands to reason that, by raising awareness of a brand, companies can more readily sell the products and services associated with it, particularly in a crowded marketplace. And that’s even more true in the age of digital commerce, where studies have shown that people spend significantly more on brands that they follow on social media. 

High brand awareness can help businesses earn higher profits not just by triggering more sales, but also by enabling them to charge higher price premiums thanks to a positive brand perception. And researchers have found that high brand awareness among investors also correlates to a higher stock price and greater market share. 

Brand awareness can also positively affect material operations and reveal market opportunities. For instance, third parties will be more inclined to distribute the products of — and to enter into strategic partnerships with — a business with a high level of brand awareness. It can bestow a sense of influence, and even make it easier to recruit talented employees. 

Today, the most valuable and successful brands are those that have mastered how to expand and control awareness. Think of Apple, and how one brand’s yearly event to introduce its own products generates more interest and media attention than entire industry trade shows. Apple is doing the right things to reach the right audience in a way that doesn’t just raise their profile but generates excitement and sales, too.

How to increase brand awareness?

Of course, building brand awareness begins with offering a quality product that meets a specific demand, and it’s promoted by offering exceptional service and customer experience. But there are other more strategic methods to increase brand awareness among the public in general, or a potential base of customers. The key steps to take include:  

1. Revisit your brand identity. Do the elements that make up your brand identity align with larger strategic concerns and sales needs? Do the logo, ads, content and other identifying factors represent value to buyers? Are they helping your business meet customer pain points? If not, it’s time to revisit.

What to understand: There’s always room for improvement when it comes to branding – i.e., there’s no magical “perfect time” to do so. But making sure that the brand’s core components are properly aligned with the company’s larger mission and operational goals is a good idea before investing in an awareness campaign.

For example: To better support a series of new products leveraging its reputation for coffee, while also moving into new markets like those seeking a fast, vegan-friendly lunch, Dunkin’ Donuts first rebranded itself as simply “Dunkin’” in 2019.  

2. Conduct a brand awareness campaign, which is essentially a marketing campaign designed to raise positive recognition. While these campaigns are often implemented along with product launches or the entry of a business into a new market, they can also be conducted as part of a means to raise awareness for existing products — but care and expertise should be used to avoid oversaturation. 

What to understand: Though it may have many similarities, a brand awareness campaign shouldn’t be conducted or evaluated like a standard marketing campaign. While the latter can be measured with specific metrics, measuring brand awareness is more complex — see below for more details.

3. Embrace a multichannel presence, which means promoting awareness in every forum where people congregate. Social media is especially important today, but it’s not the only game in town. In most industries, businesses are still expected to have a website – and one that’s user friendly and engineered to engage visitors and generate sales. Attending live events like trade shows and conferences is also a good way to increase brand awareness.  

Pro tip: Conduct market research to find your target audience for insight into where to best reach them. And when promoting a brand on social media, remember to focus on offering value to the community with info that’s helpful and relevant, rather than overtly self-promoting.

Some other tactics for building brand awareness include: 
  • Sponsoring local events like festivals, or online events like webinars 
  • Produce sharable content like a blog, podcast or video series 
  • Donate to charities under the brand’s name 
  • Setting up referral promotions to incentivize current customers to spread the word

How to measure brand awareness?

A common complaint about brand awareness has been the difficulty in measuring it. Yet with today’s advancements in analytics, and the large number of digital channels with which to engage consumers, measuring brand awareness is now a much more straightforward and systematic process than in the past, delivering actual actionable data that businesses can use to grow their brand in real time. 

For example, Haier Portugal leveraged targeted business intelligence to actively monitor its brand awareness for opportunities to grow market share. “This intelligence has helped us to grow, maintain and protect market share,” reported a manager. “The insights have helped us to be responsive and agile in a competitive market, and as a result, we’ve seen our retail performance improve month-on-month.” 

Some of the key metrics businesses can use to measure brand awareness include online traffic, search volume, social media engagement, social listening, surveys and focus groups, brand tracking and share of voice.

Boost your brand awareness with GfK

Working to accurately measure and actively increase brand awareness is essential in meeting larger goals like increasing sales and spurring growth. As the foundation of brand loyalty, brand equity and more, brand awareness is a strategic necessity — and in an increasingly fragmented world, it’s one that takes real expertise to accomplish. 

For companies looking to grow their brand awareness with better research and more effective marketing, the right expertise can make all the difference. At GfK, our Brand Intelligence solutions are designed to help today’s businesses better define their branding goals, more clearly understand how to meet them, and easily access tools to succeed.