Basic Bodhi

“I wasn’t aware you existed.”

Sounds like something my congressman would say to me.

Brand awareness is the minimal quantum of connection with customers, and the foundation for every other marketing maneuver. If they don’t know you exist, then there is no hope they will adopt your product. You must achieve brand awareness before customers can even approach brand knowledge, acceptance, preference, loyalty, advocacy and religion (and if you need some religious indoctrination on all things branding, flip to chapter six of the Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual).

However, “awareness” has proven to be a tenebrous term. In branding, “awareness” constitutes being aware that a product exists, what value it provides and a notion of why the customer should give a durn. For example, I’m aware that Lady Gaga exists, but even after multiple brand exposures, I still cannot identify her value or why I shouldn’t change the channel. Granted, middle aged marketing gurus are not Gaga’s core demographic, and if they were then she would be in a line of work even lower than pop music.

Yet companies large and small fail to interweave value propositions and differentiation into their initial market outreach. Customers often encounter advertising blitz campaigns that force them to recognize a logo and jingle yet leave them completely clueless about the product. Great gobs of money have been wasted in pushing product facades under the noses of customers who are actively trying to ignore promotions.

If you were wondering where you bonus check went, talk to your promotions department.

A problem that new products and most start-ups face is how to gain brand awareness. There are dozens of tactical paths to making people aware that you exist, but there is a smaller set of imperatives for establishing quick and cost-effective brand awareness:

Target small:

Unless you have a hefty budget, it is better to target a small and highly homogeneous set of buyers, perhaps even a subset of one market segment. Your spend per prospect is greater and thus the odds of owning complete mindshare is higher. It is better to have 1,000 customers who know you to the bone than 1,000,000 who have only a fleeting recollection.

Hit them three times:

An ancient rule in cognitive sciences is that a person must be exposed to a product or concept three times before they are fully aware of it. The old joke goes something like:

Tell them the first time and they say “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Tell them the second time, they say “I think I’ve heard of that before.”

Tell them the third time and they reply “ I’ve known that my whole life!”

The point is that you cannot toss a single brand grenade into a market and hope the shrapnel hits everyone hard enough. You must lob pineapples until all targets are taken.

Hit them from multiple angles:

The human mind, even the one in your boss’s skull, is an elaborate matrix machine. It develops memory through a network of pattern recognition. The more vectors on which an item is presented, the more interconnections and the more memory a person has of the subject. In establishing brand awareness, exposing the customer to the brand via many avenues – TV, radio, magazines, social, PR, etc. – increases the likelihood that they will build brand awareness quickly. Since all these activities take treasure, it is again wise to target narrowly in your early brand awareness building.

Referential proof:

We trust people we know, which may indicate we don’t know people very well. But if someone you know even mentions a brand, you are much more likely to remember it. This is one reason social media has become the new marketing darling, because it leverages a highly effective means for building brand awareness, not just through unpaid exposure but through a trust association that imprints brands more indelibly.

One of your first jobs as a marketing maven is to establish brand awareness, and do so without bankrupting your company. Doing so means being smart on what you are building awareness of (value and differentiation), who you are building with (tight targeting) and how completely you own their brains. Failing to build brand awareness means not building a brand at all.


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