What is brand awareness? Brand awareness is consumers generally knowing of a brand, i.e., being familiar with the name. This is the first level of brand awareness. Beyond that, it’s consumer familiarity with the brand’s products and the category it’s in, and being able to differentiate the brand from others like it.

Seen a self-storage campaign on billboards during rush hour traffic? Brand awareness campaign. Watched a perfume commercial straight through trying to figure out the point of it? Ironically, also a brand awareness campaign. Shared an old Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” clip on Facebook? Brand awareness that you just ramped up through social sharing; for this, the marketers thank you.

Because brand awareness campaigns simply need to put a brand on consumers’ radar — but consumer attention is so fleeting and fickle — they run the gamut of approaches. They might hammer a point home on certain product features (i.e., safety ratings for a car), or aim solely to trigger emotion (Sarah McLachlan for <gulp> the ASPCA). They can showcase a thousand products so fast the eye can’t follow (Target) or never show the product (insurance).

“Blue sky thinking” is encouraged in brand awareness campaigns, but that means different things for different marketing channels and delivery methods. For example, fragrance commercials are famous for making no sense and not showing the product till the end — but a fragrance ad will often focus right on the bottle. Meanwhile, the same fragrance brand might do an influencer campaign that allows influencers to “tell the story” their own way.

Why is brand awareness such a popular KPI?

From the brand POV

If consumers don’t know of a brand, that means it literally does not register in their consciousness. They don’t have any opinions about it, don’t realize it exists — so certainly they won’t think to buy it.

Therefore, every sale begins with brand awareness. Brand managers, therefore, always have to start with a brand awareness goal. And this isn’t just for new brands and products. They also have to reinforce brand awareness for staple brands that may otherwise fade into the proverbial wallpaper, or take a new approach to it to support a rebrand.

Especially for products that are usually sold in stores (most CPG including food, drink, personal care), brand awareness can often be the only goal of a campaign. But most brands define other goals, either from the start in tandem, or to follow up on brand awareness campaigns.

From the agency POV

Brand awareness is an old-school advertisers’ favorite goal, because it is so broad, and campaigns with the key goal of increasing brand awareness are almost impossible to measure. Thanks to digital and social media, though, there are better ways to measure how well a campaign has done: engagements, increase in followers of a brand page, the Facebook-tracked analytics, like link clicks and brand recall rate. Although still tricky to know whether increased brand awareness has led to increased conversions or even intent to purchase.

For what types of brands/companies is brand awareness most important?

Consumer brands that exist in crowded spaces need to make a consistent effort to increase brand awareness and build on it through other related KPIs.

To get a great overview of what categories might find this of utmost importance, just watch the Super Bowl commercials. You’ll always see some obvious ones (snack foods) but then others where you didn’t realize they cared (in 2021, it was Reddit, seizing their moment).

Others include:

  • Mortgage lenders
  • Mobile phone carriers
  • Grocery products
  • Automakers
  • Insurance companies
  • Cosmetics
  • Hotels
  • Chain restaurants

One brand awareness campaign that stood out to many marketers was the T-Mobile spot starring Tom Brady and Gronk. Why do we like it? Well, for many reasons. It stars two of the biggest stars in the NFL — whose new team happened to win this year’s Super Bowl — and it makes both of them look relatable and nice, and slightly goofy (yes, Tom Brady too).

It offers a funny back story about how they both came out of retirement, which some people swear has a grain of truth to it. And, strangest of all, it was actually banned from airing during the Super Bowl.  This last thing is hard to believe, but according to AdAge, it had to do with protecting the rights of the official telecommunication sponsor (which wasn’t T-Mobile).

After spending so much on a spot with the players who went on to win the game, only to be blocked from airing during it, this had to hurt T-Mobile. Marketers everywhere shake their heads in sympathy at the idea of so much budget burned.

But, it actually wasn’t. T-Mobile and all its marketing companies leaned fully into the “WATCH THIS BANNED AD” angle, and the ad racked up millions of views before the game, and currently is up to 30 million on Youtube alone. No doubt, plenty of people watched it more than once to figure out what was so objectionable as to be “banned.” So this was still definitely a brand awareness win for T-Mobile

For what types of companies is brand awareness least important?

This is a tricky question because it’s always important for brands to be on the radar of their target customers, but in some sectors and categories, there aren’t very many target consumers. And there are also products and services that — although they may not be thought of very often by the average consumer — are consistently in need by a certain type of industry professional, for a certain business process.

Specialized but not direct-to-consumer services

  • Home inspector (works with realtor)
  • Home appraiser (works with bank)
  • Appliance installers, not at contractor level (works with big box stores)
  • Licensed subcontractors, i.e., framers, insulation installers

There are also products and services that consumers need, but don’t usually have any brand loyalty to because the product or service is so niche. In this day and age, when consumers search for a provider, they search by “[keyword of the service itself] near me.” In the pre-internet days, they would have searched the Yellow Pages. Examples:

Service provider, proximity-based

  • Dry cleaner
  • Gas station
  • Convenience store

Object transportation, large objects (not deliveries)

  • Junk haulers
  • Dirt removal
  • Tow companies

Targeted brand awareness

While every brand wishes it could magically reach every potential customer, budget is finite, and people are distracted. So targeting those who might respond to a brand awareness campaign is vitally important… increasingly so in proportion to how specialized and lower-volume your brand is.

Lamborghini (allegedly, according to Reddit myth) saying the company doesn’t make TV commercials because their target audience doesn’t sit around watching TV, is a statement that hits a lot of people in the heart, in a bad way: You watch TV? You’re not doing enough. You should be out there making deals. 

But the other way of contextualizing this statement is, Lamborghini’s product is so expensive that, if the automaker were to buy primetime broadcast, they’d be paying to reach a huge audience, 99.9 percent of whom could never convert to customers. It wouldn’t make sense to do a huge brand awareness campaign when what the company needs is other KPIs (brand recall, positive sentiment, engagement, loyalty) among a very select group of potential customers.

With that said, you absolutely can find Lamborghini on television, specifically on the show ‘Top Gear,’ which is an iconic and long-running series that showcases the world’s best luxury cars. From the automaker’s standpoint, this type of television exposure makes a lot more sense, since it’s the kind you can’t pay your way into: either your car is ‘Top Gear’ test-worthy or it’s not. And, audiences tune in to ‘Top Gear’ specifically to see how luxury cars perform on the track and the road. Among such an avid and knowledgeable audience, not all can afford a Lamborghini, but the percentage who can is logically much higher than an average primetime audience.

Also, funny to note for those who might be turned off by Lamborghini’s snobbish approach: The company is owned by Audi, with Volkswagen as the parent company, and both of those companies advertise heavily to folks sitting around watching TV all night.

Other examples of narrowly targeted brand awareness

  • B2B primarily, B2C secondarily/situational

Title companies — only need to have awareness among real estate professionals

  • B2B only

Door hinge companies — only need brand awareness among furniture makers, architects, and interior designers.

  • B2C, situational/short opportunity window

Maternity photographers — only need brand awareness among pregnant couples and those who just gave birth.

What are some related terms, and how are they different?

  • Brand sentiment: What’s the general feeling and attitude about your brand amongst consumers who may or may not have engaged/purchased
  •  Customer sentiment: Customers’ opinions and emotions about a brand, formed through engaging with the brand
  • Brand recognition: How well consumers can identify a brand “in the wild” i.e., on shelves or in an online presentation of products, amongst others in the same category.
  • Brand perception: How people (consumers and others) view your brand based on the experiences they’ve had, and what they’ve seen and heard.
  • Influence: A brand’s ability to affect behavior. This is usually seen as “affecting customer behavior,” but truly influential brands can influence their entire category and beyond (case in point: Apple).
  • Brand recall: Connectivity in people’s minds between a particular product or service and the brand – or better yet, when they hear/see a competitor’s mark or logo, they immediately also associate the recalled/recognized brand
  • Brand halo: When someone’s perception of one thing (a spokesperson, a brand attribute, a product) is so strong that it influences their feelings about the brand overall.
  • Lift: The term for how a campaign impacts a certain key metric. The obvious goal here is usually “sales lift” where analysis can draw a line between a campaign and increased sales in the markets it ran. However, lift can also be used for other goals, such as site visits, requests for a certain product, or engagement.
  • Customer loyaltyThe gold standard among all marketers, when customers’ brand recognition, halo and recall are all so strong and so positive that customers actively seek out the brand’s products and even evangelize them to other people.

Other KPIs that go along with brand awareness

The advent of social media has changed not just how marketers pursue and measure brand awareness but also created new KPIs and new ways that consumers can interact with a brand. For example, customer sentiment used to be monitored through focus groups and consumer research studies, but now, a lot of it is done online through social listening tools.

On a similar note, most of the KPIs marketers can choose to monitor in order to measure digital or campaign success are those that are readily available from the back end of Facebook Ad Manager, Pinterest Analytics or Google Analytics.

Popular ones include:

  • Engagement (Likes, Comments, Saves)
  • Amplification (Shares, Repins, backlinks)
  • Click-through rate
  • Capture (Often measured in email captures, but can also mean other things, such as a quote request form)
  • Video plays
  • Ad Recall Lift — specific to Facebook Ad Manager, this is a formula that calculates how many people will remember seeing a brand’s ads based on the number of times the ad was served in a time period.

This final metric is worth noting because it attempts to track and measure a result that was never, prior to social media, considered measurable. Facebook created the equation for measuring it, and now it makes its way into many campaign reports as a “result,” even though it is built around an assumption about humans’ ability to remember things they see while scrolling.

Brand awareness: the bottom line

Contrarian marketers like to say that brand awareness is not important, because other things, such as brand sentiment and consumer engagement, show so much more about how people relate to the brand.

But the fact is, without brand awareness, people won’t feel anything about it, or engage with it, or choose it instead of the competition. Because they don’t know it exists. So while it may not immediately generate sales, it still should always be a consideration.

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