“Brand Awareness” is a Phase
I wrote about my thoughts on how the marketing has masked the message for a lot of charitable organizations, and I wanted to address the role of brand awareness. I had a wonderfully rousing discussion with my family about the issues discussed in yesterday’s post, particularly the KONY2012 video. My brother asked, “But, what if awareness is the ONLY goal? I mean all those YouTube hits mean they’ve hit their goal: to make everyone aware! They state that they just wanted to make Kony famous, and now they’ve done that.”
My response was that brand awareness, though a necessary and measurable goal, is just a phase. I believe that the purpose of marketing is to grow sales profitably, so unless “awareness” increases sales, I don’t think it can be considered the end goal. Brand awareness is just a phase, contributing to the much larger strategy. I think sometimes marketers latch onto the goal to increase brand awareness because it’s a relatively simple goal to achieve, it’s measurable, and it is ultimately valuable to the bottom line when used in conjunction with other tactics. The problem is that awareness does not automatically equal good customers or increased spending. I posited during the dinner discussion that I could quite easily make people aware by stripping down naked and yelling to all the patrons about how there’s a lot of homeless people that can’t afford clothing or food. In that situation, EVERYONE in the restaurant would become aware, but I doubt that my ranting would move any of them to work in a homeless shelter or donate clothing. “Awareness” does not translate directly into “action”.
The concept of awareness seems great. In order for customers to make a choice for your product or cause, they must first know it exists. When customers are ready to buy or donate, they make a list of choices for solutions to whatever they need (be it a soft drink or a contribution to humanity), so awareness is key for getting into their choice set (super smart marketing term to note the options the people consider when making a purchasing decision.) However, I’m aware of Apple products and Pepsi products, but they are never in my choice set. Similarly, being aware of an issue doesn’t make you take an action, so “brand awareness” should not be the ultimate goal.
My concern is that much of the controversy around these issues makes the champions of those issues feel like they’ve done something, because at least people are talking. But the old cliche, “Talk is cheap” is true, and I don’t think they should congratulate themselves just yet for creating awareness. Unless the newly-aware people make a profitable contribution to the bottom line, you’ve failed in the ultimate goal. Awareness is a great goal for Phase 1, but what about Phase 2…3…4? What is your strategy to encourage action that involves the dollars and time to make a real contribution to the bottom line?