Laying the foundation for brand awareness

Brand Awareness

By Tom Dougherty

Every company claims to want to grow their market share and I believe all of them want to. The question then arises, “Why do most fail?” I will address those issues here and focus on why the CEO needs to be not only involved in the process, but actually spearhead it.

brand awarenessThe simple answer as to why most brands fail miserably in moving the needle is that they failed to identify the real problem. That is, they were unable or unwilling to see the barriers to acceptance and adoption by their competitors’ customers.

The fallback defense is to compete with a strong competitor on price or to rely on a series of category best practices. So, when the product or service or brand is not winning, corporations adjust the selling proposition. This seems both smart and responsible because everyone does it. What no one asks is why it does not work.

Often, brands get caught in the quicksand trap of confusing awareness with meaning. If research shows that awareness is lacking, marketing departments and their advertising agency minions embark on advertising campaigns designed to increase awareness. But, regardless of the spend (and it can be very steep), the needle does not change. The rich get richer and the rest of the category scrambles for the crumbs. Yet, no one seems to ask why.

Why brand awareness is not the problem

Brand awareness is never the problem. Never. While it is certainly true that no one can choose a brand they have never heard of, the issue of awareness is tainted by the very question of why awareness is lacking. (Read a blog about awareness here)

brand awarenessIt also appears to some that, if your brand awareness is trailing the category leader, you need to speak louder. The advertising agency will tell you that you need a larger share of voice or a broader media mix. It is as if your solution can be found by yelling louder and with an intensity that demands to be noticed.

The media moguls can even show you charts that demonstrate a strong correlation between share of voice and market share. But they are wrong. They do not understand the science of persuasion and the art of anthropological branding.

The reason your brand awareness is limited is because your meaning is missing the mark. Gaining awareness requires you to fix the problem and improve your brand meaning. Your message is being judged as unimportant and, therefore, your brand is being ignored. Most marketing messages today fall into this category. They are viewed as “spam” (and I don’t mean the potted meat product).

The nature of the market

The reason for this phenomenon can be found in the nature of the market today. We are inundated and swamped with massages. In order to simply function, human beings have developed a skill of ignorance. That is, they ignore messages that they deem, on an almost subconscious level, as unimportant to them.

The din of the market has demanded this skill as a survival mechanism. And, as a result, your louder and more demanding message is backfiring. It sounds annoying and, while no longer ignored, it is now avoided. The importance and affinity you hoped to stir in the prospect has now become its ugly stepsister, a venomous and reactionary dislike of your brand. (Read more about marketing in a crowded space here)

It is very difficult to get around this problem because we too often see everything through the filter of our own brand’s self-importance. We think the values and features of our brand are what really matter to prospects. This self-absorption fatally wounds all efforts to steal market share because it clouds our vision.

The Rules

The first rule then of stealing share is to accept the facts that those who are ignoring your brand message will not be swayed by claims of efficacy and features. Apple’s iPhone did not gain awareness and acceptance because of its revolutionary features. It grabbed headlines because Apple created it. The brand affinity fosters notice. Not the other way around.

brand awarenessTo gain awareness you must reflect the visage of your target audience. You must be at least as much about them as human beings as you are about your product or benefits. Only when prospects sees your message as important will it leave their emotional spam filters and find its way into awareness.

The only sure way to make this happen is to understand your target audience through brand anthropology. You need to understand what they value, what they believe to be true about themselves and demonstrate that your brand helps them achieve that goal. Jif peanut butter did not become a market leader because “it tastes more like fresh peanuts.” It became the market leader when it told the prospect that she was “a choosey mother.”

Finding that absolutely correct “highest emotional intensity” is what drives Stealing Share and ignites a brand strategy that transforms a company — direct-to-consumer or B-to-B —from ignored to preferred status.

Spending time on everything else is just wasteful process. It is expensive litter for marketing departments and highly profitable for advertising agencies.

What the CEO must do

This brings me back to the CEO’s important place in this matter. Once a new focus and promise is identified as the highest emotional intensity and a new meaning is formed, your corporate culture needs to make it true.

brand awarenessThis cultural change is not a marketing problem and any CEO who believes it begins and ends with marketing is destined to repeat past failures. If the meaning is dead on the money, then no one in the category owns it and no one is delivering it. This great void in the landscape is what creates the vacuum that draws customers to your brand with less effort and smaller spends.

But it also means a transformation needs to be in place culturally so that the new meaning embeds every aspect of your business from R&D to sales. The Apple brand promise of “Think Different” is not just a tagline. It is a cultural mandate that is demanded by everyone in the organization down to the store employees.

It all started with Steve Jobs, who made it personal and empowered the organization to make any and all organic changes necessary to keep the revolution going.

If you are a marketing executive reading this, you know it to be true. So forward this article up to the CEO and let’s steal market share and make change really happen. If you are a CEO, invite me in for an hour of your time and we will change everything.