BrainTrust Query: Is Brand Awareness a Useful Research Measure in an Era of Digital and Shopper Marketing?

Sep 08, 2010

Commentary by Joel Rubinson, senior research consultant to the ARF and
president, Rubinson Partners, Inc.

Through a special arrangement, presented
here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from the Joel Rubinson
on Marketing Research Consulting

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with measuring brand awareness,
especially aided awareness (i.e., "Have you ever heard of a brand called …"). 
Aided awareness is a good measure when a brand is healthy and can be used to
compare progress across markets. However, it becomes a useless measure when
a brand declines.

I remember being at Unilever in the late 70’s and seeing
really high aided awareness levels for some brands that once were leaders but
had since dwindled to tiny shares (Pepsodent and Lifebuoy, to name two; the
reader probably is still aware of them today — admit it!).

In an era of
shopper marketing and Procter’s call for store-back thinking,
CPG marketers want to know how to get their brands noticed at retail. That
means the brand broke through the clutter and became relevant to that shopper
at that moment; it got in the game. It could even mean that a shopper became
instantly aware of your brand and bought it. That is shelf-back thinking!

noticed at retail is not a no-brainer; it is hard and requires great marketing.
John Dranow from Smart Revenue says the first thing a shopper does on a given
trip is deselect 90 percent of what’s in the store. The 90 percent
of products that are deselected are like the gorilla in the video with kids
bouncing basketballs. You are so intent on counting the number of passes by
those kids in white shirts amidst the chaos, you don’t see the person
in the gorilla suit. "Inattentional blindness" is the name of the
phenomenon and it happens to shoppers on every shopping trip.

What a marketer
should want from their communications efforts is to make their brand relevant
to break through the chaos. Create anticipation, curiosity, meaning, and desire
pursuant to actions like getting people talking, searching, visiting your owned
media sites, looking for your brand at retail and ultimately
buying it. Post-purchase, media can help guide the experience consumers are
having with the product and getting them to want to replenish as they run out.

Literally, awareness
is a survey construct that measures the ability of a respondent to retrieve
a brand memory during survey questioning regardless of whether or not the product
category was relevant to their lives at the moment they clicked the link.
In contrast, what CPG marketers really want to know is how to make the retail
experience evoke a brand memory and create meaning while someone is shopping
— further, what communications approaches best accomplish that given the path
to purchase for their product.

If marketing research wants greater impact on marketing decision-making —
if it is to get that seat at the table — it has to start measuring what the
business really needs to know.

Discussion Questions: How relevant is aided brand awareness as a research
measure in an era of digital and shopper marketing? What additional challenges
do marketers have in looking to measure brand connectivity at the retail level?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Is Brand Awareness a Useful Research Measure in an Era of Digital and Shopper Marketing?"

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Mark Price
Mark Price
11 years 8 months ago

No one would argue that products can be bought without customers being aware of them. The classic model of awareness leading to interest leading to qualified interest leading to trial and then repeat and loyalty still applies today. However, advances in customer-level marketing have refined that approach.

The key is to drive awareness of a product and its benefits to a select target–best customers and potential best customers. Since that group can represent less than 20% of the customer base, general awareness levels become a lot less useful. In addition to BCs and potential BCs, a brand wants to drive awareness to customers who are advocates, or are likely to become advocates.

General awareness is like mass media–it only works well if your customer is “the masses.”

Lisa Bradner
Lisa Bradner
11 years 8 months ago
Spot on, Joel. We’re aware of a lot of brands — doesn’t mean we want to buy them; doesn’t even mean we like them; just means (as you pointed out with Lifebuoy) that they’re somewhere there in our collective unconscious. Even intent to buy is suspect to me in this world of instant gratification, real time offers and digital overload all the way to the point of purchase. As a start of the brand journey, we might do better to ask the question of “brand relevancy.” I know this brand — I think it meets my needs and I think it’s something I might consider buying — as the initial point at which a brand has permission to engage. Then, to the “store back” way of thinking, we understand that brand relevancy can happen anywhere from the shelf to the social network to (heaven forbid) the advertising campaign. If we evaluate brands from a position of relevancy and salience, I think we’ll get a much better sense of their overall health, a key metric to… Read more »
Anne Howe
11 years 8 months ago

Measuring brand relevance and brand advocacy is much more important today than aided brand awareness. If I were a brand manager, I’d like to understand what causes my brand to become more relevant to shoppers, and where those relevancy cues come from. Maybe they are generated by exposure to shopper stories or ratings and reviews within the retailer web sites or the social media space. That is actionable information, and can be translated to shopper marketing activity.

Joan Treistman
11 years 8 months ago
Instead of “location, location, location”–or perhaps in addition to–think “context, context, context.” At the store shelf it’s all about recognition, not brand recall or aided awareness. The research metrics we should use are dependent on the frame of reference. That’s why great marketing research is partly science and partly art, but always about skill. If you’re asking about commercials seen the night before, it’s likely to be a recall measure. But if you are simulating a shelf display…or you are in the store itself, you want to be certain to identify which brands are parts of the consideration set as the consumer makes a purchase decision. The measure that delivers that insight is “recognition.” Even eye tracking falls short as a standalone tool, because we can record the eye “noting” a brand, but we need to follow up to determine if the consumer realized she was seeing that brand. To some extent, the packages are the “aided” component. They stand on the shelf as helpful reminders of the fabulous messages marketers have put out about… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
11 years 8 months ago

Awareness is the ante for purchasing, but not a guarantor that a purchase will be made.

You have to separate awareness from purchase behavior to some extent. Most people are aware of brands like the Edsel but it’s been a long time since anyone purchased one.

People are also very aware of brands like BP–just one example of a long line of brands with high awareness resulting in decreased, not increased sales.

John Dranow is right–it is all about breaking through the clutter to find what you want as a consumer, so, in the end it all comes down to what happens at retail.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
11 years 8 months ago

Awareness of what the businesses want to know is not the right question? What do the consumers in that store notice and what influences their decisions are the important questions. Brand awareness can be 100% for respondents in a given study. If those consumers are not a major portion of the joint consumers entering that retail outlet and if other brands have found a way to attract those joint consumers, brand awareness test results are not helpful.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 8 months ago

Brand awareness and perception is EVERYTHING. As an employee of the world’s second most valuable brand (IBM), behind only Coca-Cola, there are myriad aspects of this status that are continually leveraged with the client or consumer. Additionally, there are great tools to identifiably measure the real-time perception of any brand around the world based upon consumer sentiment. Many companies of all sizes are actually modifying their marketing strategies based upon the tactical findings of these brand perception tools.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 8 months ago

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of our classical marketing paradigms are up for grabs.

I think the big shift we’re witnessing is the “democratization” of brand awareness. The era of big brands buying big media and building big awareness is coming to a close. It’s entirely conceivable that an upstart brand with a strong social marketing campaign can build as much awareness as a P&G brand and with only a few thousand dollars and some creative ideas.

Conversely it’s also a hell of a lot easier for brands to get washed away in fray. Being known is no guarantee of being relevant (yes Sears I’m talking to you). And being relevant today is no guarantee of being remembered tomorrow.

Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 8 months ago

Brand awareness is what Sales and Marketing is all about. Without it your product becomes the 800 lb. gorilla dancing around while the kids are playing jacks.

I agree with the comment that 90% of the items on the shelves are ignored while searching for what we want and what we know works best for us. That does not in any way mean we are not aware of the other 90 percent. We are simply not buying them on this trip to the store.

Kai Clarke
11 years 8 months ago

Getting noticed at retail is a very simple proposition, follow the 4 P’s and you will be successful. Product differentiation through target market segmentation relies on this and so do consumers at the point of sale. The key is not to try to make your product a destination product, but instead to make it stand out once it is on the shelf by aggressively pursuing the 4 P’s of marketing. A failure on any of these key indicators is only an easy way to allow your competition to gain a better presence…and more sales…at the point of purchase.

Philippe Guinaudeau
Philippe Guinaudeau
11 years 8 months ago

Hello Joel, your comments on brand awareness are spot on, as usual. Brand awareness is one of the elements needed to be in place to sell well. But I believe Brand Popularity is the key component: your brand might be in the list of tens or hundreds of brands you know, but if not on top of the list, you’re not going to be purchased. Your brand needs to be appreciated and amongst the favorites.

That being said, the next step is to be desired for purchase, another element to work on as a marketer. And so the relevance of the brand is the key component here. The trick is in how you handle this part, that’s not an easy one (any advice?).


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