Brand awareness refers to the extent to which customers are able to recall or recognise a brand. Brand awareness is a key consideration in Consumer Behaviour and Advertising strategy. The consumer's ability to recognise or recall a brand is central to purchasing decision-making. Awareness does not necessarily mean that the consumer must be able to recall a specific brand name, but he or she must be able to recall enough distinguishing features for purchasing to proceed. For instance, if a consumer asks her friend to buy her some gum in a "blue pack", the friend would be expected to know which gum to buy, even though neither friend can recall the precise brand name at the time.
Different types of brand awareness have been identified, namely brand recall and brand recognition. Key researchers argue that these different types of awareness operate in fundamentally different ways and that this has important implications for the purchase decision process and for marketing communications. Given the importance of brand awareness in consumer purchasing decisions, marketers have developed a number of metrics designed to measure brand awareness and other measures of brand health.
Brand awareness is closely related to concepts such as the evoked set and consideration set which are used extensively to describe specific aspects of the consumer's purchase decision.
Importance of brand awareness
Brand awareness is related to the functions of brand identities in consumers’ memory and can be reflected by how well the consumers can identify the brand under various conditions. Brand awareness is also central to understanding the consumer purchase decision process. Strong brand awareness can be a predictor of brand success. It is an important measure of brand strength or brand equity and is also involved in customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and the customer's brand relationships.
Brand awareness is a key indicator of a brand's market performance. Every year advertisers invest substantial sums of money attempting to improve a brand's overall awareness levels. Many marketers regularly monitor brand awareness levels, and if they fall below a predetermined threshold, the advertising and promotional effort is intensified until awareness returns to the desired level. Setting brand awareness goals/ objectives is a key decision in marketing planning and strategy development.
Aaker, 1991a argued that, in order to build a brand and maintain brand equity, brand awareness is one of four major brand assets that add value to the product, service or its customers. Investments in brand awareness can lead to sustainable competitive advantages, thus, leading to long-term value.
Types of brand awareness
Marketers typically identify two distinct types of brand awareness; namely brand recall (also known as unaided recall or occasionally spontaneous recall) and brand recognition (also known as aided brand recall). These types of awareness operate in entirely different ways with important implications for marketing strategy and advertising.
Brand recall is also known as unaided recall or spontaneous recall and refers to the ability of the consumers to correctly elicit a brand name from memory when prompted by a product category. Brand recall indicates a relatively strong link between a category and a brand while brand recognition indicates a weaker link. When prompted by a product category, most consumers can only recall a relatively small set of brands, typically around 3-5 brand names. In consumer tests, few consumers can recall more than seven brand names within a given category and for low-interest product categories, most consumers can only recall one or two brand names.
Research suggests that the number of brands that consumers can recall is affected by both individual and product factors including brand loyalty, awareness set size, situational and usage factors and education level. For instance, consumers who are involved with a category, such as heavy users or product enthusiasts, may be able to recall a slightly larger set of brand names than those who are less involved.
Brand recognition is also known as aided recall and refers to the ability of the consumers to correctly differentiate the brand when they come into contact with it. This does not necessarily require that the consumers identify the brand name. Instead, it means that consumers can recognise the brand when presented with it at the point-of-sale or after viewing its visual packaging. In contrast to brand recall, where few consumers are able to spontaneously recall brand names within a given category, when prompted with a brand name, a larger number of consumers are typically able to recognise it.
Top-of-mind awareness, arguably a special type of brand recall, is defined as "the first brand that comes to mind when a customer is asked an unprompted question about a category. When discussing top-of-mind awareness among larger groups of consumers (as opposed to a single consumer), it is more often defined as the "most remembered" or "most recalled" brand names. A brand that enjoys top-of-mind awareness will generally be considered as a genuine purchase option, provided that the consumer is favourably disposed to the brand name. Top-of-mind awareness is relevant when consumers make a quick choice between competing brands in low-involvement categories or for impulse type purchases.
Marketing implications of brand awareness
Clearly brand awareness is closely related to the concepts of the evoked set (defined as the set of brands that a consumer can elicit from memory when contemplating a purchase) and the consideration set (defined as the “small set of brands which a consumer pays close attention to when making a purchase decision”. One of the main roles for advertising is to create high levels of awareness for a brand, product or company.
Consumers do not learn about products and brands from advertising alone. When making purchase decisions, consumers acquire information sources from a wide variety of information sources in order to inform their decisions. After searching for information about a category, consumers may become aware of a larger number of brands which collectively are known as the awareness set. Thus, the awareness set is likely to change as consumers acquire new information about brands or products. In a review of empirical studies comparing the evoked set and the consideration set, Roberts (1989) suggested that the consideration set is likely to be at least three times larger than the evoked set. Consumers, however, need to be favourably disposed to brands before they will be considered as realistic purchase options and included in the consideration set.
Percy and Rossister (1992) argue that brand recall and brand recognition operate in fundamentally different ways in the purchase decision. For purchases such as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), few shoppers carry shopping lists. For them, the presentation of brands at the point-of-sale acts as a visual reminder and triggers category need. In this case, brand recognition is the dominant mode of awareness. For other purchases, where the brand is not present, the consumer first experiences category need then searches memory for brands within that category. Many services, such as home help, gardening services, pizza delivery fall into this category. In this case, the category need precedes brand awareness. Such purchases are recall dominant, and the consumer is more likely to select one of the brands that elicited from memory. The distinction between brand recall and brand recognition has important implications for advertising strategy.
Brand dominance occurs when, during brand recall tests, most consumers can name only one brand from a given category. Brand dominance is defined as an individual’s selection of only certain brand names in a related category during a brand recall procedure. While brand dominance might appear to be a desirable goal, overall dominance can be a double-edged sword.
A brand name that is well known to the majority of people or households is also called a household name and may be an indicator of brand success. Occasionally a brand can become so successful that the brand becomes synonymous with the category. For example, British people often talk about "Hoovering the house" when they actually mean "vacuuming the house." (Hoover is a brand name). When this happens, the brand name is said to have "gone generic." Examples of brands becoming generic abound; Kleenex, Cellotape, Nescafe, Aspirin and Panadol. When a brand goes generic, it can present a marketing problem because when the consumer requests a named brand at the retail outlet, they may be supplied with a competing brand. For example, if a person enters a bar and requests "a rum and Coke," the bartender may interpret that to mean a "rum and cola-flavoured beverage," paving the way for the outlet to supply a cheaper alternative mixer. In such a scenario, Coca Cola Ltd, who after investing in brand building for more than a century, is the ultimate loser because it does not get the sale.
Measuring brand awareness
Just as different types of brand awareness can be identified, there are a variety of methods for measuring awareness. Typically, researchers use surveys, carried out on a sample of consumers asking about their knowledge of the focus brand or category.
- Unaided recall tests: where the respondent is presented with a product category and asked to nominate as many brands as possible. Thus, the unaided recall test provides the respondent with no clues or cues. Unaided recall tests are used to test for brand recall.
- Aided recall test: where the respondent is prompted with a brand name and asked whether they have seen it or heard about it. In some aided recall tests, the respondent might also be asked to explain what they know about the brand e.g. to describe package, colour, logo or other distinctive features. Aided recall tests are used to test for brand recognition.
- Other brand-effects tests: In addition, to recall tests, brand research often employs a battery of tests, such as brand association tests, brand attitude, brand image, brand dominance and any other relevant tests. Although these tests do not explicitly measure brand awareness, they provide general measures of brand health and are used in conjunction with brand recall tests.
A number of commercial research firms (e.g. Interbrand, Millward-Brown, Nielsen (Asia) ) monitor brand effects on for key international brands and the topline survey findings are widely published in business press, trade press and online. It is worth noting that these commercially compiled lists are not popularity contests, but use clearly articulated methodologies to compile lists based on consumer responses collected in structured research. However, these listings use a variety of metrics, so the results are not directly comparable and it cannot be assumed that they measure brand awareness. As with the interpretation of all research, it is important for readers to familiarise themselves with the methodologies used in order to clarify what exactly is being measured and how the data was collected.
Obviously, most marketers aim to build high levels of brand awareness within relevant market segments, giving rise to an ongoing interest in developing the right metrics to measure brand effects. Metrics used to measure brand effects are collectively termed AAU metrics (Awareness, Attitudes and Usage).
Brand Awareness and the Hierarchy of Effects
Hierarchical models are linear sequential models built on an assumption that consumers move through a series of cognitive and affective stages leading to an ultimate purchase decision. In these models, advertising operates as a stimulus and the purchase decision is a response. A number of hierarchical models can be found in the literature including DAGMAR and AIDA.
- Stage 1: Awareness - The consumer becomes aware of a category, product or brand (usually through advertising)
- Stage 2: Knowledge - The consumer learns about the brand (e.g. sizes, colours, prices, availability etc)
- Stage 3: Liking - The consumer develops a favourable/unfavourable disposition towards the brand
- Stage 4: Preference - The consumer begins to rate one brand above other comparable brands
- Stage 5: Conviction - The consumer demonstrates a desire to purchase (through inspection, sampling or limited scale trial)
- Stage 6: Purchase - The consumer acquires the product
The model's developers noted that the first two stages involve cognitive processes; stages 3 and 4 involve attitudes (or feelings) while the final stages involve action (or behaviours). It should be evident that brand awareness constitutes just one of six stages that consumers typically work through. While awareness is a necessary precondition to the purchase, awareness alone cannot guarantee the ultimate purchase. Consumers may be aware of a brand, but for whatever reasons, may not be like it or may fail to develop a preference for that brand. Hence, brand awareness is an indicator of sales performance, but does not account for all sales performance. For these reasons, marketers use a variety of metrics, including cognitive, affective and behavioral variables, to monitor a brand's market performance.
As consumers move through the hierarchy of effects (awareness→ knowledge→ liking→ preference→ conviction→ purchase), they rely on different sources of information to learn about brands. While main media advertising is useful for creating awareness, its capacity to convey convey long or complex messages is limited. In order to acquire more detailed knowledge about a brand, consumers rely on different sources such as product reviews, expert opinion, word-of-mouth referrals and brand/ corporate websites. As consumers move closer to the actual purchase, they begin to rely on more personal sources of information such as recommendations from friends and relatives or the advice of sales representatives. For example, the opinion of an influential blogger might be enough to shore up preference/conviction while a salesperson might be necessary to close the actual purchase.
Creating and maintaining brand awareness
Brand advertising can increase the probability that a consumer will include a given brand in his or her consideration set. Brand-related advertising expenditure has a positive affect on brand awareness levels. Virtually anything that exposes consumers to a brand increases brand awareness. “Repeat brand exposure in stores improves consumers' ability to recognize and recall the brand.” Increased exposure to brand advertising can increase consumer awareness and ‘facilitate consumer processing of the included information, and by doing this it can heighten consumers brand recall and attitude towards the brand.
Traditionally, marketers created high levels of brand awareness through intensive advertising campaigns. To be successful, an intensive campaign utilised both broad reach (expose more people to the message) and high frequency (expose people multiple times to the message). Advertising, especially main media advertising, was seen as the most cost efficient means of reaching large audiences with relatively high frequency levels. Marketers often relied on rough and ready 'rules-of-thumb' to estimate the amount of advertising expenditure required to achieve a predetermined level of awareness. For instance, it was often held that to increase brand awareness by just one per cent, it was necessary to double the dollars spent on advertising.
While advertising remains important for creating awareness, a number of changes in the media landscape and to consumer media habits have reduced the reliance on main media advertising. Instead, marketers are seeking to place their brand messages across a much wider variety of platforms. An increasing amount of consumer time and attention is devoted to digital communications devices - from Computers and Tablets through to cellphones. It is now possible to engage with consumers in a cost efficient manner using platforms such as social media networks that command massive massive audiences. For example, Facebook has become an extremely important communications channel. Moreover, social media channels allow for two-way, interactive communications that are not paralleled by traditional main media. Interactive communications provide more opportunities for brands to connect with audience members and to move beyond simple awareness, facilitating brand preference, brand conviction and ultimately brand loyalty.
When a brand becomes established and attains the desired awareness levels (typically outlined in the marketing plan), the brand advertiser will shift from an intensive advertising campaign to a reminder campaign. The objective of a reminder campaign is simply to keep relevant audiences aware of the brand's existence and to introduce new life into the brand offer. A reminder campaign typically maintains broad reach, but with reduced frequency and as a consequence is a less expensive advertising option. Reminder advertising is used by established brands, often when they are entering the maturity stage of the product lifecycle.
The rise of social media networks has increased the opportunities for opinion leaders to play a role in brand awareness. In theory, anyone can be an opinion leader e.g. celebrities, journalists or public figures, but the rise of the digital environment has changed our understanding of who is a potentially useful influencer. Indeed the digital environment has created more opportunities for bloggers to become important influencers because they are seen as accessible, authentic and tend to have loyal followings. Bloggers have become key influencers in important consumer goods and services including fashion, consumer electronics, food and beverage, cooking, restaurant dining and bars. For example, a recent survey by by Collective Bias, showed that when it comes to product endorsements digital influencers are more popular than celebrities. Findings showed that only 3% of participants said they would consider buying a celebrity-endorsed item, in comparison to 60% who said they had been influenced by a blog review or social media post when shopping. For marketers, the digital landscape has made it somewhat easier to identify social influencers.
Popular examples of brand advertising and promotion
The following examples illustrate how brand awareness and brand advertising are used in practice.
Coca-Cola 'Share a Coke' Campaign
Coca-Cola is a well-established brand with a long history and one that has achieved market dominance. For any brand, such as Coke, that controls some 70 percent of market share, there are relatively few opportunities to enlist new customers. Yet Coca-Cola is always on the lookout for novel communications that not only maintain its brand awareness, but that bring the brand to the attention of new audiences. The company launched a campaign which became known as ‘Share a Coke’, with the campaign objectives; "to strengthen the brand’s bond with Australia’s young adults – and inspire shared moments of happiness in the real and virtual worlds." The campaign, originally launched in Australia became so successful that it was subsequently rolled out to other countries.
The creative concept was to introduce personalized Coke bottles or cans. Popular names were written in a 'look-alike Spencerian script' which is part of the Coke brand's distinctive brand identity. The campaign organisers seeded social media by targeting opinion leaders and influencers to get them to them lead the conversation and encourage others to seek out “Share a Coke” for themselves. Within days celebrities and others with no connection to Coke were spreading the concept across social networks. The campaign extended the audience reach as more people were exposed to the messages. According to Coke's creative team "That [Australian] summer, Coke sold more than 250 million named bottles and cans in a nation of just under 23 million people". This campaign helped Coke extend its awareness across a broader age profile as they interacted with each customer on a personal level (Coca-Cola company, 2014).
Ronald McDonald and anthropomorphic brand characters
Brand advertisers use a variety of techniques to convey brand values. “In an increasingly competitive marketplace, [some] companies rely on brand characters to create awareness, convey key product/service attributes or benefits, and attract consumers" (Keller, 2003). The use of such characters has a long history. For example, the Michelin man, employed as a memorable character to sell Michelin car tyres, was introduced as early as 1894. These characters benefit the brand by creating memorable images in the consumer’s mind while conveying meanings that are consistent with the brand's values.
McDonalds created a similar “anthropomorphic brand character” known as Ronald Mcdonald as part of its brand identity. For younger consumers, Ronald McDonald injects a sense of fun and mystery into the McDonald's brand. For parents, the character clearly signals that McDonald's is a family friendly venue. Characters help to carry the brand's identity and can be seen as non-human 'spokes-character', contributing to a strong brand differentiation. The likeability of the brands character can “positively influence attitudes towards the brand and increases [consumers'] purchase intention”
The well-known automotive manufacturer, Mini, investigated its brand perception in the UK by carrying out 55 in-depth interview designed to elicit key feedback about the brand's values. Consumers felt that the symbolic elements which represented the brand were that it was “fun, stylish and sporty image”. Customer engagement with the MINI on a Facebook fan-page, promoted “positive effects on consumers’ brand awareness, through WOM activities and the purchase intention was achieved”. The brand, therefore, connected with users at an emotional level.
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