Brand Awareness: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Tuesday, January 09th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

If I ask you for a Band-Aid, you know exactly what I’m talking about. What you bring me will be the correct item, but it might not be a Band-Aid brand bandage.

This is what great brand awareness can do. The brand Band-Aid became so synonymous with medical bandages that their brand name replaced the name of the item itself in our language.

While it’s extremely difficult to have brand awareness on that level (only a handful of companies have ever managed it), it shows the power of having a strong brand.

Regardless of your size: a multi-national company with thousands of employees, or a company of one, awareness of your brand matters.

Below, we’ll talk about why brand awareness matters, how to measure it, and some strategies for increasing it.

What is Brand Awareness?

Brand awareness is how well-known your brand is among your target customers. Brands with high brand awareness are often considered household names known by almost everyone, such as Coca-Cola, Nike or McDonald’s.

In analyzing your brand awareness, several other questions and traits can be assessed:

  1. What is the name of your brand? In some small-business cases, such as with attorneys or personal trainers, the name of the brand is the name of the person who provides the service. When you hear “personal brands” being discussed, this is what they’re referring to.
  2. What traits are associated with the brand? While this gets into related marketing concepts such as brand identity, and it’s important to remember that brand awareness is specifically about how recognizable your brand is, these concepts don’t exist separately from one another.
  3. Do I have a single brand, or many? Procter & Gamble is a gargantuan company with various subsidiary brands and products, such as Pampers (baby diapers) and Tide (laundry detergent). It’s unlikely they’d want to measure brand awareness for Procter & Gamble, but more likely they’d monitor brand awareness for dozens of smaller brands and products under their label.

Why is Brand Awareness Important?

Will you buy from a brand you’ve never heard of? For some, the answer is yes. For many others, though, the answer is no.

These “no” responses are why brand awareness matters. If you make the best big-screen TVs on the market, but your brand name isn’t Sony, Mitsubishi, Samsung, LG or one of a few others that are known by most consumers, you’re going to struggle to compete with them for business.

This relates to a core concept within brand awareness: Trust. You’re more likely to trust a brand that is well-known. This might not always be the best way to make purchasing decisions, but it’s been proven to be how many people do make significant purchasing decisions.

The rise of digital commerce has allowed more brands to shoulder their way into the conversation. A small number of fashion brands used to dominate all clothing stores, but now you probably have a few niche online stores that you visit.

However, it’s still an uphill climb if people don’t recognize your name and associate it with quality products or services.

Can Brand Awareness Be Bad?

Yes, brand awareness can be bad. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that a brand can be recognizable for something that’s negative. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac employ thousands of hard-working individuals and help facilitate transactions throughout several large industries. But unless you work in one of those industries, you probably know them better from their scandalous role in the housing crash of 2007. To a large extent, they still haven’t overcome this negative image.

Every week it seems like some brand is tripping over itself in the public eye, and it loses business as a result of it.

For a useful example, Domino’s Pizza had a famously poor reputation. They also quite famously reestablished their brand in a more positive way by acknowledging their poor reputation and making changes to fix it.

Regardless of whether or not you personally think Domino’s Pizza is better than it used to be, the awareness of their brand changed as a result of them reframing their brand.

This is a useful case study of the negative effects of brand awareness, as well as how companies aren’t locked into a particular level of awareness if they’re clever about rebranding themselves. But if Domino’s hadn’t been able to overcome this negative brand image, they might no longer be in business.

Other times it’s more complicated: Aunt Jemima was a profitable brand for its parent company, PepsiCo, but it also brought with it the controversy of a racist brand history. The company rebranded Aunt Jemima in 2020 because of this negative brand image.

Follow-up question, though: have you ever heard of Pearl Milling Co.? Probably not, but that’s what Aunt Jemima was rebranded to. So now PepsiCo has a different problem on its hands: a brand that has less name recognition, even though it’s removed from the problematic history of its predecessor.

Measuring Brand Awareness

You might think that with something so nebulous as awareness, it would be hard to track. And you’d be right!

Brand awareness is a tricky thing to track with empirical metrics, which is largely how we measure success in digital marketing.

However, measurement is still possible. Brand awareness studies exist to track metrics related to a brand’s notoriety, and they usually fall into two primary categories of recognition, detailed just below.

Unaided Brand Awareness

If I asked a random group of Americans to name soda brands, well over 90% of them would name Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Most would be able to name several others, such as 7-Up, Sprite, various diet sodas, Dr. Pepper, and other popular brands.

Then the numbers would drop as the brands became more obscure. Perhaps only 50% would remember RC Cola, or even less for Tab, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Thunder, Squeezy Dew, and Faygo.

POP QUIZ: One of those I just listed is made up. Do you know which one?

Those percentages are hypothetical, but you can follow the general principle. This also leads us into our next awareness type.

Aided Brand Awareness

Some of you reading this wouldn’t have named RC Cola when asked for all the soda brands you know, but if I first prompted you by asking “Are you familiar with RC Cola, the soda brand?” a higher percentage of people would respond yes.

That’s because there are brands we can recall simply by thinking about their industry, and others we’ll only remember if prompted.

Aided - or prompted - brand awareness, is less strong than unaided awareness. Either one can be a useful metric, and studies that test for brand awareness will usually gather data on both types.

Why Unaided Brand Awareness Matters

Let’s imagine you run a plumbing company. Somebody’s pipes burst and they need to call a plumber right away, with very little research.

Maybe they’ll type “plumber near me” into Google. But if one of the home’s residents knows and trusts a plumbing brand already, it will come to the top of their mind. “Honey, call Smith & Smith Plumbing. They came out quickly last time,” they might say. Nine times out of 10, Smith & Smith is getting their business in this type of scenario.

So just like that, Smith & Smith has a new job and a recurring customer, thanks to unaided brand awareness.

Brand Awareness Campaigns

Don’t all marketing campaigns exist to sell more products or services? Indirectly, yes, but there’s a distinction to draw between brand awareness campaigns and other types of marketing campaigns. The goals and strategies differ.

Brand awareness campaigns are often most important at a few key stages in a business’s life cycle:

  1. When the business is brand new and looking to carve out a market for itself.
  2. When the company has gone through a transition, either in name, brand identity, or in the types of products and services it offers.
  3. When lack of name recognition has been identified as a driver of poor results.

This is different from traditional marketing campaigns, which might follow a new product launch (such as the new iPhone, which already has huge brand awareness), or it will be part of a holiday sale (“25% off, this week only!”).

Targeting Ideal Customers

Much like other types of marketing, however, it’s important to target the correct set of potential customers.

A children’s day care center that has high brand awareness among 20 to 30-year-olds is unlikely to do as well as one with high brand awareness among 30 to 40-year-olds, simply because the latter demographic is more likely to have children and need day care services.

This informs the type of messaging you’ll want to use in a campaign, and also the marketing channels you’ll want to use. Will you do radio advertising? If so, what stations are listened to by more people in your ideal customer base? At what time of day?

It’s questions like this that will lead you to answers that limit your spending and increase the effectiveness of the campaign.

Measuring Campaign Results

Measuring results from a campaign can be difficult, since the purpose of a brand awareness campaign isn’t necessarily to increase sales immediately (though it should eventually do this).

Typically, what you can do is run a brand awareness study before a large marketing campaign (measuring aided and unaided awareness within a randomized group within your geographic or demographic region). Then you’ll conduct an identical study several weeks or months after the campaign ends.

This gives you a clear “before” and “after” that measures the precise metric (awareness) that you’re hoping to increase. If you’re successful, the sales will follow!

Strategies for Enhancing Brand Awareness

Raising brand awareness isn’t a secret. It involves a lot that you’re probably already familiar with, and have seen from thousands of brands (and maybe have even used them yourself). Let’s look at a few:

TV and Radio Advertising

A lot of the ads you see or hear on TV and the radio exist to enhance brand awareness.

It’s also why a lot of companies include a musical jingle. They want you to remember their brand, and so they tie the brand name to a catchy song or rhyme.

There can be other purposes for these ads, but they’re a great way to be seen and heard by a lot of people, increasing awareness across a large group of people.


Think of your favorite sports team, or favorite large yearly event. Chances are, there are major sponsors with their brand names all over that team’s functions or event’s proceedings.

Entire sports stadiums will be sponsored with the goal of brand awareness. When Acrisure bought the naming rights to the Pittsburgh Steelers stadium, they weren’t expecting you to buy insurance or cybersecurity services on Sunday while you’re watching the game. But they want the name Acrisure in your head for when you do need those things.

Because an organization as large as the Steelers wouldn’t trust a disreputable company with the naming rights to their entire stadium. Surely you can trust them to protect you, right?

That’s the thought process, anyway. I don’t actually know anything about Acrisure, but I pose that question because it’s the end goal of brand awareness campaigns on that scale. If enough people recognize the name Acrisure, the millions they undoubtedly paid to rename the stadium will be well worth it.

Education & Thought Leadership

Companies will often release educational studies into their field, via trade publications or email newsletters.

Education as a way to build trust is a well-known strategy in content marketing, but it also relates to brand awareness.

If a definitive study in a particular industry is released each year by the same company, executives and decision-makers in that field will come to anticipate the study’s release. This will often create offshoot marketing in the form of blogs, videos or podcasts talking about the study. Each one of those will undoubtedly mention the name of the company that produced the research.

This is what it means to be a thought leader, and it’s why that term is coveted in industries where brand awareness begets financial success.

Creating Brand Advocates

The final stage of brand awareness is creating the brand advocate. 

Because do you know what’s better than having to pay for advertisements to share your name? Having people who know and trust your brand share it for you, for free.

If you create an army of loyal customers who instantly recall your brand when it’s needed, you have a built-in safety net and marketing force that is working for you 24/7.

And while this might not be the end result of every brand awareness campaign, increasing your brand awareness can still yield results in the form of leads, sales, and customer loyalty.

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