February 10, 2021

Capturing Magic in A Bottle: Measuring Brand Awareness

We recently had a client come to us with the daunting objective to “achieve a measurable increase in positive brand awareness in their target referral markets.” This client didn’t know that few goals burden a digital marketer’s heart and soul more than stringing words like measurable and brand awareness together. 

It’s like asking a young, lightning-scarred boy wizard to save the magical world from a nose-less dark lord bent on dealing him the same fatal fate as his parents. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but it’s still pretty challenging.

Why compare measuring brand awareness to a story of witchcraft and wizardry? Read on to find out. You just might find yourself spellbound (rimshot).

What Is Brand Awareness?

Brand awareness is the degree to which your target audience can recognize your brand when asked. 

It might be a logo, catchphrase, jingle, or recognizable mascot. If a consumer sees one of these things and immediately associates it with your company, you’ve achieved brand awareness. 

Think of phrases like “Just Do It” or “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand.” The chances are that those slogans immediately created a mental image of two specific products – that’s brand awareness. The same is true for the Golden Arches or Mickey Mouse. If you can’t associate these images with a recognizable brand, you may want to get out from under that rock you’ve been living under for the last few decades. 

In other words, brand awareness is an assessment of a brand’s recognition within its specific category. Measuring it, however, is a different story.

Why Is Brand Awareness Difficult to Measure?

First of all, the challenge with “brand awareness” is that it suffers from a lack of clarity. Brand awareness isn’t an absolute metric, like revenue, clicks, or O.W.L. exam scores. 

But, it isn’t really relative either, like an NPS or net promoter score. Metric-wise, brand awareness sits in a bit of a gray area in that it has quantitative, measurable attributes, but it can also be rather qualitative. 

This means that while there are objective ways to measure brand awareness improvement, they tend to be interpreted subjectively. For instance, mittens have seen a lot of brand awareness over the last couple of months, but I don’t know if it’s translating into more people buying mittens (maybe?).  

How Do You Measure Brand Awareness?

For the reasons mentioned above, there isn’t one simple metric that we can use to measure your current brand awareness. Instead, we have indicators that help us to form a complete picture. Some indicators are leading, meaning they are more predictive of future brand awareness, and others are lagging, meaning they can help assess past brand awareness. Unfortunately, there aren’t any metrics that conclusively tell you the current state of your brand’s recognition.

With that caveat, a few of the metrics that indicate brand awareness are as follows.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is recorded when a visitor gets to your site via a bookmarked page or directly typing your URL into the address bar. An improvement in direct traffic is a lagging indicator of brand awareness as it means your brand name and URL are becoming more recognized in the market. 

Direct traffic is a good directional indicator of brand awareness but isn’t something you want to analyze ad nauseam. Instead, we tend to look at direct traffic trends. Did a new ad or social media campaign cause an increase or decrease in direct traffic after a couple of months? Was it significant? If direct traffic has increased due to this new campaign, it’s fair to say that your brand awareness has improved. 

The challenge with direct traffic is that it can often be misattributed. For example, when you access your site by typing it into the URL, you’re counted as direct traffic. Have a competitor checking up on you or a past client simply looking for your phone number? Also counted as direct traffic. In other words, these are users who might improve your direct traffic metrics without recently becoming “aware” of your brand.

Branded Search Terms

Instead of tracking people who search for your URL, branded search terms indicate people searching for your brand name (or associated names). Like direct traffic, when aggregated with other search metrics, this can be a helpful indicator of brand awareness but isn’t something that you’ll want to analyze too deeply or use to make rash decisions. As a note, if your organization has coined a specific phrase or tagline, you could also track searches of that particular phrase to monitor increased awareness as well.  

Social Media Indicators

Other indicators that can help measure a brand awareness campaign’s effectiveness include social media reach and engagement metrics. When new people see and interact with your brand on social media, it typically follows that some of them have recently become aware of your brand. However, these are just a small piece of the puzzle, and any one of these metrics on its own could easily be misinterpreted in light of brand awareness. While someone might have seen your post or ad, they may not remember you, or this may not be their first interaction. However, these metrics aren’t something we want to completely ignore either. When more people in your target market see your business, you will likely see more people recognizing it and interacting with it. 

Assisted Conversions

Helping people become more aware of your brand is a positive, but it’s only useful if it directs them to interact with your business. Like Seth Godin says, “K-mart has plenty of awareness, so what?”

Assisted conversions tell us that though the final click may have come from one source, it may not have been the user’s first interaction with the brand. For example, a new user sees a social media post but doesn’t click it, then later comes to your site by typing your brand name into the Google search bar and ends up buying something. This would be considered organic traffic but would have been “assisted” by social media. In other words, brand awareness led to the conversion. 

Target Market Experience

The last piece that we look at when evaluating brand awareness is arguably the most subjective. The experience of your target market. Have people in your circle of influence mentioned seeing more of your brand? Did they have a positive reaction? Have you seen an increase in leads or prospective customers? When asked, do people in your target audience know your brand?

Many third-party services offer to survey brand recognition among your audience but, experience has shown that these are little more help than asking around your church or local networking group. The fact of the matter is that we are introduced to, and can reliably recall, hundreds of brands if pressed. Recognition and awareness do not equal trust or even confidence, which brings us to our last point.

Should We Even Measure Brand Awareness?

We’ve identified that brand awareness is challenging to measure reliably. Even when we measure it, we can’t just look at one variable but have to balance several variables against each other to make educated decisions. And if the measurement is unreliable, one might argue that those decisions are prone to be unreliable as well. 

We’ve all been taught the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) criteria for setting objectives. If we can’t make SMART goals from our data, is it even worth measuring it in the first place?

Well, yes and no, at least not in the way you’re probably thinking. 

Yes, measuring all of these variables is important, and they provide helpful insights for your business. Insights that inform, enlighten, and make future decisions possible. 

No, in that if you expect any one of these metrics or combinations of metrics, to solve your business’s brand awareness woes, you’d be better off taking up the dark arts.

Trust the Process

In summary, awareness is easy to achieve; just ask Bernie’s mittens. But, people don’t buy from businesses of which they’re only aware. They buy from companies they trust. Getting known is a small piece of the puzzle to growing your business the right way

People can’t trust you if they don’t know you. Focus on putting their needs first, offering a great product or service, and taking the proper steps to promote your business, and the brand awareness piece will take care of itself… magically. From there, use metrics like those listed above as a thermometer of your brand awareness, but not necessarily a thermostat.

Chad Wolcott

Chad utilizes his diverse background in sales and marketing to help our customers win. As an Inbound Marketing Executive, Chad marries his love for telling incredible digital stories and his strong focus on results to help clients increase the metrics that matter. As the son of a successful small business owner, one of his greatest passions is serving the local business community.

When not in the office you’ll find Chad spending time with his family, volunteering at church, or in the “woods and water” around Gainesville with a fishing pole, kayak paddle, shovel, or maybe even chainsaw in hand. Chad has a love for the outdoors and would love to talk your ear off about subjects like horticulture and agroforestry, if prompted.