Coca-Cola, Nestle, Google — there are lots of big brands whose names we can pull out of thin air when asked to think of certain industries and niches. This is what we call unaided brand awareness.
Let’s flip the tables and ask: How many people are aware of your brand? And how aware of your brand are they? Are you top-of-mind like the Coca-Colas and Googles of the world, or would you have to show your logo to garner some recognition?
The second option is good, but the first is much better. Building a level of unaided brand awareness like that of the big brands we’ve named is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your company.
Yet, many companies don’t and — truth be told — are not even sure why they should bother.
We’re here to change that by taking a closer look at unaided brand awareness. We’ll cover the basics and will then move on to give you some deeper insights — because just knowing the basics isn’t enough here.
To come to grips with it and make it work for you and your brand campaigns, you’ll need a deeper understanding of this form of awareness.
Let’s get to it — we’ve got so much to cover!
What is Unaided Brand Awareness?
Unaided brand awareness — what is it? Based on our introduction, you might have already guessed. Essentially, unaided brand awareness is when your brand is at the top of consumers’ minds.
For example, say you are a brand manager for Quorn. You ask a subsection of your target audience the following question: “What brands come to mind when you think of meat alternatives?” 64% respond with Quorn.
This means that a large portion of Quorn’s target audience was able to express knowledge of the brand in association with the alternative meat industry without any prompt — such as a logo or tagline.
What do results like these mean for brands? It indicates that not only is a brand’s target audience aware of them, but they have also been able to create a strong association between the brand and a certain industry/niche/product.
So whenever people think of the industry/niche/product, this brand will automatically come to mind.
This concept is in direct contrast to aided brand awareness, where a selected target audience is provided with a list of brands in the same niche and then asked to indicate ones they are aware of.
Obviously, it’s easier for all brands to score higher on aided brand awareness. However, striving for and achieving a high level of unaided brand awareness brings more value.
Did you know there is a significant data correlation between brands with a great deal of market share and brands that spend a significant amount on unaided brand awareness? That’s right, unaided brand awareness equals more market share. Work on that and your aided brand awareness will look after itself.
Additionally, a high level of unaided brand awareness shows you’ve made a strong impact on your target audiences and wield influence over them. These types of connections are valuable to your overall marketing success.
And with that, we’ve summed up the concept of unaided brand awareness and why it’s so useful. However, there’s a good deal more that goes into why this metric is important to measure.
Let’s explore this further.
Why Is Unaided Brand Awareness Important?
These days, competition is brutal and many industries are oversaturated. In response, brands end up paying more to reach their target audiences. However, this strategy is rapidly becoming too expensive to sustain the level of growth brands want and need.
Plus, after spending all this money, brands aren’t even sure if it’s having a real impact on their target audience.
Sounds familiar? If you really want to know whether your campaigns are making an impact, you need to track unaided brand awareness and do your market research.
1. It Improves Brand Equity
Unaided brand awareness is linked directly to brand equity. Brands with higher equity have higher unaided brand awareness scores. Let’s look at a real-world example to demonstrate this concept.
Apple’s brand equity stood at an impressive $205.5 billion in 2019, making it one of the most valuable brands in the world. Why does this matter? Consider this quote from Brand Marketing Blog:
“Brand equity is the value of future sales attributable to the brand(s) owned by the company."
Imagine what would happen if, for some reason, Apple was no longer able to sell its products under the Apple brand. Well, the products wouldn’t be Apple products anymore and, therefore, Apple couldn’t sell to consumers based on the brand they’ve built.
Hence, the value of Apple would drop significantly because they would lose (or at least significantly reduce) their brand equity.
Now, if you can get your brand to the top of your target audience’s mind, you will also increase your brand equity and, therefore, improve your market value.
The easiest way to be at the top of consumers’ minds? Increased brand awareness! We’ll discuss the “how” in a bit, but it’s all down to the salience, or prominence, you can build around a brand.
2. It Increases Market Share
Unaided brand awareness is all about being the brand that first comes to consumers’ minds, right? Well, it could very well be that you are not the only brand in your industry that owns real estate in this mind space.
But what if you were the first brand that your target audience recognizes within your industry? And, by that, we mean that yours is the first brand to enter consumers’ minds when they think about your niche.
Achieving top-of-mind awareness will make it harder for other companies to advertise successfully to your audience. For example, a consumer looking to purchase a new smartphone may think along the lines of the following:
“I know Samsung sells smartphones, too, but Apple has been doing it much longer and their products are so much nicer. I’ll choose Apple over Samsung.”
While this reasoning may not be 100% accurate, if you were able to reach your target audience with the right brand messaging, this is how they might think. If you can achieve similar reasoning with more and more consumers, you’ll end up with a bigger slice of the market share.
Yes, increasing unaided brand awareness may be just one step in achieving a larger market share, but it’s an important one as it lays the foundation for continued success.
As a brand manager, you have to be aggressive to achieve a high level of unaided brand awareness. While unaided brand awareness doesn't have a financial value of its own, it plays a huge role in driving overall sales and increasing profit.
3. It Builds Authentic Brand Loyalty
When it comes to brand loyalty — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
So, what’s the first step in this ongoing process? You’ll be unsurprised to learn that it’s, once again, unaided brand awareness.
Brand loyalty starts with brand recognition — which you can achieve through establishing brand awareness campaigns. You need to build a strong connection between your brand and your target audience before they turn into loyal, frequent customers.
Just remember — while we all like to think we’re logical, savvy shoppers, the opposite is true. In fact, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious.
People make purchases based on emotions.
With so many options available today, people choose brands they trust. They follow their gut, and this means they rely on their subconscious to make purchase decisions.
If consumers recognize your brand, they’re more likely to trust you over the competition — customers are loyal to the brands they know and like.
Peter Wilson, the founder of the research and strategy consultancy The Shopper Collective, agrees that pushing good awareness can help to build strong brand loyalty. He states:
“Driving awareness, both aided and unaided, can be a positive contributor to usage and ultimately loyalty. Loyalty (and brand equity) will emerge as a result of a positive experience of interacting with or using your brand. Ultimately you want people to try you, love the experience, and continue using you.”
And once you reach that level of brand loyalty, we all know what it means. (Profits!)
4. It’s a Sign of Marketing Progress
What impression did your marketing materials make on your target audience?
If your brand has a high level of unaided brand awareness, you’ve done your job as a brand manager. You’ve demonstrated that you’re doing something right, as customers are responding to your marketing campaigns.
The car manufacturer Fiat shows just how closely related marketing success is to unaided brand awareness. After launching a new Google ad campaign, they saw their unaided awareness rise from 11% to 22.5%. Fiat also saw sales growth of over 120%, making them one of the leading market leaders for small car manufacturers.
Fiat’s results aren’t an outlier. If your audience remembers your campaigns — and more importantly, your brand — you’ll achieve greater marketing success.
How to Increase Unaided Brand Awareness
No one wants to see their KPIs remain static — especially the important ones.
As one of the most important KPIs, let’s explore some of the key ways you can increase unaided brand awareness.
1. Consistently Provide Value
Do your marketing efforts showcase the value your product or service can provide to your target audience? No?
Make sure your brand value included in your campaigns to help increase unaided brand awareness.
Consumers have come to expect value immediately. They’re not going to search for it on your website and they certainly won’t buy your product or service before determining the potential value. Therefore, you need to showcase your brand value from the get-go by working on building an emotional connection from the very first campaign they see.
Wondering how to make the leap from an emotional connection to perceived value? It’s not that hard. As our emotions are a huge driving force in most of the decisions that we make, it follows that every consumer will base their purchasing decisions on how a brand makes them feel.
Take Walmart and Amazon, for example. These two brands sell pretty much identical products, yet consumers would still rather use one over the other. Why? Their emotions are leading them to make this choice
Now, emotion is all well and good, but it won’t make you a brand behemoth on its own. Adding value to your brand can help to cement consumers’ feelings towards your brand and will show them that there are legitimate reasons driving their positive feelings about you.
For example, SNOO baby sleeper is the leading force behind tech-savvy baby products. Their infant sleepers are known around the world as some of the best, but what really sets them apart is their blog.
Their Happiest Baby blog has value-rich content created specifically for their target audience. They generate high-quality posts about pregnancy and parenting to help moms and dads at all stages.
The value this brand provides stems from its quality content. From blog posts full of advice to reviews of all the latest baby products, their website is a gold mine for parents at any stage of their parenting journey.
Plus, their range of products and services goes well beyond their sought-after snoods. The team behind the SNOO brand offers an in-hospital service — where they visit potential partners in hospitals to consider collaboration in product trials. They also work closely with universities to help with research studies about parental issues, such as safe bed-sharing and neonatal abstinence syndrome.
By creating a brand that goes beyond their products and provides additional value to their audience, SNOO has become a stand-out name in the saturated baby market.
If your brand is already quite sizable, you might think that focusing on brand value isn’t worth your time. After all, consumers are already convinced that you provide value, right?
Bethany Spence, Content Marketing Specialist at Exposure Ninja, explains, saying:
“being a large corporate brand won't protect you from this point of view. If someone asks a member of the public what their favorite trainer brand is, they're never going to mention Nike if they've bought a few pairs of faulty shoes.“
Even if you’re a large corporation that’s raking in profits, ignoring your brand’s value for even just a short amount of time could allow your unaided brand awareness to slip!
2. Show Up for Your Target Audience
Your target audience is exposed to hundreds or even thousands of brands a day. Your brand needs to be clearly visible if you want to get ahead.
On average, it takes 5 to 7 impressions for people to remember a brand. It’s going to take even more impressions for them to actually make a purchase.
So, how do you stay consistently present?
First, advertize in places your target audience will see. If you’re advertizing to entrepreneurs, focus on LinkedIn or other social platforms they’re using regularly.
Next, don’t fall victim to “out of sight, out of mind.” If consumers can’t see you regularly, they won’t remember you. You need to always remain visible.
Zipcar, a car rental app that focuses heavily on marketing to Gen Z college students, is a great example of a brand that remains constantly present amongst its target audience.
How? Well, this target audience doesn't usually own cars. As such, Zipcar focuses a lot of its brand campaigns on college students by teaming up with campuses to share the perks of using a Zipcar.
Their visibility for university students allows them to continue expanding to new colleges. Zipcar’s marketing efforts have been so successful that they’re now one of just two players in the carsharing market that have achieved global reach.
3. Provide Great Customer Service
Customer service should be a priority from the get-go. Even though you’ll want to make as many sales as possible, constantly reminding your customers of this fact can come across as too robotic.
Exposure Ninja’s Bethany Spence backs that up by saying:
“Be helpful. Avoid the hard-sell and provide a mixture of content to your audience that informs, entertains, and persuades.”
Made a sale? Great! There’s no reason for your helpfulness to end there, though. Staying at the top of your target audience’s mind continues even after they’ve made a purchase.
For all you know, they might have also bought a product or service from a similar brand. How do you ensure that your brand overpowers the competition? By providing great customer service.
The more consumers that use your brand and are happy with the customer service it provides, the higher your unaided brand awareness should be.
Rhea Henry, Content Strategist at EnergyRates.ca points to Google as being the perfect example of this:
“At the forefront of brand awareness is a great service. It's how you get the audience, and the world at large, to associate your brand with a particular service. It's why Google has become a verb despite being a younger variant of one of the oldest search engines, Yahoo! They weren't the first to do it, but the best to do it."
By doing such a great job, Google is now the largest search engine out there — heck, it’s even become a verb! (I’ll Google that later.)
Google also understood users’ search intent far better than any of its competitors — which helped it become known for fast, high-quality results. For most web users, that equals great service.
In this day and age, high-quality customer service matters more than ever. With so many companies competing for the same target audiences, you simply can’t afford to overlook it.
When your users have a poor experience or encounter a problem, they expect that problem to be taken care of quickly. If you offer a superior customer service experience, people are more likely to return to your brand in the future — and news of your service will spread via word of mouth.
A startling 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. For an example of shining customer service, look no further than Nordstrom.
This premium, luxury retailer is well-known for its amazing customer service policy. Boasting the most generous return policy of any luxury apparel retailer, Nordstrom has had an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers. As their return policy states, “We have long believed that when we treat our customers fairly, they, in turn, are fair with us.”
Today, Nordstrom is leading in the US in terms of luxury retail by over five billion dollars annually. Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales all have a lot of catching up to do in terms of their customer service if they want to achieve the same level of brand awareness.
Ultimately, great customer service will encourage consumers to return to your brand. And this repetition of purchasing from your brand over and over will help establish strong unaided brand awareness.
This way, when they need a product or service in your niche, they’ll head straight to you without even thinking about it.
The Link Between Unaided Brand Awareness and Salience
Remember when we gave a shout-out to salience earlier? It’s time to dig into this new term.
Working hard on increasing unaided brand awareness is one thing, but doing so without even considering your brand’s salience can only get you so far. These two must go hand-in-hand.
In Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp’s research paper, “Conceptualizing and measuring brand salience”, brand salience is explained as “the ability of an item to ‘stand out’ from its environment or background.”
Think that sounds a bit like unaided brand awareness? It’s close, but not exactly the same. There’s more of a psychological factor to salience, as brands need strong retrieval cues to increase their rating in this metric. Retrieval cues, which are things that prompt our memory, helps us access our long-term memory.
Once brand salience has been improved, better unaided awareness should follow.
As we’ve mentioned, there are a few reasons why certain brands stick in our minds, and it’s all down to salience. Put simply, brand salience is being mindful of a brand.
Encouraging this mindfulness and bringing your brand name to the top of audiences' minds is awareness. When these two occur without any prompts, we see unaided brand awareness in action.
Here’s an example: if an individual is out shopping and remembers that they need to pick up some laundry detergent, their salience of the brand “Lenor” might cause their mental retrieval cues to kick in.
These cues then cause them to bring the brand name to the top of their mind. That’s what unaided brand awareness looks like.
The Importance of Retrieval Cues in Brand Salience
Once you understand retrieval cues and how they work, you can start to implement some throughout your brand. When used correctly, consumers should be able to easily pick up on them. Most importantly, they can greatly improve a brand’s overall image.
As Romaniuk and Sharp point out in their paper, we’re often unaware of why we choose one brand over another. Think of it this way — why do you go to one shop for electrical equipment when you know that there are other shops that sell similar items?
Most of the time, our decisions when shopping are almost instinctive. There will be certain cues at play swaying our purchasing choices, some of which we don’t even notice. f current and potential customers are turning to your brand instinctively, it’s a sign that your brand salience is very strong.
There’s a great example used to demonstrate this in the research paper "The concept of brand salience and implications for measurement", also by Romaniuk and Sharp.
Here, they choose to focus on drinks. Based on their research, they found that on a hot summer day, people are more likely to choose drink brands that have incorporated attributes like “refreshing” into their marketing message.
If a consumer remembers this attribute and the context in which they are buying fits, then there’s a very good chance they’ll opt for the brand.
Romaniuk and Sharp argue that there are three types of cues:
Functional Attributes: These are the attributes that the product possesses. For example, a clothing brand might be known for being “waterproof”, or a brand of soup could be described as”‘hearty”.
Benefit Attributes: What can the product do for customers? The benefit attributes are often the main reason why expensive brands can still be seen as good value in the eyes of customers. Sure, they are expensive, but the benefits outweigh the price.
Purchase/Consumption Situation: This is the situation in which the purchase is being made. What is the context for the consumer when they are recalling a brand?
You may not realize it, but these cues are all around us. Whether we are wandering around our local supermarket or surfing the web, there are various things that we’ll see and experience that will kickstart our retrieval cues.
Before we know it — bang — we’ll be thinking of a particular brand name without really knowing why it came to mind. And this is all down to those subconscious cues coming into play!
Another way to think of it is that brand salience represents the psychological processes that occur in our minds that trigger retrieval cues. Unaided brand awareness is the part of this that we act out — we may not know why we are thinking of a brand in relation to a particular purchasing decision, but it’s this awareness that comes to mind thanks to the mental retrieval cues.
As brand managers, you're probably asking yourselves one very important question: how can we use these cues to our advantage? This is where the cues come in.
The first two are easy enough to trigger with branding. As long as your branding, packaging, and marketing messages cover the functional attributes that your brand possesses (e.g. waterproof) and it’s clear how customers will benefit from using the brand, these cues should be picked up quickly by consumers.
It can be a little harder to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the purchase situation, as this all depends on the customer and their individual context when buying a product. Unfortunately, some contexts are unpredictable, but being able to use the functional and beneficial attributes should help overcome this issue.
Pro tip: portray different purchase contexts in advertising. What does this mean? Show consumers shopping in various situations — such as in-store and online. This way, the next time a consumer is in a similar context, your campaign will pop into their head.
Is Your Brand Focusing on Unaided Brand Awareness?
Today’s brands are all fighting for the same consumer awareness. If your target audience doesn’t recognize you off the top of their heads, you’ll have a harder time increasing your profit.
For example, using our own brand tracking software, we took a look at apparel and lifestyle brand The Honest Co. to see where they stand with brand awareness.
With only 16% of men and 31% of women aware of the brand, the could probably do with a few brand awareness campaigns of their own to capture the interest of their target audiences.
As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” You need to first be in your audiences’ sight and mind — then you need to stay there. Keeping a close eye on your unaided brand awareness levels is the best way to remain relevant in an overcrowded market.
Remember, to make a lasting impression on your customers, you need consistently great marketing.
To achieve better brand campaigns, we suggest brand monitoring to track unaided brand awareness. Once you start monitoring this metric, you’ll gain insights that can be used to help make more informed decisions.
This way, you’ll see what’s working for your marketing campaigns and what isn’t.