What Digital Advertisers Forget About Brand Awareness

Not every advertising campaign has to directly move the needle and drive sales. Sometimes it’s more helpful to get your brand on people’s radar before working toward other goals.

Brand awareness is hard to measure. But it certainly has value. Whether you’re launching a dedicated brand awareness campaign or simply trying to understand the true value of your marketing efforts, here are three ways brand awareness affects your bottom line.

1. Branded search traffic

When people know who you are and what you do, they search for you by name.

Sometimes this is out of laziness. Every month, about 3 million people type “new york times” or “the new york times” into Google instead of entering nytimes.com into their browser. (And almost 500 search for “ny york times.”)

These people are obviously looking for a very specific website, and Google provides the most straightforward path—they just need to remember the name of the brand, not the exact conventions of the website.

But if no one knows who you are or what you do, they’re never going to search for you.
Larry Kim from WordStream wrote a fascinating post on the value of branded search. They had almost 500,000 monthly visits from organic traffic, but only 3 percent of that came from people looking for WordStream. And about 80 percent of all their visitors had never been to the site before.

They were getting tons of people to their website, but those people weren’t staying, they weren’t converting, and they weren’t coming back.

They had no brand awareness, and because of that, they were wasting a lot of great work. As Larry puts it, “our SEO had gotten too far ahead of the brand.”

Ad impressions—even ones that don’t result in immediate conversions—can help you build brand awareness. And that means, hopefully, more people will seek you out when they have problems, because they already know you can solve them.

One more thing: branded search can also be a signal of how much people trust your expertise. When you establish your organization as an authority on a topic, people start linking to you to make their points. Take Jon Loomer, for example. He’s the Facebook guy. His whole brand is built around Facebook marketing. When Facebook makes changes to their metrics, people search for what he has to say about it so they can name-drop at their next meeting.

2. Increased conversions

Suppose a complete stranger asks you to buy their new mixtape at a discount. You’re probably going to smile and say, “No thank you.” But what if you’ve already heard this person perform before, and you enjoyed it? Or a friend has talked to you about their music? Suddenly that same offer becomes more compelling.

The more aware people are of who you are and what you do when they show up at your website, the more likely they are to actually do something when they get there. WordStream was great at bringing people to their website, but since the vast majority of them had never been to WordStream before, their calls to action were struggling to convert.
Part of the reason this works is that if people are already aware of your brand, they may consider your services when they find themselves in the right circumstances.

3. Awareness leads to consideration

Simon White at AdAge says “the key to brand success is penetration.” In other words, when everyone knows your brand, you’ve achieved brand success. And that means when people suddenly need what you have to offer, they think of you—not your competitors. AdAge uses diapers as an example.

The first 40 times you saw an ad for Huggies or Pampers, it might’ve been completely irrelevant to you. For these giants of the diaper industry, those ads wouldn’t result in clicks, downloads, or attributable conversions of any kind. But years down the road when you have a baby, you need diapers. So what do you reach for? Pampers or Huggies. They’ve penetrated the market further than any other brand, so you’re already thinking of them when you eventually need diapers.

AdAge suggests that by ignoring brand awareness, most digital marketers are “trading long-term brand-building for short-term ROI.” If you optimize ad campaigns for short-term ROI, you get quick wins, but shallow market penetration, which leaves a huge chunk of your target audience with no idea who you are.

Will people recommend you, or your category?

The makers of Slack don’t want people to say, “We need an IM solution.”

They don’t even want people to say, “We need a better IM solution.”

They want people to say, “Wow. Our office communication stinks. We need Slack.”

When people think about your product category, successful brand awareness changes the conversation. It puts your company front and center (even when your brand awareness comes from “unsuccessful” ad campaigns).

Here are a few ways you can start measuring brand awareness:

  • See how much branded search you’re getting each month. How does it compare to your total organic traffic?
  • Use social listening tools like HootSuite and Brandwatch to monitor what people are saying about you on social media.
  • Set up Google Alerts to get notifications when you’re mentioned on the web.

Not every digital advertising campaign is a complete winner. But poor short-term results don’t make a campaign a total failure, either. If your organization wants to achieve long-term success, brand awareness should be one of your goals, too.