Brand Awareness is Much More Important than You Might Think. Seriously.

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on March 6
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Raising Awareness of Brand Awareness ghostbusters_MarketScalejpg.jpg

First, YES, that is a promotional photo from the original Ghostbusters film.  And NO, the reference is not gimmicky SEO clickbait.  There are real, relevant marketing insights to be taken from the film.  When it comes to interpreting movies, I don't play--at least not in any unproductive way.  Promise.

Now, I'll get back to Ghostbusters in a few paragraphs.  First, let me introduce the main issue: Brand awareness.  The basic concept is pretty self-exclamatory. Simply put, brand awareness refers to the extent to which others are aware of a particular brand.  

Here's the thing: I don't know about you, but personally, I think brand awareness deserves a bit more respect.  In the big-picture of content strategy, I've noticed a tendency to reduce the importance of brand awareness to little more than an afterthought.  In part, the tendency has to do with the fact that everything a marketer does arguably contributes on some level to brand awareness--a perception that tends to marginalize the perceived importance of isolating awareness as a discrete marketing goal.  Instead, the work of promoting brand awareness often gets merged into other marketing priorities.  After all, brand awareness exists at the proverbial "top of the funnel"--far removed from the frontlines of selling, merely the first step in the long journey to the holy grail of the final sale.  Of course, one could also argue that brand awareness IS the frontline.   As the first step in the long journey to closing a sale, brand awareness is in fact more like a necessary giant leap. (I know I just mixed up a bunch of metaphors, but the basic idea works.) 

However, I think there's another, more fundamental reason why brand awareness tends not to get due respect: Brand awareness is one of those things that we simply tend not to appreciate until it's not there.  The absence of brand awareness, however, is a haunting prospect.  It's time we had some awareness of brand awareness

Ghostbusters and Brand Awareness

To help raise the issue, I summon the movie Ghostbusters. (In this case, I mean the original version, though the new one also has a lot to say!)  

Why Ghostbusters?  While this all may seem far fetched, never fear: When it comes to channeling the deeper meaings of stories, I'm a professional, with years of practice.  There is in fact much marketers (especially, B2B marketers) can learn from Ghostbusters.  I'm not just talking about the hugely successful marketing campaign mobilized to promote the actual film--a campaign that, significantly, happened to build brand awareness by producing what has become one of the world's most iconic, if fictional, brand logos:

ghostbusters-logo-marketing-brand-awareness-marketscale.jpg

I'm talking, however, about what the details within the plot of the film itself have to say about the importance of brand awareness.  After all, the movie is about a start-up that, with a very limited marketing budget, endeavors to offer very specialized, in fact unbelievably obscure services to what begins as a very niche, predominantly B2B clientele.  Needless to say, for the Ghostbusters, brand awareness initially represents a significant top-of-funnel challenge.

Despite all the above, I think the film's most incisive lessons on the importance of brand awareness emerge more powerfully, if more subtly, in one of the film's most memorable, moments: The scene in which "Louis" (the nerdy, vitamin-obsessed accountant brilliantly played by Rick Moranis) gets chased down by one of Gozer's demonic "doggies" right outside the famous Tavern on the Green.  We first see Louis just outside the window, yelling for help; the shot then shifts to the inside of the restaurant, where Louis's cries go completely unheard.  Instead, everyone inside pauses to take a momentary glance at the poor, doomed accountant, but then causually returns to their fancy dinner.  It's a classic scene, but there's something terrifying at it's core--a passing glimpse of what it might be like to go unnoticed by others.   The menace of the scene lies in the way it suggests that going unnoticed is, effectively, not to exist.  I know it may sound heavy handed, but I think truly appreciating the concept of brand awareness requires awareness of this deeper concern.

Brand_Awareness_B2B_Marketing_MarketScale.jpg

As I have already mentioned, brand awareness fundamentally refers to the simple fact that others know that you--well, your company brand--exists.  It's sounds simple enough. But the absence of brand awareness suggest something a bit more terrifying, a kind of ghost-like existence: There, but not; present, but absent. In Ghostbusters, going unnoticed counts as a consistent concern for Louis: Not only does Louis go effectively ignored by his neighbor Dana, but he  holds parties for his accounting clients under the paper-thin delusion they consider him a close friend.  Ironically, Louis only gets attention when he becomes a kind of ghost.  But this is what ghosts do: Like brands, ghosts seek awareness. Traditionally, in ghost stories, ghosts haunt the world in order to make themselves known to the living.  All that chain rattling and boo!-ing is just a big, metaphysical marketing campaign aimed at awareness: Boo! Beware, I exist!  Ghosts haunt in order to release themselves from spectral state of existing outside the awareness of others.   Just saying.

If your brand's not on the internet, does it exist?

This is all to say that Ghostbusters speaks to the deeper stakes of brand awareness: The fundamental idea that truly existing requires the awareness of others.  And, as with Louis yelling outside Tavern on the Green, awareness means more than simply being seen.  Like the difference in hearing and listening, your brand can be seen, but if no one remembers it, they won’t really be aware of it.  True awareness is really about recognition.  And earning recognition is no easy task.

These days, of course, to exist as a brand means to be seen and heard--recognized--on the internet: Without being recognized on the internet, your brand doesn't exist. (It's one of those-tree-in-a forest-type deals.)  And if someone doesn’t know you exist or remember you exist when the time comes for them to make a purchase, then they won’t buy from you. Every brand wants to be successful and usually that means selling products or getting individuals to take an action. Consistent brand awareness leads to selling more products and more action.

And, by maintaining awareness of brands, marketers enure that brands remain in the land of the living.  And this makes them Ghostbusters.  See what I did there?

To ensure your brand does not go ghostly, keep brand awareness on top of your list of marketing goals.   

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