Why Brand Awareness Is A Misleading Metric

This example is political, but it’s not about politics. Many mainstream political experts  dismissed Donald Trump early on because he had a 99% awareness rating and a very high unfavorable rating in the polls. For example, back in May of 2015 his favorable to unfavorable rating in Iowa was about 30% favorable to 67% unfavorable. Experts believed that with a high awareness rating there was no way he could change this. This is a perfect example of awareness being meaningless.

As of August 31, 2015 The Donald was polling over 60% favorable in Iowa and about 30% unfavorable. Political polling “experts” claim they have never seen anything like this complete shift, especially given the virtually 100% awareness rating.

Brand awareness does not equal brand understanding, brand affinity, brand preference or anything else. Reis and Trout have noted for many years that it is much easier to capitalize on what people already believe than to try to change their minds. They are generally correct in that statement, and if one tied that statement to a 99% brand awareness rating, one can easily see how the brand Donald could have needed a lot of work to change its position.

Unlike most brands, which do try to stand for something, most politicians move with the “polls” to try to become what voters seem to want at the time. A 99% awareness metric, tied to a 60% unfavorable rating would clearly suggest to “brand experts” (or political consultants) that a re-positioning of the brand was in order. That’s where the awareness metric can mislead you.

Awareness does not equal understanding much less preference. A high awareness tied to a low preference could simply mean that those who believe they know your brand, don’t. If you believe people misunderstand your brand, you have to figure out how to get them to take the time to know you. Increasing awareness is not the answer, increasing engagement is.

Don’t settle for awareness metrics to make important decisions. Look at engagement. If it is low and preference is low, perhaps more engagement could change that for your brand.


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