Why do we still measure brand awareness?

Measuring awareness by mass or volumeFor years it has been the staple of brand research – awareness – prompted and unprompted recall. But in these days of sophisticated research and qualitative metrics does it really have much value?

All that brand awareness tells us is that someone (or some audience segment) can remember our brand. It tells us nothing of what they think of our brand or its values. Worse, it is no predictor of action or behaviour.

The only people who think it of any value tend to be agencies, as it is a way of justifying their work and the level of clients’ money they have spent: “Before the campaign, brand awareness was at ‘x’ – now, (since spending ‘y’ million) unprompted awareness of the brand is at ‘x’ + ‘y’.” I would guess that in 2010, BP’s brand awareness was extremely high in the US, without any increase in spend. That may be an unfair example, but my point is that awareness on its own is no measure of performance. It may have some use when a new brand has just been launched – it’s good to see if people know we are around. But it’s more important to understand ‘why’ they know.

Twenty years ago it was difficult and costly to collect and evaluate data about what people understood about a brand; what they considered its values; where they perceived it to be positioned and how they intended and actually behaved with regard to it. Today, it far easier to obtain fine-grained, qualitative data – analyze it and track it in time. Apart from brand launches, it’s probably time to put brand awareness back in the ‘ego box’ along with counting hits on the website.

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