I’ve Become Aware that Awareness Is a #measure Bugaboo
A Big Question that social and digital media marketers grapple with constantly, whether they realize it or not:
Is “awareness” a valid objective for marketing activity?
I’ve gotten into more than a few heated debates that, at their core, center around this question. Some of those debates have been with myself (those are the ones where I most need a skilled moderator!).
The Arguments For/Against Awareness
Here’s the absolutist argument against awareness:
“There is no direct business value in driving ‘Awareness.’ It’s a hope and a prayer that increasing awareness of your brand/product will eventually lead to increased sales, but, if you’re not actually making that link with data, then you might as well admit that you’re trying to live in the Mad Men era of Marketing.”
Here’s the absolutist argument for awareness:
“While ‘the funnel’ has been completely blown up by the introduction of digital and the increasingly fragmented consumer experience, it’s impossible for a consumer to make a purchase of a consumer brand without being aware that the brand exists. Logically, then, if and until we know that 100% of our target consumers are aware that we exist (and even what we stand for — awareness is more than just ‘recognize the brand’ and, when I [the absolutist] say ‘awareness’ I mean that consumers have some knowledge of the brand, and that knowledge gives them a favorable impression!). But, between that fragmented experience and the fact that it’s totally reasonable to expect a time delay between achieving ‘awareness’ and a consumer actually making a purchase, we just have to accept that we won’t reasonably be able to tie directly to sales as easily as direct response activity can!”
Obviously, any time an argument gets framed with “absolutist” viewpoints, the blogger thinks the reality is somewhere in between the two extremes.
And I do.
But I’m much closer to the absolutist-for-awareness position. I wouldn’t possibly be considering pre-ordering a WhistleGPS if I wasn’t at least aware that the product exists. At the same time, I am only vaguely aware of when it crept into my consciousness as existing. Now, many of the impressions that led to my awareness are trackable, and, if and when I pre-order, those impressions (the digital ones, at least, but I think all of my exposure has been digital) can be linked to me as a purchaser. But, the conversion lag will be several months at that time — even when trackable, that’s not “real-time” conversion data that could have been used to optimize their sponsored posts or remarketing campaigns. So, whether I’m being included in a media mix model or an attribution management exercise, I’m posing some big challenges.
But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Happy with Awareness
The against-awareness absolutists have a valid point, in that “hope and a prayer” is really not a valid measurement approach. And, neither is “impressions,” which is what marketers often use as their KPI for awareness. Impressions is a readily available and easily understood measure, but it’s a measure of exposure rather than awareness.
IMPRESSIONS = EXPOSURE <> AWARENESS
So, the question for marketers is: “Is your goal to just increase brand exposure, or do you really care about increasing brand awareness?”
“Well, gee, Tim. You have to increase exposure of the brand — impressions! — in order to increase awareness. And, you can’t truly measure ‘awareness,’ can you?”
Oh, how I would kill to actually have that discussion. Because you can measure awareness in many cases. And, that can be extended to be both unaided or aided awareness, as well as brand affinity and even purchase intent!
I’m actually appalled at how often digital media agencies don’t more effectively measure the impact “awareness-driving” campaigns! It’s easy to resort to “impressions.” Is it laziness, or is it that they’re terrified that measuring awareness may be a much less compelling story than a “millions of impressions!!!” story?
There is one more nuance here. We don’t actually want to measure awareness in absolute terms. Rather, we want to measure the increase or lift in awareness resulting from a particular campaign. And that is doable. Even macro-level — quarterly or annual — brand awareness surveys are more interested in if they have increased awareness since the prior study and, if so, by how much.
This is in not an endorsement of a specific product or service, but it would be disingenuous for me to describe one such methodology without crediting where I first saw and learned about it, which was through Vizu (the image below is from their home page):
This is for measuring the lift in awareness for a display ad campaign. The concept is fairly simple:
- Track which users have been exposed to display ads and which ones haven’t.
- Use a small portion of the ad buy to actually serve an in-banner survey to both groups to gauge awareness (or preference or intent or whatever attitudinal data you want).
- Compare the “not exposed” group’s responses (your control) to the “exposed” group’s responses. The delta is the lift that the display campaign delivered.
This can — and generally needs to — measure the lift from multiple exposures to an ad. Repetition does matter. But, a technique like this can help you find the sweet spot for when you start reaching diminishing returns for incremental repeated impressions.
And, depending on the size of the media buy, a simple lift study like this can often be included as a value-add service. And it can be used to optimize the creative and placements against something much closer to “business impact” than clickthroughs or viewthroughs.
Vizu is actually part of Nielsen, which has other services for measuring awareness, and Dynamic Logic (part of Millward Brown) also offers solutions for measuring “brand” rather than simply measuring exposure.
My Advice? Be Precise.
At the end of the day, if you’re fine with measuring impressions then be clear that you really care more about exposure than actual awareness, affinity, or purchase intent. If you do care about true brand impact, then do some research and find a tool or service that enables you to measure that impact more appropriately.