Generating Awareness vs. Persuading Your Audience?
By Scott Burkhead
Awareness and persuasion should not be either/or. The best brands do both with the same budget. Every effort to generate awareness has the potential to leverage brand positioning, and positioning is essential in persuading prospects to buy and buy again. Place-Based organizations often believe word of mouth is sufficient “Branding”, and focus on creating awareness. These organizations also believe the features and promised benefits of their state, city, resort, hotel, restaurant or airport are equivalent to directed branding activity. This may be true if your company is willing to have your brand shaped over time by a volatile marketplace. Companies that want to guide brand perceptions know they must take charge of the process.
A previous client offers a great example of the dangers of letting the market decide who you are: The Hartford Whalers moved their NHL team to Raleigh, NC. The team was renamed, The Carolina Hurricanes. The move generated good press, then the season ticket campaign started. And went nowhere. All the demographics were strong – age, income, sports enthusiasts. People were happy to have a pro team in town, but didn’t buy tickets. Our agency was hired to help. Our first job was understanding that while this was a sport crazy area, the fondness for college basketball and NASCAR didn’t automatically translate to an interest in hockey. We Positioned the Hurricanes games as sporting events, but more to the audiences liking, as a place for fun bordering on chaos. We showed halftime fun, before game fun, and created the positioning line, “You’ll know when you go!” We named the fans Caniacs. We hired Richard Petty, the ‘king’ of stock car racing to drive a Zamboni. It all worked. Games sold out. The larger point here, is that companies must take charge of their brand or it will be positioned by others.
At BBG we believe well-designed branding will help move the consumer from awareness of your company or product to a willingness to be persuaded. Strong branding also moves the product toward top-of-mind awareness (TOMA), which are the first names that come to mind when a prospect is asked an unprompted question about a category. There are TOMA brands with awareness but no power of persuasion. Think Enron, or even successful ones like Time Warner. Time Warner’s success was for many years due to a monopoly in the markets they served. Enron, well, we all know why Enron doesn’t exist anymore.
The TOMA brands that rock are the ones that make brand promises that attract me – the customer – and then keep the promise. Examples are Westin, Singapore Airlines, Chatham Park and the city of London. These are brands that I believe will make me happier, smarter, admired, or even healthier. When I believe (or feel) this about your brand, it requires much less effort to persuade me to purchase.
Here’s a truism you probably recognize: the decision to buy is usually made before the prospect sees your ad. Like all truisms, it isn’t absolutely true, but true enough to survive for several decades.
Awareness or Persuasion
Here’s a hypothetical situation of a brand generating awareness but not persuading the customer to buy. We were pitching a competitive brand who’s CMO used this example to make a point of why he was dissatisfied with his current agency. Here’s the example: Let’s say Cadillac runs an add for $10K off an Escalade if I buy this weekend. I see the ad. I am enticed by the offer. I buy a Chevy Tahoe instead. I am not willing to spend the extra money (even with a large discount) because Cadillac, for all its brilliant branding, has not convinced me to pay the difference for the same truck with a few accessories and a different badge.
The stronger your brand differentiation, or positioning, the more likely you’ll be able to persuade disinterested customers to buy. We understood the clients example, and his frustration. The key to efficient persuasion is by connecting awareness to brand differentiation. If Cadillac Escalade, an expensive, dressed up Tahoe, had reached me with a message that said, “We aren’t just lipstick and hairspray, we’re the real deal, with stronger brakes and heavier suspension,” the customer may have been interested. The Cadillac brand is strong enough that it only takes the right twist and promise to persuade me. Building brand related persuasion into your tactical awareness campaign ensures your company a greater return on investment because brand + awareness + persuasion = preference. Same investment, larger return.
A deep dive into perceptions of your brand may suggest some rethinking of your current positioning. Like you, your competitors are always working to raise their awareness. Outthink them and make sure every dollar spent contributes to brand + awareness + persuasion=preference. Purchasing cannot proceed unless the buyer is first aware of a product category, and a brand within that category, and be persuaded that one product is the best to satisfy their wants or needs. Before activating the sales funnel, great brands make sure they are strategically positioned because well-positioned brands have greater ‘stickiness’ in tactical applications.
Closing the Deal
What if the prospect entering the funnel was predisposed to do business with your company – already past suspicion and open to being seduced by your offer? We found this to be true with Dollar Tree Stores a few years ago. At the time consumers were skeptical of dollar store claims because in most competitor stores prices for items ranged as high as $20. Repositioning Dollar Tree as the only national chain where everything was Always $1 was a differentiator that raised consumer confidence and drove store visits and sales. If the prospect clearly understands your difference and trusts your brand and your messaging is consistent, the progressive persuasion process within the funnel will move more quickly and produce a higher closing rate.
But not everyone is ready to buy. So what happens if the prospect leaves the funnel, but with a high perception of your brand? William McEwen, writing for gallup.com, cites a considerable body of research that shows, “. . . prospects will continue to work harder, and pay more for those brands they come to rely on.”
Brand Differentiation Leverages Awareness and Persuasion
The marketing and sales process is expensive. In working for a range of companies that sold luxury destinations, soup, automobiles, or medical care, I’ve seen marketing budgets range from around 6% of sales to as high as 30%. So be sure your dollars aren’t just generating awareness but are also persuading customers to buy. A well-differentiated brand, with consistent message and graphics, provides leverage for any tactical spend. When backed by a strong brand strategy, better results can be expected from sales presentations, direct mail and email, mass media advertising, social media, and point-of-sale. No one buys only what they’re aware of, they buy what you persuade them to buy.