January 8, 2024 • Branding

Designer Explains: What is Brand Awareness?

Be consistent, be known.

Brand awareness is a term that refers to how well audiences, namely, consumers, are familiar with the distinct qualities or image of a particular brand of goods or services.

It’s the sum of a brand’s popularity, visibility, and recognition in the market.

Brand awareness can be the difference between being ‘just another brand name’ and being a household name.

Think all-pink billboards with just a release date for the Barbie movie or the ‘golden arches’ on a red background, for example.

Brand Awareness Example: Barbie billboard
Credit: Trudie Avery

The legacy Barbie franchise has a distinct pink color, so flushing an ad with just its signature color and a release date is an example — arguably a flex — of a brand with strong brand awareness.

As a designer, I often adhere to strict brand guidelines for brands with strong awareness because the rules in that document outline all the ways to use (and not to use) signature brand assets. 

With consistent use of brand assets like a color, mark, or font, these visual cues become brand-ownable and can establish the brand in an ad without mentioning the brand name.

But brand awareness is not just about consumers knowing a brand’s name. 

It’s also about consumers’ feelings, memories, and associations with your brand.

For instance, how does someone feel when they see (or wear) that swoosh?

Building awareness takes time.

Sometimes, over a century.

Here’s everything you need to know about brand awareness.

The Importance of Brand Awareness

Brand awareness plays an important role in a consumer’s decision to purchase.

When consumers are aware of a brand, they are more likely to keep that brand on top of their minds when making a purchase.

This is why some brands run awareness ads for shock value or high-priced & out-of-this-world ads during the Super Bowl.

Creating or being part of newsworthy moments gets people and media talking about your brand.

Familiarity with a brand can lead to trust, and trust can lead to preference and loyalty.

In other words, the more aware consumers are of your brand, the more likely they are to buy from you.

All roads lead to increased market share, sales, and profitability.

Types of Brand Awareness

Generally, two types of brand awareness are top-of-mind awareness and brand recall.

Top-of-mind awareness refers to a brand or product being the first that comes to a consumer’s mind when they think about a particular product category or industry.

It reflects the brand’s position as the top choice in the consumer’s mind.

Brands with high top-of-mind awareness are often considered more successful in capturing consumer attention and loyalty.

If someone asks, “What fast food brand comes to your mind first?” and your immediate response is “Mcdonald’s,” then Mcdonald’s has achieved top-of-mind awareness.

All of those celebrity-inspired combo meals must have paid off for the brand.

Recording artist, Saweetie, for McDonald’s
Credit: McDonald’s

On the other hand, brand recall is a broader term that considers the ability of consumers to remember a brand when prompted with the product category.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the brand is the first to come to mind.

It means consumers can recall the brand when given a cue or context.

Brand recall is a step below top-of-mind awareness in terms of marketing effectiveness. It indicates that consumers know the brand, but it may not necessarily mean the brand is their first choice.

If someone asks, “Can you name a fast food brand?” and they respond with “Burger King,” even if it’s not the first brand that comes to mind, that shows brand recall.

For the record, I prefer Burger King fries 🍟

In summary, top-of-mind awareness is a peak level of brand recognition where the brand is the first choice in consumers’ minds.

If there were ‘brand Olympics,’ the Gold medalist would be the brand that achieved top-of-mind awareness.

Brand recall, while as important and honorable as the Silver and Bronze medalists, is a winning position for a brand, even if it’s not consumers’ first choice.

Brand recall is a broader measure of brand recognition when consumers can remember your brand in a given category.

Examples of Strong Brand Awareness

Strong brand awareness triggers an emotion — good or bad.

You might feel excited, inspired, or hungry, all from a visual cue.

Brands that are instantly recognizable from their mark, slogan, packaging, product shape, signature color, or style of photography have achieved strong brand awareness.

Here are a few examples of strong brand awareness — Pop Quiz Edition!

Let’s see if you can name the brands from their distinct visual cues below:

Four brand symbols to guess the brand

How to Build Brand Awareness

The main goal of brand awareness is to make your brand visible, memorable, and recognizable.

To be seen once and then forgotten is not a way to build awareness.

It takes consistently expressing your brand ethos across several channels over time.

In the all-pink billboard example, consider that Barbie first launched in 1959.

The movie box-office phenomenon dropped in 2023.

That’s 64 years of nurturing the beloved Barbie-doll brand, which has helped in its extensive (and expensive) marketing efforts for its namesake movie over a half-century since its inception.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur or creative building your own brand, consider a strategic and long-term approach that includes many design, marketing, and advertising tactics like:

  • Consistent branding across channels
  • Design or messaging cues like a slogan, hashtag, or brand mark
  • Creative advertising that brings your consistent message to life and 
  • Engaging with your target audience through social media, events, and platforms in a way that aligns with your brand’s tone of voice

At my branding agency, we love working with first-time founders, entrepreneurs, and even established global brands to create (or refresh) their brand identity, develop creative rules, and be part of the beginning stages of their awareness journey.

Consistency, consistency, consistency is what will help consumers, over time, recognize and form desired associations and feelings about your brand:

  • Consistency of engaging through ads, content, and outreach
  • Consistency of your message, tone, and ethos
  • Consistency of your brand design across all channels.

This clear brand consistency is why it’s so essential to have brand guidelines, especially for small businesses that may not be able to hire brand agencies or have an entire internal creative department of their own.

Brand Awareness Strategy for Small Business

While we don’t all have Barbie budgets, awareness is still attainable as a small business or solopreneur.

Here are two strategies that small businesses can use to build brand awareness:

  1. Content Marketing: Content marketing involves creating and sharing valuable content relevant to your target audience. The goal is to engage and inform your audience while promoting your brand. This can be done through long-form mediums like articles, blogs, videos, and other types of content.
  2. Social Media Marketing: Social media marketing involves using social media platforms to promote your brand and engage with your audience and ideal target. This can include sharing short-form content (images, captions, brief videos), responding to comments, and engaging in conversations online. Ya know, being social.

Both options are powerful strategies for building brand awareness. as they allows you to consistently exercise your brand voice and assets while potentially reaching a large audience across many channels.

Depending on your comfort level and content style, you can also be more personal and interact with your target audience on a personal level — this is something a lot of big brands can’t do, and they often have to pay millions to partner with notable celebrities and figures to be more relatable and add humanity to their brand on social media.

Summary: Be Consistent, Be Known

Brand awareness is important because it’s the first step in the marketing funnel toward engagement, purchase, and loyalty.

People need to know you to love you, and brand awareness offers consumers the chance to get to know you (as a brand).

Building brand awareness requires a strategic and long-term approach — consistency, consistency, consistency — consistent branding, creative advertising or outreach, engaging content, and active engagement with the target audience are all part of the awareness formula.

A well-known and well-regarded brand (even locally) is more likely to be considered by consumers, recommended to others, and chosen over competitors.

So, businesses of all sizes should (and can) invest time and resources into building and maintaining brand awareness.

About the Author
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