Famous and Distinctive for What?

Posted 29 Apr 2024

Not all brand awareness is positive and not all positive brand awareness is useful. It’s the second part of that sentence that for most marketers, challenges their current marketing measurement.

For Malaysian Airways, brand awareness in 2014 reached the high-water mark. Tragically, in that year, flight MH370 disappeared from radar and, flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Accompanying the record awareness, Malaysian Airways reported a 60 percent contraction in bookings.

In the case of Malaysian Airways, it was obvious that the increased brand awareness would not be linked to increased sales however, it does raise the question - what exactly makes up awareness and even if it is positive, is it always useful in driving behavior? If you are in the school of thought that believes most if not all positive brand awareness is useful, then you may wish to reexamine your thinking.

If the brand is new to market, then brand awareness is foundational. Some mistakenly believe they start with a blank canvas whereas in fact, the market assigns attributes that might include challenger brand, discounter, untrustworthy, innovative, and so on. Right from the very first piece of marketing communication, the brand owner should strive for awareness of attributes that represent quantitatively derived drivers of category choice; the fewer the better. Please see Communications Triple Play.

Naked Brand Awareness

Most organizations do not consider what is useful brand awareness1 instead, simply measuring naked brand awareness. Naked brand awareness is when the marketer has not determined what category drivers are responsible for brand choice and simply measures spontaneous and prompted brand name awareness.

It is common to hear marketers talk about being famous and distinctive but omitting the essential element of that intention; famous and distinctive for what? And worse still, abrogating the answer to that most fundamental question of marketing success, to the creative agency.

It is uncontroversial to state that the most important element of the creative brief is the identification of the drivers of choice the brand owner is seeking to communicate. And yet, brand owners hand the responsibility for producing the creative brief to the creative agency.

Allowing the creative agency to draft the creative brief is like allowing the builder to do the architectural design. ‘Famous and distinctive for what?’ should be solved with marketing science, not intuition.

What determines ‘hard working’ from ‘useless brand awareness’ are thoughts and feelings. That is, the thoughts that spontaneously come to mind and the feelings the brand elicits. Best case, the thoughts or “reasons to believe” that the brand is known for are the rational building blocks of buyer preference, and the feelings are the detonators of buyer behavior.

My bet is your brand measurement captures neither but instead, addresses made-up measures objectively shown to have little to no relationship with preference or buyer behavior. Your made-up measures such as like-ability then sum to the equally nonsensical measure, “brand equity.” Nonsense because it fails to predict or even, reflect changes in market share. If you have ever experienced an increase or contraction in market share that is not reflected in your brand tracker, then do not feel alone; your brand measurement is at fault. The question is, why are you putting up with it.

Time to Stop Tinkering

Put your brand tracker out to pitch? if it is not based on your category’s rational and emotional drivers then, it will not reflect your true brand health, nor will it reflect market performance. What is more, you are unlikely to be gaining share if you are not:

  • confident of what rationally and emotionally drives choice,
  • basing your marketing investment on those drivers,
  • measuring your marketing communications performance based also on those drivers and,
  • aware of which tactics can deflect competitors’ brand preference from the bottom of the brand choice funnel?

All in All

Brand is simply stored value made up of future purchase intention. Therefore, your brand measurement2 should strongly correlate with changes in market share. If the correlation between your change in brand as reported by your brand tracker, and changes in market share is less than 0.5, then you can be sure that you have a crooked sight on your marketing measurement and you should reassess your brand measurement.

So long as marketers talk about an awareness metrics without reference to being distinctive for scientifically derived category drivers, then will remain the neanderthals of business.

What is more, if your marketing communications do not address the rational and emotional drivers of brand choice, then you may as well donate your media budget to charity. And, if you are justifying your media spend based on naked awareness, then some immediate introspection is called for.

Two summary points: First, naked awareness is an empty and meaningless measure. Awareness needs to primarily relate to the rational and emotional drivers of choice. Second, when it is recommended to make your brand famous for something, prior to investment, demand the science behind the assertion that being distinctive for whatever it is, will make a jot of difference to the prosperity of the brand.


  1. https://www.greenbook.org/insights/mastering-insights-communications/marketing-applied-part-2-what-you-need-to-know-about-mental-availability
  2. What's Wrong with your Brand Tracker