Brand Strategy

Building Brand Awareness: Why it Matters and Where to Start

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Sherry Shaffer

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It’s surprising how many food and beverage companies have an “if our product is superior, people will buy it” attitude. They’re not concerned with building brand awareness at all. Surely, they think, if my cookies are tastier or more nutritious or in fun shapes or all of the above, the consumer will naturally gravitate toward them. Just plop that in big letters on the box, put it on the shelf and the orders will pour in.

That couldn’t be farther from the reality.

What is brand awareness, anyway?

It’s not necessary that people remember your exact name or logo, but that they get the gist of what you’re about. If I say, “What’s the crème-filled sandwich cookie in the blue package?” you should go directly to Oreo. That peanut-shaped cookie? Nutter Butter. Regardless of how complete your knowledge is about those two brands, you know they’re out there and you probably have opinions on them.

building brand awareness

Brand awareness is the first step toward consumers considering your brand when they’re standing in front of the shelf or ordering online.

It’s also the foundation for brand equity – that set of positive associations that add value to your brand. And those associations are transferable across all your products, not just one particular thing. Is there an elf in a tree on the package? When presented with two of the same kind of cookie made by different companies sitting right beside each other, there’s a good chance that a consumer will go for the elf over a brand they’ve never heard of. They may never have tasted that particular cookie type, but they know they like other cookies made by that elf and his little friends. That’s how brand awareness leads to brand equity.

building brand awareness

Building brand awareness and the bottom line.

It’s likely you know that brand awareness is important, you just don’t know how important. Today, everyone wants to see marketing efforts drive “hard” KPIs like sales, distribution and market share. Does the CEO really care how many people know about your brand as long as the big black line on the revenue chart is going up?

I’ll answer the question: Brand awareness is really important. Why? Because it’s pretty much what everything else is built on. It’s the top of that funnel we all saw in business school. It’s the first step on the path to purchase that all consumers take. It comes before consideration, preference and, certainly, purchase. Without it, you can forget all the other stuff like brand strength or brand equity, let alone sales.

Still skeptical? Since food marketing is one of our specialties here at LSB, I asked a few experts about what brand awareness (and brand building in general) does for a food company’s bottom line. Here’s what they said:

Dr. John Stanton, Ph.D., food marketing professor at Saint Joseph’s University and contributor, Food Processing Magazine:

“A company’s brand value may not show up on a P&L statement but it is likely to be the most valuable asset a company owns. It is what differentiates the company’s products from all the competition; it is the symbol of trust that consumers place in the company’s products. It is what entitles you to charge more for your branded product. If consumers aren’t aware of the brand, they are not aware of what the company’s product can do for them.

It is quite simple: building brand awareness builds brand strength. Building brand strength builds brand equity. For most food companies, brand equity is the biggest value on their balance sheet.”

Dr. Richard J. George, food marketing expert, author and consultant:

“Any organization needs to realize that everyone is branding, whether we realize it or not. Branding is the sum of the good, the ugly, the on- and the off-strategy actions that we take. It is defined by a finely-worded CEO pronouncement as well as by every ad, social media posting, new product introduction and derisory consumer comment.

Brands are sponges for content, images and fleeting feelings. Everything a company does creates impressions, good or bad. If the branding process is not strategically focused the results may be catastrophic, even if the intentions are well-founded.”

David Sprinkle, Research Director, and Publisher, Packaged Facts:

“You can’t stop at brand awareness, though you certainly have to get there. To fuel sales, you need brand credibility, which involves standing out in a meaningful way from the competition. That calls for readily apparent innovation that aligns with one or more of the drivers transforming the food industry, and that sometimes give an edge to newer and smaller brands: freshness, authenticity, craftsmanship, clean label, natural health & wellness benefits, and flavor/texture adventure enriched by global culinary consciousness.

Versatility in fitting various consumer dietary strategies and daily mealtime/snacking patterns doesn’t hurt, either.”

That’s all great, but how do I start building brand awareness?

There’s no simple answer to this except to get people talking – or tweeting, or snapping, or reading, or watching, or any number of activities out there. There’s no one, set strategy or tactic that will get the word out to the people you want to reach.

The key is to know your target and direct your marketing to where they are.

That means careful consideration and, often times, research. You may have started with an idea and you may have had a particular consumer in mind but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those are the people who desire your product, or desire it most. Or that your target never changes.

Over time, culture evolves, need states change and opportunities arise that cause your target market to shift to places you never thought of. So, even if you have a good idea now, you should regularly evaluate and prioritize target markets over the life of your brand.

Let’s look at the now classic branding of baby-cut carrots.

In the beginning, Mike Yurosek at Grimmway Farms just wanted to be able to sell more of the carrots he grew. Any carrot that wasn’t nice and straight was disposed of or sold for animal feed at a much lower price. By cutting them down to resemble the then-popular baby carrots – a fully-formed, tiny, young carrot – he figured people would be more inclined to buy them. Plus, they’re already peeled and ready to go for many recipes. You could stop right there and market them strictly as a time-saving spin on a commodity item and do well – and they did for quite a while.

But then Bolthouse Farms came along (after doing a bunch of research) and said, “Wait a minute. Baby-cut carrots are a snack food.” They’re sweet, crunchy, small, orange and really easy for a kid to grab and snack on.

They put vending machines in schools, tweeted smack talk at candy rivals and made campaigns that looked more like typical snack food campaigns, not healthy-veggie-cooking campaigns.

They enticed kids to want them and grocery shoppers to buy them. Bolthouse became known for those baby-cut carrots.

The awareness campaign not only got their name out there, but showed consumers that their product solved a problem – all of a sudden, snacking on carrots was a thing. It mattered.

Who wants/needs to know about my brand?

Finding and narrowing your target market is a topic in and of itself with a lot of avenues to explore. We’ll dive deeper into the subject later, but here’s a high-level approach for now.

There are many ways to determine who your target is (or should be). Approaches may range in price and scale, but regardless of the size of your company, there are steps you can and should take to determine who will be most receptive of your brand.

Even if you think that everyone should want your product, give your brand and budget a break and figure out for whom it will matter most.

A few thought-starters:

If you’re launching something new, ask a few questions.

  • What problem does your product solve or need does it fulfill?
  • Who are the types of people that have the problem or need, and who’ll get the most value?
  • Is there a competitor who has a lock on a target you probably can’t win over?
  • Is there industry research out there that I can use?

If you’ve got a database of customers already and you know the above, dig down further.

  • Do quantitative surveys
  • Analyze your current social followers
  • Do social listening (Keyhole has a great list of tools.)
  • Do deep qualitative interviews (often done through research firms)
  • Research the competition’s targets

Gather all that info and see what makes your optimal target(s) different from the general population. Think in terms of things like:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Geography
  • Interests
  • Income
  • Attitudes
  • And a whole lot more

(Note: Just as being too broad is a problem, be sure you don’t narrow too far. If you get down to married, left-handed, croquet enthusiasts with five children at home who live in southeast Arizona you may need to rethink your process – or product.)

These are your peeps. These are the people who are most likely to want or need your brand. But they don’t know you’re out there and they don’t know what your brand offers. They may not even know they have a need or problem.

Talk to them.

Start a relationship by telling them what your brand can do for them.

Use an awareness campaign to make your brand matter to them.

Bringing it full circle.

Let’s go back to the baby-cut carrot example.

Full-sized carrots sold in the grocery store were a commodity item. The grocery could change the carrot vendor daily and you would neither know nor care.

Grimmway Farms introduces clean, baby-cut carrots in bags under the brand name Bunny Luv. Brand awareness is built because they’ve got a vaguely Bugs Bunny-looking character on the package and they’re the only game in town.

Bolthouse Farms offers the same product, but who is Bolthouse Farms anyway? What’s the difference?

Bolthouse realizes that baby-cut carrots are a great snack food, especially for kids. They launched an awareness campaign directed at kids and their parents.

Now everyone knows Bolthouse Farms as a brand of snackable carrots. Parents happily buy them. Today, Bolthouse and Grimmway control 80% of the carrot market share.


Grimmway and Bolthouse both found a way to make their carrots more desirable. But until they branded their carrots and let consumers know they solved their particular cooking and snacking problems, they were just carrots.

Brand awareness was integral in converting baby-cut carrots from a commodity item to a branded food that grocery shoppers deliberately choose in the veggie aisle.

Isn’t that exactly what you want? People deliberately choosing to buy your brand?

Better let them know you’re out there.

Bonus effect of brand awareness: Bolthouse also sells juice drinks and salad dressing. A happy carrot-buying parent recognizes the brand in the refrigerator case and decides to give them a try. Consequently, they sell a lot more juice drinks and salad dressing. (The Campbell Soup Company also buys them, but that’s a different story altogether.)

Sherry Shaffer

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