Spending on Brand Awareness Increases Sales. Period.

“What’s the ROI of an impression?” No matter if they’re seasoned marketers or bootstrapped founders, this is a question I hear from clients all the time. It comes up a lot. Listen, I get it. I’ve asked myself the same thing. Why are we advertising, if not to drive sales?

Here’s the thing. Putting money into awareness is putting money into sales. Repeated impressions means increased awareness, and without awareness you’ve got nothing. For people to buy, they must know your brand exists. Try not to roll your eyes too hard and call me Captain Obvious, but if the virtue of brand awareness seems so elementary, why are marketers so skeptical of tactics designed to increase it?

Because we’re drunk on data. The thought of investing in an objective that cannot be neatly tracked to purchase is scary. Digital marketing, despite all its benefits, has trained us to glorify the conversion as the only metric that really matters. On paper that makes sense. The problem is that this is extremely shortsighted.

If conversion is the destination, awareness is the route. A more accurate label for “impression” might be “potential future conversion” because, while the sales funnel has certainly evolved in the years since the Internet took hold, people still move from awareness to consideration to purchase and (hopefully) to repeat purchase.

Yes, smart marketers have pointed out that the traditional sales funnel is no longer a reliable model because the movement between each phase of the customer journey today is faster (sometimes immediate), nonlinear, and the amount of information to consider is greater than it used to be. True. However, to ultimately see a return, you still must get people “on the road” (aware). Stated bluntly, the reason you need to invest in building brand awareness is to drive sales. Why? Because science.

Mental shortcuts

Brand awareness is the likelihood that your company’s brand, products, and services are recognized by consumers. The importance of recognition is easily dismissed, but it’s actually a critical piece of getting into a consumer’s consideration set. If you employ distinctive and consistent elements in your advertising, consumers will start to recognize your brand over time, which increases the likelihood they will buy.

Recognition means less mental effort – and we subconsciously favor less effort. In fact, when it comes to making purchase decisions, studies have shown that the brands consumers recognize are more likely to be included in their consideration sets. It’s how we narrow down all the choices we have to make.

Our brains look for all sorts of shortcuts to make life easier. In marketing, we study these shortcuts and refer to them as “cognitive biases.” Understanding the patterns and inherent irrationality of the human mind is extremely useful in influencing decision-making.

One of these mental shortcuts is called the “availability heuristic”: the theory that when evaluating a purchase decision (or any decision), people rely on immediate examples that come to mind. Ultimately, our brains determine that if something can be recalled it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions that are not as readily recalled. Think of how this comes into play, for instance, when your potential customer is scrolling through their favorite third-party delivery app looking for a place to order lunch.

Strong branding builds conscious and subconscious memories associated with your brand, which bring it front-of-mind when it comes time to make a buying decision. Through these memories and associations, we build a sense of familiarity with brands. Another truth that comes out of cognitive bias is this: We imagine things we’re familiar with as better than things we’re not familiar with.

So make sure you’re investing in a media mix that reaches consumers where they live, work, and play, so your brand is able to earn the familiarity that will bring it into their consideration set.

Working the ol’ ZMOT

Google’s well-known Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) study found that 70 percent of Americans look at product reviews before making a purchase. After seeing a TV commercial, 83 percent said they still do online research on the products they’ve seen. With so many purchasing options these days, the traditional marketing funnel isn’t quite the law of the land anymore. This doesn’t mean it’s null and void. Although the path from awareness to conversion has become a little “loopier,” it’s still important to understand.

Make sure you have reviews and testimonials that are easily discoverable through a quick Google search of your brand or products. Build a content strategy to help reinforce your expertise or quality offering. And make sure you’re active on social to intercept conversations that take place during the ZMOT. These critical steps will help shepherd consumers down the funnel to ultimately choose your brand.

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