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Beyond awareness and consideration for early-stage and niche brands

Over the past six months, I’ve reviewed dozens of media and creative briefs. One common theme from the brand-building briefs is that they consistently cite brand awareness and brand consideration as advertising effectiveness success metrics.

I am surprised by the favor these metrics still command in brand-building briefs, regardless of differences in brand prominence, size and/or life-stage. This got me thinking, are brand awareness and brand consideration always accurate measures of brand-building success?

Or are there other more contemporary and accurate measures, especially for early-stage, or niche brands?

Why brand building still relies on awareness and consideration metrics

In 1898, E. St. Elmo Lewis created the “AIDA” model1 to explain the stages buyers move through in their purchasing decisions. The model was a linear hierarchical sequence with four stages: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

That model later became the basis of an entire class of models known in marketing as the hierarchy of effects theory.2 The theory describes how consumers go from initial attention (or awareness) to finally making a purchase or completing some other action.

In advertising, the most well-known model is the ACA3 or “Awareness, Consideration, Action/Acquisition.”4 This model is commonly used because it is thought to represent a customer journey or funnel5, especially for digital marketing.

Awareness or attention metrics are at the top of the funnel. Engagement or attitudinal metrics, such as consideration, are at the middle of the funnel, and a behavioral action, such as an acquisition or conversion, at the lower funnel.

The ACA model is used extensively for “full-funnel” measurement frameworks (see Figure 1 below). It maps the desired consumer behavior and media objectives, as well as measurement KPIs to the appropriate funnel stage. This then provides the basis to evaluate advertising effectiveness.

Figure 1: Luxury Hotel Brand Measurement Framework Using ACA Model

Why awareness and consideration aren’t always accurate measures of success

Not every brand’s awareness and consideration (upper- and mid-funnel) metrics correlate strongly with acquisition or lower-funnel stage metrics. This is especially true of younger specialty or niche brands that are not one of the category leaders.6 In fact, awareness and consideration metrics are commonly measured with survey questions that provide a single cue.

Brand awareness and consideration are good at identifying traces of a brand’s advertising in consumer memory,7 but are generally found to be poor predictors of purchase in a wide variety of real-life purchase occasions.8

This is because niche or early-stage brands typically lack a wide array of brand associations or cues in consumers’ minds.

If brand-building is designed to create and strengthen relevant brand associations, measuring the degree to which these are embedded in memory (and therefore drawn upon when a purchase situation arises) would be highly desirable.

To illustrate the difference, let’s look at awareness, consideration and room night reservations for two prosperous luxury hotel brands. Brand A is an established category leader, with six times the distribution and enjoys a more than 80-year history. Brand B is a smaller (and younger), niche (upper-upscale) brand with limited distribution but stellar reputation. Both brands engaged in brand-building campaigns and generated “better than category” business results during the comparison timeseries.

Even though both brands had successful business results during the period, only Brand A had strong correlations between brand awareness, brand salience, and brand consideration and room nights. Brand B, on the other hand, had very weak or no correlations between these metrics (see Figure 2 below).

Does Brand B’s lack of correlation between awareness and consideration to room nights mean that their brand-building was unsuccessful? For marketers of early-stage or specialty brands that invest heavily in brand-building efforts, results like these may be vexing.

While brand awareness and consideration may be useful to measure traces of a brand’s advertising in consumer memory, they don’t always accurately reflect the propensity of a brand to come to mind in a wide variety of consumption situations or cues.9

Figure 2: Luxury Hotel Brand A Versus B Awareness & Consideration Correlation to Room Night Reservations

Mental market share (MMS) as a more accurate measure of brand building

What’s missing from the single cue awareness and consideration metrics is a measure of the quality and quantity of consumers’ association with the brand.10 The more brand associations a brand has, the more likely the brand will be remembered in a variety of purchase situations.11

Nearly ten years ago, Romaniuk created a measurement construct called mental availability to represent the cumulative effect of a brand’s relevant associations in consumer memory. Mental market share (MMS), one of the components of mental availability, is calculated based on brand performance data from brand health surveys. It is generally calculated from existing functional performance attribute rating data.

A subsequent analysis between MMS and room nights for the luxury hotel brands A and B reveals strong correlations to room night reservations for both brands (see Figure 3 below).

The same pattern of strong correlation between MMS and lower-funnel acquisitions can be found in other categories, such as consumer-packaged goods (CPG) and consumer electronics. These results indicate that MMS is a metric worth considering as a success metric for brand-building.

Figure 3: MMS Category Leading Brand Versus Early-Stage Brand Correlation to Lower-Funnel

Upper-funnel metrics like attention may have a stronger relationship with mid-funnel metrics like MMS versus awareness.

A recent study by Omnicom Media Group and WARC revealed that when a consumer has active attention on an advertisement, mental availability (the composite metric that includes MMS) uplift is positive. When no attention is paid, mental availability is either negative or has no sizable change.12

For early-stage and/or niche brands (or brands that are undergoing a brand refresh from a lengthy advertising hiatus), adding attention and MMS to measurement frameworks may provide a more robust and accurate measure of brand-building.

Adding these considerations will better represent the quality and quantity of a brand’s network of associations in consumer memory (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: Evolved Measurement Framework with Attention & Mental Market Share (MMS) for Luxury Hotel Brand

Using MMS to account for brand difference

Brand-building measurement frameworks shouldn’t always default to awareness and consideration as success metrics. Nuances or differences in a brand’s prominence, size, and brand life-stage can affect the accuracy of these metrics in evaluating brand-building effectiveness.

For early-stage and specialty brands engaging in brand-building initiatives, attention and MMS metrics should be considered in measurement frameworks.

Mental market share measures the quality and quantity of a brand’s memory associations that exist in a consumer’s mind—which is ultimately what brand-building is designed to achieve.

Evolving brand-building measurement frameworks to account for brand differences will enable us to become better marketers, and in so doing, be worthy of the brand association memories we are building in consumers’ minds.

Footnotes

  1. Strong, E.K., The psychology of selling and advertising. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1925.
  2. Alexander, R.S., Marketing definitions; a glossary of marketing terms. Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1960.
  3. Coney, R. H., Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results. New York: Association of National Advertisers (1961).
  4. Some variations of the ACA model include an additional step called ‘Advocacy.’
  5. Also known as the customer purchase journey.
  6. Sheth, J. Sisodia, R.N., The Rule of Three: Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets. New York: Free Press, 2002.
  7. Brown, G., Tracking Studies and Sales Effects. A U.K. perspective, Journal of Advertising Research, 25(1), 52–64, 1985; McDonald, C., Tracking Advertising and Monitoring Brands. World Advertising Research Center, 2000; Romaniuk, J., How Healthy Is Your Brand-Health Tracker? Journal of Advertising Research, 53(1), 11–13, 2013.
  8. Romaniuk, J., Sharp, B., How Brands Grow. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  9. Alba, J.W., Chattopadhyay, A., Salience Effects in Brand Recall. Journal of Marketing Research, 23(4), 363–369, 1986; Keller, K. L., Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer-based brand equity, Journal of Marketing, 57(1), 1-22, 1993.
  10. Romaniuk, J., How Healthy is Your Brand-Health Tracker? Journal of Advertising Research, 53(1), 11–13, 2013a.
  11. Romaniuk, J., Sharp, B., Conceptualizing and Measuring Brand Salience. Marketing Theory, 4(4), 327–342, 2004; du Plessis, E., The Advertised Mind: Groundbreaking Insights into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising, Millward Brown and Kogan Page Limited, 2005; Franzen, G., Bouwman, M., The Mental World of Brands: Mind, Memory and Brand Success, Henley-on-Thames: World Advertising Research Center, 2001; Nedungadi, P., Recall and Consumer Consideration Sets: Influencing Choice without Altering Brand Evaluations. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(3), 263–276, 1990.
  12. Nelson-Field, Karen, The Attention Economy and How Media Works: Simple Truths for Marketers, Singapore Palgrave Macmillan Singapore Springer, 2020.