8 Ways to Tell if Your Brand Awareness Measures Up

05/13/2015 09:58 am ET | Updated May 13, 2016

True story: in the 1930s, to generate brand awareness, companies resorted to "sky shouting" -- where a low-flying single-engine plane carried a man with a megaphone shouting product enticements like "Smoke Gold Cigarettes!" within earshot of pedestrians. The plane then lifted toward the heavens, blaring music as it buzzed skyward.

These types of tactics proved elusive to the bean counters and CEOs who were looking for Return on Investment.

Of course, today, to generate brand awareness, companies and brands use a variety of tactics -- blogs, micro-sites, videos, infographics, and e-books. But all have one goal in mind: to make a splash, to stand out above the digital shouting of messages out there.

At Mr. Finn Content Works, we had one client recently ask specifically for brand awareness as a deliverable. When we asked them to define that -- during a sit-down where we asked all stakeholders to write down what they thought brand awareness actually was -- the consensus reply was "PR."

Fair enough, but I was reminded of a recent conversation I had with Joe Chernov, chief of content at HubSpot, who spent 15 years in the PR business. He told me that when he decided to shift from PR into inbound marketing, he showed up to a job interview with his book of PR clips -- A-list placements like The Economist, CBS Evening News, etc. The interviewer looked at it and said, "How many Twitter followers do you have?"

That's when Joe started sweating and it's a good story you can find here.

But my point was that while PR placements are great -- we told the client that PR wins still hold value, especially to hang on your office wall to impress clients or to put on your website as a form of social proof -- their impact is not easily measured.

We then told the client that Brand Awareness can fall into any one of the following categories. We referred them to an e-book that we had produced on the subject, and we asked them to select which one of the following was important to them:

  1. Mass awareness of your product or brand
  2. Ease of recollection of your brand -- a.k.a. brand recall, the "tip-of-the-tongue" test.
  3. A specific action you want a group of people to take

Sam Sova, director of social media and web content for Johnson Controls, says that brand awareness is why his company -- a Wisconsin-based supplier in the automotive, building, and energy storage industries -- invests in social media. "It's not to sell products," he told me. "We want to make sure the content for the channel is right."

Sova and his team of three look in analytics at engagement and click-through rates. But those are only two of several metrics that can be employed to meet any one of the three Brand Pillars of Awareness.

These are the metrics you should be thinking about for your brand awareness:

Brand mentions: If your goal is mass awareness -- via links or @ mentions -- then you should be monitoring Brand Mentions. For this you can use brand monitoring tools like Radian6 or en.mention, which will send an alert anytime anyone mentions your brand or company. If you're interested in tracking whether the mentions are positive or negative--and who isn't? -- then you should track brand sentiment, too. Note: These tools can also help you identify which channels are interacting most with your content.

Shares: This is similar to brand mentions, but only on social media. The caveat here is that your content needs to be "shareable" or "snackable" in order for this metric to make sense. Therefore, your content creation should be aligned accordingly. Like most brand awareness content, this is top-of-funnel stuff, an example of which you'll find here.

Links: When the goal is to get in front of a publisher's audience, this is your ticket. It's also good for long-term organic search and domain authority. To monitor links, try Moz Open Site Explorer.

Traffic: This is important if you want to increase the public's interaction with your brand. When readers click a link from a social channel and arrive at your site, that means your headline did the trick -- although it can always be done better.

New visitors: The lifeblood of every business. Look at New Visits in Google Analytics to make sure you're hitting your goal of legitimate brand awareness.

Are they reading your content?: A high bounce rate might not necessarily mean your content has failed. That's why Event Tracking is useful. Download the Scroll Depth plugin and you can set a Google Analytics trigger event to indicate how far down a user has scrolled on your page -- from 25 percent to 100 percent.

Forwards: Are you creating content that people want to forward to friends? A classic e-mail "Forward to a Friend" report or a Bitly link can help determine how shareworthy your content is.

Branded keyword search: A good way to track brand awareness is to monitor in Google Analytics how many times users arrive at your site by entering your company or brand name into a search engine.

Brand recall: Best achieved by surveys, surveys, surveys. Make sure your first survey uses benchmarking questions like "Have you ever heard of Gold Cigarettes?" This metric was no doubt best suited for "sky shouting" -- how can you ever forget being yelled at by a guy in a low-flying bi-plane?