brand awareness


The brand is the main link between marketers and consumers. If the consumer doesn’t have a particular brand of a product in his memory bank, he is unlikely to buy that brand. Creating brand awareness among consumers, then, is the first major step taken by a mass marketer to obtain sales on a continuing basis through a relationship with consumers.

Brand awareness does not guarantee sales but it can be predicted that brand awareness becomes brand acceptance and brand preference when compared with those brands consumers do not know about.


When marketing researchers ask consumers, “When you think of potato chips, what brand comes to mind?” consumers usually have a ready answer. The same is true if they are asked about candy bars, colas, canned green beans, or hundreds of other mass-marketed products.

Consumers have a lot of brands on their minds, in fact, usually more than one brand of a product. That is why the first brand that “comes to mind” is very important to marketers. It is probably more meaningful to consumers than subsequently named brands.

Being aware of a brand does not mean that consumers necessarily like that brand. In fact, it may mean they hate it. Consumer researchers have developed classifications for all possible variations of brand awareness. These classifications are as follows.

Brand Repertoire – consists of all brands of all products with which a person is familiar. At a moment in time a person may be aware of five percent of the approximately 30,000 brands. Whatever the total number, it is called the brand repertoire, and it changes as more new brands are introduced or new products are introduced under existing brands.

Awareness Set – consists of all the brands within a product line with which a consumer is familiar. The awareness set suggests that brands are ordered in the mind according to products (although it may be that they are ordered according to store types that handle similar products). This list can be very long in the case of soft drinks; short in the case of bottled water.

Evoked Set—consists of those brands a person normally considers when making a purchase of a product. These are favored brands of a product for a particular person and probably do not amount to more than two or three at any given time for a product line.

Inept Set—consists of those brands that are rejected from purchase consideration of a product. A consumer is aware of the brands that make up the inept set but knows something negative about them that causes their exclusion from the evoked set.

Inert Set – consists of those brands a consumer is unsure whether to consider when purchasing a product. The consumer is aware of these brands of a product but knows so little about them that they are placed in a mental holding pattern while awaiting more information about them. Perhaps they are new.


In this world of look-alike products, a firm’s brand name is about the only thing a competitor cannot copy. Thus, it is a very distinguishing characteristic of a product, and when placed in the minds of consumers through promotion, it gives a firm higher odds of making a sale.

For example, if there are one million potential consumers for five brands of a product, and all of them are known by the consumers, each brand has a 20 percent chance of a sale, or a chance of selling 200,000 products.

If one brand is unknown, the other four brands probably have a 25 percent chance of a sale, or 250,000 products. For the firm whose brand happens to be the one not known among consumers, there is very little chance of a sale.

These figures assume favorable attitudes toward the five brands which is not always the case. Some brands are in the inept sets of consumers because they are undesirable to those consumers, and some are in the inert set because consumers aren’t sure of them.

Brands in the inept set have no chance of a sale without more marketing effort. Only those brands in the evoked set can expect to be purchased. Thus, of the five brands, two may be in the inert set, one in the inept set, and two in the evoked set.

If this were true for all one-million consumers, the two brands in the evoked set could expect sales of 500,000 units each. Such attractive sales figures are well worth a company conducting research to discover the brand awareness of its brand, and further, to do those things to get its brand in the evoked set of a large number of consumers.


Brand awareness doesn’t accidentally happen. It is the result of a long-term, intensive marketing strategy. In fact, if brand awareness did not occur as a result of marketing efforts, the marketing efforts would probably be considered ineffective since few, if any, sales would occur, also.

Specifically, a company must have its brand not only familiar to consumers but desirable. That is, its brand must be in consumers’ evoked sets. To get it there, a firm can expect its brand to move from unawareness to the inert set in which consumers are aware of it but not sure of it, to the evoked set where each time consumers who purchase that product have considered the firm’s brand.

To determine the extent and nature of a brand’s awareness, a firm can conduct research among a representative sample of consumers. For a brand of cake mix, for example, brand awareness might be determined with a brief set of questions as the following.

  1. Which brands of cake mix might you likely buy when you go shopping the next time? (Measures brands in the evoked set.)
  2. Which brands of cake mix do you not prefer and are unlikely to buy when you go shopping next time? (Measures the inept set.)
  3. Which brand of cake mix are you unsure about considering when you go shopping next time? (Measures the inert set.)

Since by definition a brand could not be located in but one awareness set per person, the number of mentions represents a measure of brand awareness. For a firm’s brand, it may have been mentioned 100 times by 100 respondents, or have a 100 percent awareness rate.

More important, however, is the more specific measures of awareness in each brand set, particularly the evoked set. For example’s sake, assume that the brand is in the evoked set of 20 percent of those that were aware of it, 60 percent have it in their inert set, and 20 percent place it in their inept set.

Now, the company knows where it stands in the mind of consumers, and may then set some goals related to changing the minds of consumers.

This procedure provides, also, some information about this firm’s competition. For example, if there were typically three brands in the consumer’s evoked set, the other two brands represent the main competition. For more exact information on the competition, marketing research can ask consumers to rank the brands in their evoked set by placing them on a ten-point scale with the most desirable brand receiving a ten.

Then the other two brands are given relative positions such as an eight for a closely desirable brand and a five for a less desirable but acceptable brand. By multiplying the various values received for a firm’s brand by the number of votes, the firm will know specifically how it stands in competition for the consumer’s mind and money.

With these measures as guides, a firm can establish a marketing program to increase the percent of awareness in the evoked set and decrease the size of the inept and inert sets. The large percent in the inert set represents much profit opportunity since those consumers are simply unsure about the brand and could be converted with more useful information about it.

The consumers with the brand in their inept sets will be more difficult to change. They have negative feelings toward the brand, probably due to using it, or to its relatively high price, or perhaps because of the types of people associated with the brand. It is possible to reduce consumer negative feelings toward a brand with a specific marketing program, but unless the percentage is high, it is probably more profitable to focus on converting the consumers who place the brand in their inert set and hope the marketing effort to do this will favorably influence the inept set occurrences, also.

Advertising is the most important marketing tool for moving a brand into an evoked set status, although an entire mix of several marketing elements will ordinarily be used for this purpose. Publicity surely will be used because it is so credible, sales promotion efforts such as coupons usually enhance the effects of advertising, and obtaining better shelf display in the stores will make sure that consumers who see the brand advertised will find it when shopping.

Personal selling naturally is important in the case of more expensive items and items sold to industrial consumers, but advertising will still play a decisive role in creating positive brand awareness for these products.

The significance of advertising on brand awareness has been demonstrated in many research findings. For example, there is a high correlation between brands with high awareness and the extent of their advertising. Moreover, when consumers are asked to list all the brands they can, when they are classified by product, the largest classifications usually are those most heavily advertised.

Finally, where there are a number of products advertised under one brand, brand awareness of these brands is higher than usual.

In moving the brand into an evoked set status, advertising, again, is the critical marketing effort, although actual use by consumers of the product is usually necessary. When children are asked what products they want for Christmas (their evoked sets), the brand names are almost always those the children see advertised online and offline.

When consumers are asked to state their preferences for brands of food goods sold in supermarkets, the brands most preferred (those in the evoked set), usually have the highest advertising budgets.


Most brand name merchandisers understand the concept of brand awareness and attempt to utilize it in their marketing strategies. Most advertising has the objective of planting brand names in the minds of people and keeping them there with repetitious messages. PR methods are frequently used to get the brand name before the public.

Companies are always vying for shelf space and display space in the stores. A brand that is able to get an end-of-the-aisle display in a supermarket is not only sure to increase its sales but increase its awareness as well.

All the advertising and promotion notwithstanding, a bad product cannot be moved to the evoked set status or be maintained there. Bad products may be purchased and used, but once their flaws are discovered, their brands are shifted to the inept set. Even use is not necessary in order to place a brand in the inept set.

Perhaps friends talk about the negative features of a product or it is mentioned on a television show or in social media. When Tylenol was associated with potential danger through poisoning, it was necessary to reintroduce the product with an additional $100,000,000 in advertising and sales promotion to get it returned to an evoked set status.

Finally, competition is so intense for most product brands, that few brands enjoy an increasing evoked set status. Usually the most a company can hope for is to share the evoked set of a large number of consumers with two or three other brands, and to spend a large amount on advertising to maintain this position. Because such a high promotion expenditure is required, profits are often tenuous.


Consumers rarely buy brands of products that are unfamiliar. Marketers know this and allocate a large number of dollars to advertising and other promotional efforts to make their brands familiar. In fact, major brand marketers tend not to compete on the basis of price but tend to out-advertise each other in order to obtain the best position in the consumer’s mind.

Applications to Small Business

All brand owners must depend on their efforts to create brand awareness for their success. In fact, a brand name that does not have awareness has little value and will contribute little if anything to profits.

Creating brand awareness is perhaps more difficult for the small business than the large, but it is even more important because of the competitiveness of major brand marketers. It is often difficult for small businesses to spend a large amount on advertising, particularly television advertising.

Small businesses often have to rely on word-of-mouth efforts (including social media) among consumers in order to create brand awareness. This, of course, is a slower process than standard advertising methods for increasing brand awareness.

However, because of its personal nature, it is usually more credible and more effective in spite of its slowness. Small businesses may work to use product sampling to influential consumers as a means to increase the awareness of their brands.

Putting free products in the hands of people who can influence the consumer behavior of others is not a major expense. Yet, it can be very effective because of the credibility of these influencers that recommend the brands to others.



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