Awareness vs Branding

I recently interviewed Gil Bashe of Makovsky + Company on the pr news site and he said something that has stuck with me long after the interview (and that doesn’t always happen in journalism).  Asked to define branding, he noted: “Often people mistake branding with awareness. Awareness is fleeting. Like a fireplace – there’s fire as long as you’re feeding it logs. Branding is the ability to leave the family room and still feel the glow of the fire within.”

Think about that. Each of us is well aware (repeat: aware) of hundreds if not thousands of brands every day.  The relationship you have with those brands, however, is another issue completely.

For me, there are brands that evoke an emotional or intellectual tie related to making me happy or motivated, making me think or take action, and making me money (less so these days). They include (but are not limited to) Nordstrom, Apple, Real Simple magazine, American Diabetes Association, Diet Coke, Travelocity, the New York Times, the hospital in Baltimore that saved my mother’s life, the Montgomery County Animal Shelter back in my native Maryland. These and other brands stick with me long after my last experience/encounter with them and I will endorse them to friends and colleagues.

Most business magazines have their list of “top brands.” The metrics for these lists vary and are usually accurate in their own right.  What does it really mean, though, if people don’t have a connection to what you are selling or espousing?

Does your brand impact one of what Gil Bashe calls the four tenets of branding: intellectual, intuitive, emotional, value-based? If it doesn’t, start listening more closely to your customers and other stakeholders. If you have a strong brand, tell us about it here — and in particular how PR contributes to your branding efforts.

Or tell us about one brand other than yours that sticks with you every day.  Please, have a Diet Coke while you’re at it.

– Diane Schwartz

  • Elaine

    Great insight into the differences between awareness and branding. SO many people use the terms interchangeably, but as you described, they are undeniably separate states.

    This is something that I will share with clients and my peers, as I think that it will help them to see the awareness vs. branding in a whole new light.

  • Nick Hinsperger

    Great post!

    I agree that awareness and branding are two different ideas, but I think it’s important not to discount the incredibly strong relationship between the two.

    In my opinion, awareness directly affects branding.

    Awareness, made possible by experiences, contributes to the consumer’s overall, personal understanding of the brand.

    Of course, if I do not experience, or am not informed of what a company is doing, than, necessarily, my awareness of that company decreases.

    However, the experiences that I have had- times when my awareness was strong, shape how I view a specific brand.

    For example, if I phone up Microsoft to complain about their product, and am treated poorly as a customer (put on hold, ignored, left feeling unimportant and ‘not helped’) than my view of Microsoft, as a brand, takes a hit.

    Indeed, awareness is a fleeting notion, but, fueled by experiences, I believe it definitely adds to the lasting impression consumers hold of a brand.

  • Jennifer

    Nicely articulated.

    When I walk into a Starbucks (and, I admit, McDonalds)or buy a Diet Coke while traveling abroad or even to new place here in the states, I feel the brand experience. There’s a certain comfort in finding something familiar in an unfamiliar place. A connection back to “home.”

  • Stephanie Johnson

    I am very interested in examples of branding for non-profits or government agencies… seems like most examples are product-oriented. Does anyone have examples, or better yet, a potential contractor?

  • Susana Machado

    This post comes on a great timing for me. I have just introduced that topic to my students (PR course, University of Minho, Portugal). Awareness is definitly the start up stage for the consumer decision making. But if not routed in something else, will soon vanish… Awareness must evolve into knowledge, liking, preference, conviction and just than we can rest in peace on the buying decision of the consumer. That’s the branding field. And if Advertisment makes miracles on creating awareness, PR is definitly the engine to lead the consumer on the following steps. And as a last note: CSR is a gold argument for this last stages.