Feb 13, 2020

16 min read

What Is Unaided Brand Awareness and How Can You Increase It?

Coca-Cola; Nestle; Google. There are lots of big brands whose names we can pull out of the air when asked to think of ones in certain industries and niches. This is unaided brand awareness.

Let’s switch this around. How many people out there are aware of your brand? And how aware of your brand are they? Are you top-of-mind like the Coca-Colas and Googles of the world, or would you have to show your logo to garner some recognition?

The second option is good but the first is much better. Building the level of unaided brand awareness that the big brands have is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your company. Yet many companies don’t and, if truth be told, are not even sure why they should bother.

We’re here to change that by taking a close look at unaided brand awareness. We’ll cover the basics and will then move on to give you some deeper insights-because just knowing the basics isn’t enough here. You really need a deeper understanding of this form of awareness to really get to grips with it and make it work for you and your brand campaigns.

Let’s get to it; we’ve got so much to cover!‍

What is Unaided Brand Awareness?

Unaided brand awareness 101: What is it?

You might have already guessed: it means that your brand is at the top of consumers’ minds.

For example, say you are brand manager for Quorn. You ask a bunch of your target audience “what brands do you think of when you think of meat alternatives?” and 64% respond with Quorn. This means that a large chunk of Quorn’s target audience were able to express knowledge of the brand in association with the alternative meat industry without any prompt, such as a logo.

What do results like these mean for brands? It means that not only is a brand’s target audience aware of them, they have been able to create a strong association between the brand and a certain industry/niche/product. So whenever people think of the industry/niche/product, this brand will automatically spring to mind.

This is in contrast to aided brand awareness, where a target audience is provided with a list of brands in the same niche and they are asked to pick the ones they have heard of.

Obviously, it’s going to be easier for a brand to score higher on aided brand awareness. However, striving for and achieving a high level of unaided brand awareness brings more value. Did you know there is a significant data-correlation between brands with a lot of market share and brands that spend on unaided brand awareness? That’s right, unaided brand awareness equals market share. Work on that and aided brand awareness will look after itself.

In addition, a high level of unaided brand awareness shows you’ve made a strong impact on your target user and have quite a large influence over them. These types of connections are valuable to your overall marketing success.

That sums up the concept of unaided brand awareness and why it’s useful in a nutshell , but there’s so much more that goes into why this metric is important to measure. Let’s take a look at that in the next point.‍

Why Is Unaided Brand Awareness Important?‍

Competition is rife and many industries are oversaturated. Brands are paying more to reach their target audience, but this strategy is becoming too expensive to sustain the level of growth they want and need. Plus, after spending all this money, they are not even sure if it is having an impact on their target audience.

Sounds familiar?

If you really want to know whether your campaigns are making an impact, track unaided brand awareness.

Here’s why:

1. It Improves Brand Equity

Unaided brand awareness is linked directly to brand equity. Brands with higher equity have a higher unaided brand awareness score. Let’s look at a real-world example to better show this.

Apple’s brand equity stood at an impressive $205.5B in 2019, making it one of the most valuable brands in the world. Why does this matter? Consider this quote from Brand Marketing Blog:

Brand equity is the value of future sales attributable to the brand(s) owned by the company.

Imagine what would happen if for some reason Apple was no longer able to sell under the Apple brand. Well, their products wouldn’t be Apple products anymore and they couldn’t sell to consumers based on the brand they built. Hence, the value of Apple would drop significantly because they would lose (or at least significantly reduce) their brand equity.

Now if you can get your brand at the top of your target audience’s mind, you will help increase brand equity and therefore increase your market value. The easiest way to get up to the top of consumers’ minds? We’ll come onto this in a bit, but it’s all down to the salience you can build around a brand.

2. It Increases Market Share

Unaided brand awareness is all about being the brand that is top of your target audience’s mind, right? Well, it could very well be that you are not the only brand in your industry holding this mind space.

But what if you were the first brand that your target audience recognizes from your industry? And by that, we mean that you are the first brand to enter their mind when they think about your niche. Being the first will make it harder for other companies to penetrate your audience. They will think “oh, I know Samsung provides smartphones too but Apple have been doing it much longer and better (at least in the minds of your audience if you can reach them with the right messaging) so I’ll choose Apple over Samsung”. If you can achieve a similar reasoning with more and more people, you will take up a bigger slice of the market share.

Yes increasing unaided brand awareness is just one step in achieving this but it is an important step, as it lays the foundations. You have to be aggressive to achieve a high level of unaided brand awareness… Some might think why bother then, but while unaided brand awareness doesn’t have financial value on its own, it plays a big part in driving sales and profit.

3. It Builds Authentic Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is a marathon, not a sprint.

What’s the first step in this ongoing process? Unaided brand awareness. Brand loyalty starts with recognition-and you can achieve that through brand awareness campaigns. You need to build a strong connection between you and your target audience before they will ever become repeat customers. Just remember that while we all like to think we’re logical, savvy shoppers, the opposite is actually true. In fact, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious.

People buy based on emotions.

With so many options available today, people choose brands they trust. They follow their gut, and this means relying on the subconscious to make purchase decisions. If users recognize your brand, they’re more likely to trust you over the competition. Customers are loyal to the brands they know and like.

Peter Wilson, Founder of the research and strategy consultancy The Shopper Collective, agrees that pushing good awareness can help to build strong brand loyalty: “ Driving awareness, both aided and unaided, can be a positive contributor to usage and ultimately loyalty. Loyalty (and brand equity) will emerge as a result of a positive experience of interacting with or using your brand. Ultimately you want people to try you, love the experience, and continue using you.

And once you reach that level of brand loyalty, we all know what it means. $$$$

4. It’s a Sign of Marketing Progress

What impression did you make on your target audience with your marketing?

If your brand has a high level of unaided brand awareness, you’ve done your job as a marketer. You’ve demonstrated that you’re doing something right as your customers are responding to your marketing.

The car manufacturer Fiat shows just how closely related marketing success is to unaided awareness. After launching a new Google ad campaign, they saw a rise in unaided awareness from 11% to 22.5%. The company also saw sales growth of over 120%, making them one of the leading market leaders for small car manufacturers.

Fiat’s results aren’t an outlier. If your audience remembers your campaigns, and more importantly, your brand, you’re achieving greater marketing success.

How to Increase Unaided Brand Awareness

Nobody wants to keep any KPI at a static number, especially an important one. Let’s explore some of the key ways you can increase unaided brand awareness.

1. Consistently Provide Value

Do your marketing efforts showcase the value your product or service can provide to your target audience? No? Making sure that it’s included in your campaigns can help increase unaided brand awareness.

Consumers have come to expect value immediately. They are not going to search for it on your website and certainly won’t buy your product/service before deciding if it is valuable for them or not. Provide value by working on that emotional connection from the very first campaign they see from your brand.

Wondering how to make the leap from an emotional connection to value? It’s not that hard. As our emotions are a huge driving force in most of the decisions that we make, it makes sense that every consumer will base their purchasing choices on how they feel about a brand.

Take Walmart and Amazon, for example. These two brands sell pretty much identical products, yet consumers would still rather use one than the other. It’s their emotions that are leading them to make this choice.

Emotion is all well and good, but it won’t make you a brand behemoth on its own. Adding value to your brand can help to cement consumers’ feelings about you and will show them that there are solid reasons behind their positive feelings towards you.

For example, SNOO baby sleeper is the leading force behind tech-savvy baby products. Their infant sleepers are known throughout the globe as some of the best, but what really sets them apart is their blog. Their Happiest Baby blog has value-rich content specifically with their target audience in mind. They create high-quality posts about pregnancy and parenting to help moms and dads at all stages.

The value of this brand really comes from their quality content. From blog posts full of advice to reviews of all the latest baby products, their website is a gold mine for parents at any stage of their parenting journey.

Their range of products and services goes beyond their sought-after snoods, too. The team behind the brand offers an in-hospital service which sees them go into hospitals to meet those who would like to collaborate in product trials. They also work closely with universities to help with research studies about parental issues, such as safe bed sharing and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

By creating a brand that goes beyond the products and provides value to their audience, they have become a stand-out name in the saturated baby market.

If your brand is already quite sizable, you might think that focusing on value isn’t worth your time. After all, consumers will already be sure of the value you bring them, right?

Bethany Spence, Content Marketing Specialist at Exposure Ninja, tells us that: “ being a large corporate brand won’t protect you from this point of view. If someone asks a member of the public what their favorite trainer brand is, they’re never going to mention Nike if they’ve bought a few pairs of faulty shoes.

Even if you’re a large corporation that’s raking in the dollars, ignoring your brand’s value for even just a short amount of time could really make your unaided brand awareness slip!

2. Show Up for Your Target Audience

Your target audience is exposed to hundreds or even thousands of brands a day. Your brand needs to show up and be visible if you want to get ahead.

It takes 5 to 7 impressions for people to remember a brand. It’s going to take even more impressions for them to actually make a purchase.

So how do you stay present consistently?

First, market in places your target audience will see you. If you’re marketing to entrepreneurs, for example, focus on advertising on LinkedIn or social platforms they’re using regularly. Next, don’t fall victim to “out of sight, out of mind.” If your consumers can’t see you regularly, they won’t remember you. You need to always stay visible to them.

Zipcar is an example of a company that is present amongst their target audience. It’s a car rental app, and they focus heavily on marketing to Gen Z college students.


Because this group doesn’t usually own cars. As such, they mostly market on college campuses. They’ve teamed up with campuses to share the perks of using a Zipcar. Their visibility for university students allows them to continue expanding to new colleges. Their marketing efforts have been so successful that they are now one of just two players in the carsharing market that have achieved global reach

Image via @UAB and @ZipcarNorCal on Twitter

3. Provide Great Customer Service

Customer service should be a priority right from the off. Even though you will want to make as many sales as possible, your customers shouldn’t be constantly reminded of that or you might come across as too robotic.

Exposure Ninja’s Bethany Spence backs that up: “Be helpful. Avoid the hard-sell and provide a mixture of content to your audience that informs, entertains and persuades.”

Made a sale? Great!

There’s no reason for your helpfulness to end there, though.

Staying at the top of your target audience’s mind continues even after they have purchased from you. Remember, they might have bought a different product or service from a similar brand. How do you ensure that your brand overpowers the competition? By providing great customer service.

If more and more people are using your brand and are happy with the service in general, your unaided brand awareness should slowly be bumped up.

Rhea Henry, Content Strategist at points to Google as being the perfect example of this: “ At the forefront of brand awareness is a great service. It’s how you get the audience, and world at large, to associate your brand with a particular service. It’s why Google has become a verb despite being a younger variant of one of the oldest search engines, Yahoo! They weren’t the first to do it, but the best to do it.”

By doing such a great job, Google is now the largest search engine out there and is the first one that will come to a huge number of peoples’ minds when they need to look something up online.

The brand has now got to the point where consumers think of the name Google without needing a prompt. Need to search for something online? Google is the only answer for most people!

Google also understood users’ search intent far better than any of its competitors. It then became known for fast, high-quality results. For most web users, that equals a great service as it’s everything they need from a search engine. Good service matters more than it ever has. With so many companies competing for the same target users, you simply can’t afford to overlook it. That’s something Yahoo! learnt the hard way.‍

When your users have a poor experience or a problem, they expect that problem to be taken care of quickly. If you offer a great customer service experience, people are more likely to return to your brand in the future.

A startling 86% of buyers today are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. For an example of shining customer service, look at Nordstrom. This premium luxury retailer is well-known mostly for its customer service policy. It has the most generous return policy of any luxury apparel retailer, and this has been a raging success. As the Nordstrom return policy states, “We have long believed that when we treat our customers fairly, they in turn are fair with us.”

Nordstrom today is leading in the US in terms of luxury retail by over 5 billion dollars annually. Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales all have a lot of catching up to do in terms of their customer service if they want the same level of brand awareness.‍ Ultimately, great customer service will make users want to return to your brand. The repetition of returning over and over will establish strong unaided brand awareness. When they do need a product or service in your niche, they’ll head straight to you without even thinking about it.

The Link Between Unaided Brand Awareness and Salience

Remember when we gave a shout out to salience in a previous point? It’s time to look at it in more detail now.

Getting wrapped up in unaided brand awareness is one thing, but doing so without even considering its salience can only get you so far. These two must go hand-in-hand.

In the research paper ‘Conceptualizing and measuring brand salience’ by Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp, the concept of brand salience is explained as “the ability of an item to ‘stand out from its environment or background.”

Think that sounds just like unaided brand awareness? Not quite. There’s more of a psychological factor to salience as brands need strong retrieval cues to increase their rating in this metric. Retrieval cues are basically things that prompt our memory. It’s information that helps us access our long-term memory.

Once brand salience has been improved, better unaided awareness should then follow.

As we’ve mentioned, there are reasons why brands stick in our minds-values, emotions-and this is all down to salience. Put simply, brand salience is being mindful of a brand. Stoking this mindfulness and bringing the brand name to the top of the audiences’ minds is awareness. When these two occur without any prompts, it’s unaided brand awareness in action.

Here’s an example: if an individual is out shopping and remember that they need to pick up some laundry detergent, their salience of the brand “Lenor” might cause their mental retrieval cues to kick in. When these cues cause them to bring the brand name to the top of their mind… That’s what unaided brand awareness looks like.

The Importance of Retrieval Cues in Brand Salience

Once you understand more about retrieval cues and how they work, you can start to implement some throughout your brand. When used correctly, consumers should pick up on them and they can greatly improve a brand’s overall image.

As Romaniuk and Sharp point out in their paper, we are often unaware of why we actually choose one brand over another. Think of it this way-why do you go to one shop for electrical equipment when you know that there are other shops that sell similar items and equivalent prices?

Most of the time, our decisions when shopping are almost instinctive. There will be certain cues at play swaying our purchasing choices, some of which we don’t even notice. If customers are turning to your brand instinctively in this way, it’s a sign that your salience is very strong.

Strong salience for a brand means that they are likely to be thought of by shoppers. When this salience is used without any prompts, it encourages unaided brand awareness.

There’s a great example used to demonstrate this in the research paper ‘The concept of brand salience and implications for measurement’, also by Romaniuk and Sharp. Here, they choose to focus on drinks. On a hot summer day, people will be more likely to choose drink brands that have incorporated attributes like “refreshing” into their marketing message. If a consumer remembers this attribute and the context in which they are buying fits too, then there’s a very good chance they’ll opt for the brand.

Romaniuk and Sharp argue that there are three types of cues:

  • Functional Attributes: These are the attributes that the product has. For example, a clothing brand might be known for being ‘waterproof’, or a brand of soup could be described as ‘hearty’.
  • Benefit Attributes: What can the product do for customers? The benefit attributes can be the main reason why expensive brands can still be seen as good value in the eyes of customers. Sure, they are expensive, but the benefits outweigh the price.
  • Purchase/Consumption Situation: This is the situation in which the purchase is being made. What is the context for the consumer when they are recalling a brand?

You may not realize it but these cues are all around us. Whether we are wandering around our local supermarket or surfing the web, there are various things that we’ll see and experience that will kickstart our retrieval cues.

Before we know it, bang, we’ll be thinking of a particular brand name without really knowing why it came to mind. And this is all down to those subconscious cues coming into play!

Another way to think of it is that brand salience represents the psychological processes that occur in our minds that trigger retrieval cues. Unaided brand awareness is the part of this that we act out-we may not know why we are thinking of a brand in relation to a particular purchasing decision, but it’s this awareness that comes thanks to the mental retrieval cues.

As brand marketers you are probably asking yourselves one very important question: how can we use these cues to our advantage? There are three things to mention.

The first two are easy enough to trigger with branding. As long as your branding, packaging, and marketing messages cover the functional attributes that your brand has (e.g. waterproof) and it’s clear how customers will benefit from using the brand, then these should be picked up quickly by consumers.

It can be a little harder to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the purchase situation as this all depends on the customer and their individual context when buying a product. Unfortunately, some contexts are unpredictable, but being able to wrap up the functional and beneficial attributes should help overcome this issue.

One tip could be to portray different purchase contexts in advertising. Show consumers shopping in various situations, for example in-store and online, so that next time a consumer is in a similar context, your campaign will pop into their head.‍

Is Your Brand Focusing on Unaided Brand Awareness?

Today’s brands are all fighting for the same consumer awareness. If your target audience doesn’t recognize you off the top of their heads, you’ll have a harder time increasing your profit. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” You need to first be in your audiences’ sight — then you need to stay there. Keeping a close eye on your unaided brand awareness levels is the best way to stay relevant in an overcrowded market.

Remember, to make a lasting impact on your customers, you need consistently great marketing. One step you could take to get to better campaigns is using an advanced brand tracker to track unaided brand awareness. Once you start to track this metric, you’ll gain insights that can help you make more informed decisions and you’ll see what’s working for your marketing campaigns and what isn’t.

Originally published at