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On the role of awareness…

I recently mentioned the part that ‘awareness’ plays in marketing, and it’s fair to say that it can be problematic. The issue isn’t with implementing it; where we run into trouble is in measuring it. That’s why it’s not the worst idea in the world, in a business with a fairly defined marketing budget, to just say that awareness is one of the three elements of the sales process which needs to be covered, and to allocate spend to it accordingly.

However, it’s because of the lack of visible sales attribution that spending on awareness can vary wildly. We’ve probably all heard of (or worked for) companies where – faced with cuts – anything clearly not contributing directly to sales gets eliminated. But we also know of instances where some outrageous spending takes place under the guise of ‘awareness’. This might be the showiest stand at a trade exhibition, or a wraparound cover on a trade journal. The driving force for these initiatives often comes from above the marketing department!

Where do companies go wrong in their awareness campaigns? Well, awareness is about reach, yet often it’s driven by fear of missing out. Exhibitions and directories have traded in this forever: get one or two names in, and the other twenty will be much more likely to tag along. But that’s no good if the end product has no reach. With certain media or events, we can only use our professional judgement about the likely reach, but with others (including search advertising), it’s guaranteed. Sadly, which route we end up taking may involve internal company politics as much as experience or rationality.