Decoding the Language of Marketing

A series featuring TKO’s sideways look at the terminology that marketers love to use.

Term #1: Awareness

One of the most common objectives that marketers are asked to achieve is to ‘raise awareness’ of a product or a company.

But what do product managers really mean when they ask for people to be ‘made aware’ of their product? And does raising awareness help them at all?

Small, non-hairy, non-audacious goal
Back in the 1990s, the author Jim Collins popularised the concept of the ‘Big, Hairy Audacious Goal’, or BHAG, as the motivating engine of change at corporations. NASA’s plan to land a person on the moon is often cited as the prime example of a successfully applied BHAG.

The problem with many awareness creation campaigns is that they are the opposite of a BHAG: they are limited in their ambition, and decidedly non-audacious. So much so, in fact, that very few B2B marketers ever know whether an awareness creation campaign has been successful. Who does the analysis to work out what percentage of a target market has heard of product X before the campaign starts, and the percentage which has heard of it after the campaign? And that’s before figuring out how much of any increased awareness would have happened anyway (for instance through word of mouth, or potential customers’ own research efforts) without the influence of the campaign.

So how many marketers know whether awareness campaigns work at all, even on their own terms?

Perhaps a bigger objection to awareness campaigns is that they suck up money and effort that could be devoted to a proper BHAG. When Apple launched the first iPhone, did the marketers set as the campaign goal, ‘To make 1 billion people aware of the new iPhone’, and then spend hundreds of millions of dollars on raising awareness? Or was their goal actually to turn the market upside down, put Nokia out of business, and make the iPhone the best-selling consumer device of all time?

Of course, it was the latter. And consequently the ad and press campaigns supporting the launch were not about ‘awareness’ – they were about building ecstatic, passionate, must-buy-it-now desire for the product.

So perhaps it’s time for B2B marketers to lift their ambitions and to put a stop to timid ‘awareness’ campaigns. Build desire, not awareness!

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