We're living through the most data-driven era of business and it's having a significant impact on marketing departments of all sizes. Now more than ever, marketing leaders are under pressure to prove that each of their activities have definitive, measurable returns.
And while there are plenty of marketing activities that can be tied directly to revenue, brand awareness ROI has always been a bit of a mystery.
Is Brand Awareness Just a Collection of Vanity Metrics?
When you're talking about brand awareness within the marketing department, these are some of the main KPIs you might focus on:
Social Media Reach: How is your content performing on social channels? These are your share counts, impressions, likes, followers, etc.
Brand Mentions: Who is talking about your brand online? And where are they doing it?
Media Mentions: With or without links, are there any media companies mentioning your brand?
Brand Searches: What sort of search volume is your brand seeing?
While all of these brand awareness metrics can prove valuable, the largest volume of data likely comes from social media. There's this innate understanding that brands need to be on social media, but metrics associated with different platforms are often too surface-level for ROI attribution.
When discussing the ROI of social brand awareness activities with executive decision makers, the conversation inevitably devolves into, "who cares how many followers we have if sales are flat?"
That's why social metrics and other brand awareness metrics like content downloads and email open rates have been labeled vanity metrics. They look great on paper, but ROI is a mystery.
As marketers, we have no choice but to work harder and find ways to correlate brand awareness activities with more measurable metrics. For example, you could analyze whether or not leads increase when your brand is mentioned in the media or on social.
However, correlation is far from perfect. In reality, marketers must stress the importance of patience to realize the compounding interest of brand awareness.
1,000 True Fans and the Compounding Effects of Brand Awareness
But it's important to point out that the idea is directly addressed to the individual creator/craftsperson. Kevin Kelly wanted to explain how 1,000 true fans-super fans-could help creatives sustain a living. And one of his key points is that brands can't follow suit:
"Now here's the thing; the big corporations, the intermediates, the commercial producers, are all under-equipped and ill suited to connect with these thousand true fans. They are institutionally unable to find and deliver niche audience and consumers."
Taken at face value, this might seem to support the idea that brand awareness isn't worth the time and money. But think about how much has changed in the last decade.
There's nothing stopping you from building an audience and engaging with 1,000 true fans-even if you're a larger organization. Whether it's social media, owned content, video, podcasting, or any other medium, you have so much available to build that base of true fans.
And that's where the ROI comes in. If you and the other decision makers at your company have the patience to build that base of fans, the ROI of brand awareness starts to compound. You no longer have a passive audience contributing to vanity metrics. No, you have a highly-engaged audience that will spread your messages and products far and wide on your behalf.
Maybe we'll never be able to achieve a 1:1 relationship between brand awareness and the bottom line. But that doesn't make branding any less valuable.