Brand awareness in the age of brand proliferation: new challenges, new solutions

Have you been to your supermarket’s yogurt aisle recently? What used to be a backwater of a handful of familiar brands is now an ocean of brands in a riotous mix of flavors, formats, styles and packages. What’s true for yogurt is true for many other categories as well. Food, beverage and restaurant brands are proliferating, as new brands rise to challenge legacy brands, and as makers of legacy brands introduce their own new brands to meet the changing tastes of today’s consumers.

In this fast-changing, confusing environment, tracking awareness of your food brand is more important than ever. It’s also more challenging than ever, in some ways. This blog post is intended to identify some of the new brand-awareness challenges and ways of dealing with them.  It’s for anyone who uses market insights to help manage brands, including – and perhaps especially – nonresearchers.


Marketers are interested in two awareness measures: unaided (unprompted) and aided (prompted) brand awareness. Both are important, for somewhat different reasons. The brand section of your survey should begin with a question to capture unaided brand awareness, followed by a question on aided brand awareness.

This blog post focuses on improving your aided brand awareness measurement. Before getting there, however, let’s briefly review both measures of brand awareness.


Unaided awareness is the percentage of survey respondents who mention your brand when asked, in an open-ended question, which brands in your category they have heard of, without being provided with names or hints. An unaided question is, When you think about soft drinks (nonalcoholic carbonated beverages), which brand or brands come to mind? Generally, unaided brand awareness reveals the extent to which your brand is in your target customers’ “repertoire” of brands, i.e., those brands customers think of first when considering which brand to purchase. Obviously, high unaided awareness is enormously valuable for any brand, and, in the example provided, companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi spend millions of dollars annually for consumers to have their brand top of mind.


Aided (prompted) awareness measures how likely a consumer/customer is to recognize a brand when presented with options from which to choose. Because respondents are “prompted” with a set of brands, aided awareness is always higher than unaided awareness. Aided awareness is important because a brand that is easily recognizable is much more likely be used and talked about. Whether you’re conducting your own brand survey using DIY software like SurveyMonkey, or working with a research firm, we have provided some things to consider in constructing your aided awareness measure.


With so many brands emerging all the time, some survey respondents may be more likely to incorrectly claim they are aware of your brand, when in fact they might be confusing your brand with other brands. Other respondents may make the opposite error: failing to recognize your brand because they are juggling so many brand names in their mind. To get the most accurate awareness information on your brand, we offer the following tips:

  • Limit the list of brands for your aided awareness question to the five or six brands most competitive with your brand, and one or two leading brands. Don’t try to include every brand in the category.
  • Consider adding a “ghost brand” to your list. This is a made-up brand with a plausible name for your category. Respondents who claim to be aware of this nonexistent brand may not be providing thoughtful responses to your survey, and you may want to exclude them from your analysis. At the least, treat these respondents with a bit of skepticism.
  • If your brand is known to customers by multiple names, be sure respondents can see all the names. For example, “KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).”


Ultimately, aided brand awareness is a relatively unsophisticated measure. It combines two groups of your target audience: those who recognize your brand but know nothing about it other than its name, and those who are actually familiar with your brand and have informed attitudes about it. Typically, surveys first determine if a respondent is aware of your brand. Aware respondents are then asked about their perceptions of your brand, what attributes they associate with it, and so on. The problem with this approach is that in analyzing brand perceptions, you are including the responses of respondents who know nothing about your brand other than its name. When asked to give their brand perceptions, these respondents have either made-up responses or, more likely, have tried to “guess” what your brand is about based on its name only. Either way, these aware-of-name-only respondents reduce the quality of your survey data.


A solution is to add a familiarity question to your survey. Here’s how that would work: Respondents who are aidedly aware of brands are asked to indicate their level of familiarity with each brand using a scale. What’s critical is that the scale allows respondents to indicate no familiarity. For example, the lowest scale point can be labeled “Not familiar – Know it by name only.” (The highest scale point would be Extremely Familiar or Very Familiar.)

A familiarity question serves two purposes. One, it enables you to track customers’ stated familiarity with your brand, which can be an important metric in and of itself. Two, it enables you to look at brand perceptions through two lenses: among all those who claim to be aware of your brand, and among a subset of customers who have familiarity with your brand beyond its name. The data from those claiming at least some familiarity are, arguably, a truer reflection of the actual brand perceptions that exist in the marketplace.

Tracking awareness of your brand is critical; we recommend you conduct a brand-tracking survey at least annually. And the tools and tips presented here will help you capture more, and more accurate, insights about the awareness of and familiarity with your brand among members of your target market. To learn more about using market insights to inform your brand strategy, please contact Bill Sherman, Director of Research, Foodmix Marketing Communications, at 630-366-7513 or

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