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Unlocking the power of brand familiarity for purchase journey engagement

Unlocking the power of brand familiarity for purchase journey engagement

A deep dive into this critical challenge to the traditional marketing funnel to drive consumer-centric strategy

Courtney Strouthos

Associate Director, Insights & Strategy
Wavemaker
Courtney.Strouthos@wmglobal.com 

When marketers are asked to evaluate a brand’s performance, they tend to default to traditional funnel metrics: awareness, consideration, purchase intent and conversion. While these metrics benefit from widespread use and a long historical legacy, they fail to account for the deeper, more nuanced relationship between a brand and its consumers.

At a time when brands are increasingly seeking seamlessness through omnichannel strategies, integrated planning, and optimized user experiences, the funnel defiantly favours a siloed approach. As a result, the consumer journey is relegated to a series of linear, independent stages, neglecting a holistic, comprehensive understanding of how brands engage with their audiences across the journey.

It’s time we advocated for a new communications objective, one that allows brands to meaningfully and purposefully connect with consumers. This objective is brand familiarity.

No, familiarity is not the same as awareness

Brand familiarity is often mistakenly conflated with brand awareness. But there is a critical distinction between knowing a brand exists and knowing what it represents. Awareness is a binary recognition (yes or no) and usually measures the brand name alone.

What remains unaccounted for is the variation in how consumers recognize a brand. If a consumer has heard of a brand, what have they heard about it? In what contexts did they hear about it? How often are they exposed to it? What do they think of when they hear the name? Through brand familiarity, we can begin to tackle the questions that go beyond awareness.

Unlike awareness, familiarity is incremental and comes in degrees. Understanding the level of a consumer’s brand familiarity requires examining scales rather than absolutes, in turn deepening our knowledge. The applications of these deeper learnings are abundant: they can highlight a brand’s strengths and weaknesses, identify segment audiences, and even uncover unknown territories. Brand familiarity evolves awareness into actionable insights. 

Familiarity enhances brand consideration

When consumers are asked whether they would consider a brand, there’s often a limited understanding of “why” or “why not.” As such, consideration is usually treated as a measure of short-term intent and is frequently taken out of context. On its own, consideration is broad and lacks insight into the underlying brand appeal and drivers of choice.

Using the lens of brand familiarity, we can assess a brand’s role for consumers and why they might choose to lean in. Not only does familiarity uncover the why behind consideration, but it also increases consideration among prospects. By building familiarity, brands are actively informing consumers of the key attributes or benefits they offer, thus encouraging consideration. Naturally, the reverse is also true: a lack of familiarity hinders consideration. 

Familiarity is shaped by consumer experience

While heightened levels of familiarity contribute to consideration and brand choice, the role of brand familiarity doesn’t end with a conversion. Rather, brand familiarity is part of an ongoing feedback loop; consumers who have purchased or used a brand inevitably become more familiar with it.

This increased familiarity equips them to make brand decisions more easily on a more regular basis. In this context, the purchase becomes more important than the conversion as it unlocks the opportunity to generate familiarity through firsthand experience. This experience ultimately shapes ongoing consumer engagement and future consumer journeys.

Familiarity is not only crucial for acquiring new audiences, but it is also integral to building loyalty. It nurtures those relationships we work so hard to establish and guides brands towards greater customer lifetime value and advocacy. Brand familiarity reinvents the consumer journey as a perpetual cycle rather than a finite path.

Brand familiarity is a necessary challenge to traditional funnel thinking. It influences all stages of the journey and impacts every level of consumer decision making. The comprehensive role of brand familiarity throughout the journey offers continuity in how brands examine their relationships to consumers.

By focusing on brand familiarity, marketers consider the consumer first. They are encouraged to return to the fundamentals of their brands and evaluate the core values by which they want them to be defined. Brand familiarity serves as an immediate indicator of brand resonance, relevance, and salience, emphasizing the brand proposition’s value in the mind of the consumer.

Fundamentally, focusing on brand familiarity leads to a consumer-first approach. Consumers don’t identify their relationships with brands by which “stage” they’re in, so why should we? Brand familiarity begs evocative questions: What do you want consumers to know about your brand? What do you want them to experience? And how are you going to show up in their lives?

The value associated with these questions isn’t limited to any one stage of the funnel – it spans the entire journey, solidifying both new and existing connections between brands and consumers. By putting the consumer at the heart of strategy, brand familiarity positions brands to grow by building ongoing relationships – not just ones that get to the bottom of the funnel, but ones that guide the consumer to choose the brand again and again.