Creating Awareness

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2008

As a marketing consultant, I often review clients’ business plans. Their sales may be good, but not great. They may have a decent reputation, but not a great one. Or they spend a lot on advertising to increase traffic, but the customers don’t materialize. In reality they all have one goal in common: to increase sales in the most efficient and effective manner.

Too frequently, the major sales problem is that many local business people do not understand what marketers call the “purchase funnel.”

What is a purchase funnel, you may ask? Well, it isn’t anything you used in Auto Mechanics 101, although one could argue it does allow the marketing oil to become a lubricant for the sales engine. It is simply a process for looking at the points where the marketing effort best intersects with the customer to drive them to your business.

The funnel is a simply a means of outlining the consumers’ thought and purchasing process when they consider and ultimately buy your business service or products. It typically has five different stages of potential consumer engagement: 1. creating awareness; 2. providing information on who you are and what you stand for; 3. developing compelling arguments to convince consumers to consider you; 4. getting them to think about your business as a preference; and 5. the sale. I like to add retention to this list, since it’s arguably the most important sales function. A great retention program can convert 70 percent-plus of trial customers into loyal ones.

Today, I will only discuss stage one: awareness—defined as cost effectively reaching as many of your primary target customers as you can with the proper number of sales messages to communicate what you have to sell.

For example, if you are a mass marketer and want to cover all of Sarasota, then you have to reach 100 percent of the population. For most local businesses, except large retailers, this is impractical; instead, they will have a specific sub-segment to target, such as a specialty dog pet store that will only require reaching 100 percent of all dog owners.

A further refinement involves marketing in your primary “trading area.” For many of us it’s within 10 miles of our actual establishment. You can target both geographically as well as demographically. This allows you to eliminate coverage that will not relate directly to sales.

The actual sales proposition determines the number of times a consumer must be exposed to remember the sales message. Most research points to a need for a minimum of three exposures for the message to sink in. But it all depends on what you are communicating. If Gettel KIA wants to give away cars, they only have to tell me once. If, on the other hand, they want to introduce a new warranty program, they might have to reach me four or five times. The more complicated the message, the more exposure is required to get that first stage of awareness.

A word of caution: I strongly believe that too many local businesses spend an inordinate time obsessing about creating name and location awareness and not enough on brand positioning and selling their differentiating attributes. Every message should enhance your brand’s value. So don’t just get your name out there without telling people why they should care.

Here are a couple of observations about awareness that might get all of us thinking.

Why don’t the SCVB, the Sarasota County Arts Council and all art- and tourism-related businesses own all of the space inside the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport? It’s the perfect place to create the first dynamic impression of our great community. Recently, the Arts Council placed a Jack Dowd exhibit of Andy Warhol sculptures on the main concourse, and a few businesses have advertising in the building. But if one wanted to virtually “own” visitors’ minds as they first encounter Sarasota, exposure should be expanded even further. Art and culture are Sarasota’s points of differentiation, and they require more impact. If everyone would work with the airport to create a “new” awareness, we can change attitudes, reinforce our image and help drive tourism. Think of Hawaii or Bermuda as models

Also, some ads from the Florida West Coast Symphony program book do a great job of generating both awareness and brand positioning. Dream Weaver’s ads, with an elegantly dressed woman and a headline of “Put a little luxury in your life,” make excellent use of small space and capture a positioning that is relevant to the symphony attendee. Barbara Ackerman’s ad relates real estate sales to being a virtuoso, and the Coffrin Jewelers ad, with the headline “Every black tie needs a little ivory,” is accompanied by great graphics.

As a business, you need to get people to know you exist. But mere existence without knowledge and perceived value results only in a drain on your budgets.

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