The Decreasing Role Of Awareness

Just about every client assignment brief I’ve seen in the past year, whether a health care brand or not, has included “increase brand awareness” as a primary objective. While hard to argue with, it always leaves me feeling underwhelmed. Granted, if your health care brand is in the midst of a merger or acquisition, ensuring that people comprehend its new identity is important. But even then, to strive to simply create awareness of a brand and not have deeper expectations of a communications program dramatically underestimates its potential business value and lets the investment off the hook too easily.

In light of how the health care marketplace – and not to mention the communications landscape as a whole – is changing, I’d suggest you consider replacing the awareness goal with one of increasing brand engagement – the connectedness and interaction the target audience has with the brand. To orient a communications program toward engagement requires a contextual shift in thinking about its role, from speaking at current and potential customers to speaking with them.  



Here are a few tips that will help you initiate that change:

Hold all of your messaging across your channel mix accountable to the brand idea. Sounds simple, but in practice, many healthcare and brand marketers don’t think about the role of social media and its massive influence in this way. They tend to value conversational quantity over quality and brand alignment. Instead, marketers should use a dual lens for new initiatives: think about how each initiative conveys or supports the brand idea and, from the target’s point of view, why it’s worth engagement. Often, paid media focuses on conveying the brand idea, while social media focuses on lifestyle connectivity, but few do both. The linkage is critical.

To avoid channel messaging “drift,” don’t rely on the volume and popularity of topics to dictate the brand’s future social strategy. Having a lot of people thinking and talking about your brand is ideal but, as important, you want them leaving the conversation with the right idea about it. Developing social strategies driven solely by positive usage metrics can take a brand off its optimal course.

Know that strategic message alignment doesn’t necessarily mean wearing your brand strategy on your sleeve. To help your agency and creative teams flourish, frame the creative brief in terms of “desired brand takeaway” rather than the ever popular “single-minded message” idea. This leaves the teams able to explore different paths to bringing the idea to life without dictating the route and your next headline.

Orchestrate the brand experience. Map out how you think people move through the brand decision and what their wants, needs and emotional states are at each key stage. This will help the team strategists develop briefs that are customized to the task and channel. A one-size-fits-all brief doesn’t cut it today. This is especially important as social channels continue to blur the line with paid messaging and with different creative teams that may be involved within or across agencies.

Finally, set concrete performance objectives. It’s always hard to project and estimate realistic future performance levels, but establishing numerical goals focuses the team. It will help drive learning about the brand and its marketplace responsiveness. You won’t always be dead-on, but you will learn in a way that advances the brand and your future strategy.

The expectations of brand marketing are increasing every day. With the changes recently initiated by Facebook and others, making social media visibility not limitless and free for the taking, health care communications programs are going to need to worker harder than ever. These tips will help ensure your brand is doing everything it can to have a clear, contextually relevant voice in the market and will fuel the voices of its advocates on behalf of the brand.

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