Why is brand awareness not a good metric to measure the success of PR and marketing?

One of the recurring challenges in my job as a PR agency head is to try and understand what every PR brief really means.  What does the client really want? What do they really need? The objective to “increase brand awareness” is included in pretty much 90% of PR briefs that cross my desk.  On the face of it, increasing brand awareness sounds like a great goal. But what does it really mean? I’d argue that on its own, it doesn’t mean what people think it means and therefore doesn’t mean much at all. In this blog post, I’ve started to explain why.

When “increase brand awareness” is used in a PR agency brief I must admit I do a little eye roll, followed by that slightly smug hand rub people do. You know the one.

It is not really an arrogant or smug hand rub as such, more a knowingness that I can earn my crust as a PR agency managing director and really get the team to interrogate that brief and find out what the client really needs.  The team do need me after all!

This blog post will explain why and then give you a list of suggested ways we could replace brand awareness and provide a more meaningful response to that next PR pitch.

Go on then, oh hand-rubbing PR agency managing director, tell me more…

Brand awareness shouldn’t be seen as a metric in its own right; it should instead be viewed as an outcome of effective PR and marketing campaigns. It’s simply not enough to measure success based on brand awareness alone; this is because it doesn’t take into account outcomes, i.e. the effectiveness of messaging or the overall impact on sales. Without deeper insights into the desired effectiveness of brand messaging, brand awareness goals can often be misleading.

Brand awareness is highly subjective and difficult to measure accurately. For a start, everybody measures it differently. Do they mean impressions, coverage or are they going further and looking at search volumes or customer research?

It’s not simply enough to count how many people have seen or heard a brand’s message. Brand recognition and recall also needs to be measured in order to properly gauge brand awareness. Furthermore, brand loyalty also needs to be taken into account as this metric is an important indicator of brand success.

Another issue with brand awareness is that it doesn’t take into consideration the competition and how successful their own PR and marketing campaigns have been. Without a comparison in place, it’s difficult to assess the true effectiveness of brand messaging.

My final point is that focusing on organisational impact as well as these early stage objectives is probably a better use of everyone’s time.

Let’s get under the hood of the subject, shall we?

What is brand awareness?

Brand awareness refers to a brand’s ability to be recognised by its target audience. It is an important metric used in PR, brand marketing and advertising, and can be measured in a variety of ways.

It is this “variety of ways” where the problem lies.

And to go even further, PR professionals are missing a major opportunity when single-mindedly pursuing brand awareness as an objective especially if they haven’t enquired about the desired organisational outcomes of the PR campaign

Why is brand awareness difficult to quantify?

Not only is brand awareness difficult to quantify and measure, it means so many different things to different people.

Traditional brand metrics such as brand tracking studies, brand recall/recognition tests and brand salience tests can be used to measure brand awareness, but these metrics have their own limitations and do not always provide a full picture. For example, brand tracking studies are limited in that they typically only measure brand preference.

We need to ask why and redefine the measurement metrics.

Why do PR professionals and marketers conflate brand awareness with other metrics?

The trouble with brand awareness is that it means something different to everyone.

The conflation of brand awareness and other metrics by marketers is often based on the belief that brand awareness leads to brand loyalty, sales and market share. That is simply not true.

While brand awareness is important, it should not be treated as the only metric to measure brand success. To use the analogy of a Premier League footballer, like any good midfielder, PR professionals and marketers need to look up from their feet and scan the pitch to get the bigger picture and understand the direction of play.

PR and marketers need to take a look at the bigger picture and use other metrics such as brand equity, brand engagement and brand sentiment to better understand the impact of their brand in the market.

By understanding brand performance through these additional metrics, PR pros and marketers can gain a more comprehensive overview of brand performance, as brand awareness alone is not enough to determine brand success.

What is a better way to measure brand awareness?

Measuring brand awareness accurately is critical for gauging the success of brand campaigns. Traditional brand metrics such as top-of-mind brand recognition and brand awareness surveys are limited in their ability to provide long-term insights into brand recognition and loyalty. To gain a more complete understanding of brand success, companies should look to more comprehensive brand metrics such as brand recall, brand preference, brand association, and brand performance.

Brand Recall measures how easily customers can recall a brand when asked. Brand Preference measures how much customers prefer a brand compared to other brands in its category. Brand Association measures how linked customers are to a brand’s values and beliefs. Finally, brand performance metrics measure brand engagement across digital channels and customer feedback such as brand net promoter score (NPS).

By using a variety of brand metrics, companies can gain a more comprehensive understanding of their brand.

When you see brand awareness as a PR metric it is time to focus on organisational outcomes instead

It is equally important to focus on organisational outcomes too. Brand awareness can only tell you how well people know your brand, but it does not necessarily indicate whether or not a brand is successful.

In order to truly measure success, it is important to track organisational outcomes such as sales, customer retention, brand loyalty and market share. These metrics will give you a more complete picture of brand performance and allow you to make adjustments as needed.

Additionally, focusing on organisational outcomes can help you better understand your customers and how well your brand is meeting their needs. By taking a holistic approach to brand performance, you can ensure that your brand is successful in the long term.

How to structure the “storytelling” of measuring the impact of brand-building PR campaigns

Measuring outcomes is hard and attributing it to PR campaigns is not easy. Not everything can be quantified which is why telling the broader story of how your top-of-funnel PR campaign is impacting organisational impact is key.

Then think about the AMEC framework and what trail of breadcrumbs we can leave to tell show success. Brand metrics will be a clear part of this.  There will be gaps and assumptions but that’s all part and parcel of the journey and over time these gaps and assumptions can be removed.

Here is a list of suggested metrics to expand upon that “increase brand awareness” metric


– External media coverage: Measure the effectiveness of PR efforts on publications and other outlets through share of voice, message penetration and audience reach.

– Impressions and brand conversation on social media: Monitor brand mentions, conversations, likes and shares to better understand how customers perceive the brand.

– Visible organic content: Track brand mentions on blogs, forums, and other channels to capture customer sentiment and opinion.


– Increased branded search volumes in Google: Monitor search engine results for brand-specific keywords to measure brand visibility.

– Share of search: Determine what percentage of searches are related to the brand to understand market share.

– Brand usage: Analyse the volume of product or service usage to identify opportunities for increasing customer engagement.

– Brand perception: Measure the customer’s opinion of a brand or product to determine how it is perceived.

– Brand recall: Monitor the rate of brand recall to understand how well the brand is remembered in potential customers’ minds.

– Understanding of brand attributes/ offering: Track customer knowledge and understanding of the brand’s unique attributes to ensure your message is being conveyed accurately.

– Website analytics: Use website metrics such as page views and time-on-page to measure website engagement and identify opportunities for improvement.


– Sales/ leads: Measure the impact of PR efforts on sales or lead generation to evaluate ROI.

– Customer emails: Monitor the number of customer emails received in response to PR activities to gauge customer engagement.

– Changes in attitudes: Analyse customer opinion and sentiment to determine if PR efforts influence the perception of the brand.

– Changes in action: Track any changes in behaviour such as different decision-making, purchases or website visits to measure the effectiveness of PR efforts.

And that’s a wrap – look deeper into the desires behind brand awareness as a PR metric

It is essential for companies to understand how best to measure the success of their PR campaigns in order to demonstrate a return on investment.

While brand awareness should not be seen as a metric in its own right, it is important to consider factors such as brand recall, preference, association and performance.

Additionally, the focus should be placed on organisational outcomes such as sales, customer retention, loyalty and market share.

Are you looking for help with measuring the success of your next PR campaign? Get in touch with us today or visit our website www.pragencyone.co.uk for more information about how we can help you make an impact.

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One Response

  1. felicity says:

    Hi James,
    Thanks for this article, very interesting.
    Do you have any recommendations for tools that will measure e.g. brand recall?


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