The Awareness Trap

How many times have you started designing an ad, video, or social media post, and had to face the question:

“What is the goal of this [marketing product]?”

This is an important question to answer, as it will guide the entire direction of the ad’s message, its purpose, and it will indicate to your your audience what action to take next. Those unfamiliar with strategic communication will find vague “awareness” to be an adequate goal. But in my experience “awareness,” without being fully defined, is neither an objective nor metric.

If you can’t articulate what you want people to be aware of, then they won’t be able to articulate what you want them to know.

Unfortunately, sometimes “awareness” indicates there isn’t a clearly defined goal. What, exactly, do you want people to be aware of? Who you are? Where you’re located? What you do? Which products you offer? How many events you have? That you have social media? That you exist? …Do you want to say all of those things? (If so, that’s an infomercial. How many of those have you watched–ever?)

“Awareness” is appropriate so long as you know the following:

  • Who your audience is
  • What they are already aware of
  • Which information is unclear
  • Where they go to contact you
  • What you anticipate them to contact you about
  • Who will respond to inbound contact
  • How you plan to respond to the inbound contact
  • What actions you will ask them to take next

If your current evergreen marketing is unclear, the answer is not more marketing, the answer is updating your current efforts to be clearer. Without defining what you want your viewers to be aware of, they will be left just as unaware as before because you’ll end up regurgitating what’s already on your website (or worse, muddling the message more).

Do you satisfy the question, “So what?”

If you’re simply telling your audience about you, you’re talking at them. They can simply shrug and say, “So what?”

Instead of blabbing on about how great you are (even though you are!), take user-centered approaches! Users want to why you’re relevant to them.

People are inherently interested in themselves–and that’s just human nature. One way you can convert a message from “About Me” to “About You,” is to start the sentence with “You.”

“I have so much fun with you!”

(This sentence is about me.)


“You are so much fun!”

(This sentence is about you.)

Large, well-established brands with great name recognition can often rely on “awareness” campaigns (like slapping their logo–and only their logo–on a billboard) because there is a reasonable understanding among their audiences about who they are and what value they bring to them.

Avoiding the Awareness Trap

Be selective in your communication, and don’t treat your audience as a monolith. Using vague or broad terms results in a message which won’t resonate with anybody. New or weak brands who use “awareness” campaigns tend to end up with a message so watered down (so that they reach the maximum number of people possible) that they have the reverse effect and look like another boring, slimy ad (that doesn’t feel relevant to any of them).

You can avoid the awareness trap by knowing to whom you are speaking, what action they should take, and how it’s relevant to them or how they benefit from you. These are not always easy questions with quick answers. Taking the time and having the patience to sit down with a professional, strategic communicator will generate a far better marketing product. This person will ask you probing questions, help you to think critically, and present counterpoints and options. The result is a stronger message which resonates not with the most people, but the right people.