Brand self-awareness

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Back in December, I decided that 2013 would be a year of self-awareness. Since then, I’ve attended meditation retreats and yoga classes in various disciplines. I’ve watched countless documentaries, sought out peaceful places around the city and read books by such realized beings as Ramana Maharshi and Ram Dass.

After five months, am I enlightened? Nope.

But that’s not what it’s about, anyway. Self-awareness is not some quick-fix solution. It’s a process centered on reconnecting with self (lost to fast-paced living) and our place in the interconnected universe. It’s a way to witness our state of being and course-correct where necessary.

Now, what does this have to do with branding?

Surely brand awareness is crucial to achieving business success. As a metric that measures the effectiveness of brand programs, alongside other metrics such as attitude and usage, it helps companies decide on a course of action to improve their standing. Awareness levels also impact how branding firms approach brand development projects. For instance, we have to take different approaches when working with household names like Pfizer, start-ups or companies undergoing a brand overhaul.

Unfortunately, brand awareness is not self-awareness, at least in its current definition. If we take a brand to mean the collective experience of all those who create, maintain and perceive it, then measuring consumer awareness exclusively yields only a fraction of the full brand awareness. Such measurement is akin to interpreting yourself only through the validation of others. So while outside perspectives are useful, it’s best not to dismiss how employers, employees, shareholders, donors, freelancers and branding firms perceive brands and influence their awareness. In fact, companies should do the opposite—by promoting brand self-awareness.

This idea may sound obvious. After all, internal audiences are already involved in their companies and have some degree of awareness about them. But without connecting to a purpose, the essence of what a company is trying to achieve, these audiences are not at the appropriate level of awareness. Ideally, individuals involved with a company understand their purpose, enjoy their involvement and talk about the company externally with gusto. Until all individuals within a company do so, the company has not fulfilled its role in enhancing brand self-awareness. And, by proxy, its overall brand awareness.

As internal and external audiences become deeply involved with brands, brand awareness—aided by brand self-awareness—will likely evolve into a more holistic metric. Rather than simply measuring the awareness or lack thereof in a particular company, it will be defined by degrees of awareness based on individual processing of brand-related information and brand involvement/impact. This evolved definition reflects the influence of audience feedback in driving brand changes, accounting for the spectrum of feedback channels—from surveys to social media—that influence brand awareness for good or ill.

Just as self-awareness is a tool for self-improvement, brand awareness can become a more valuable tool for brand-improvement. By looking among their ranks, not just beyond them, companies can improve awareness and reconnect employees with their better selves.

Miles Seiden is a senior designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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