Three Important Identifiers in a Brand Survey

By John Oxford

Much discussion has taken place after the recent presidential election on how incorrect many of the polling predictions appeared to be. The results, in many cases, were much closer than most polls indicated with many pundits questioning the viability of the polling industry all together.

Since 2007, when the smart phone became widely adopted, traditional polling has had many challenges in refining its predictions. With mobile phones with caller ID becoming the preferred use of voice telecommunications, being able to interview people over the phone has become problematic. Between participation challenges, a demographic skewing to an older audience due to land lines, and all kinds of logistical issues such as likely voters vs registered voters; throw in a pandemic and questions about how people were going to vote in 2020 became one big ole mess for predicting anything.

However, to state the obvious for this column, how does polling, or the more corporately correct approach of calling it brand surveying, impact bank marketing and what can we take from the current struggles the pollsters appeared to have in the 2020 elections?

There are a few things to acknowledge when doing a brand survey. Brand sentiment doesn’t shift quickly like political issues and candidate sentiment. Although big events can grab the publics’ attention, a big shift in the opinion on your specific bank brand is rare—unless your bank ends up in a Saturday Night Live sketch, a 60 Minutes episode, or experiences a major regulatory issue.

So, comparing political polling to bank brand surveying is tricky business to say the least. Also, there is not that one day moment that gives political polling a closing day event. Brands, for the most part, are much more enduring and relevant to a person’s everyday life than political candidates.

With less shifting in brand sentiment, there are three important identifiers in a brand survey of which any marketer should take note before—and after—measuring branding strategies and tactics and placing their marketing spend. These identifiers are unaided awareness, aided awareness and no awareness. Let’s take a look at these three important measuring identifiers.

Unaided awareness is the height of brand identification. It means your brand is top of mind as a brand or in a category of business in consumers’ minds. Although it does not necessarily reveal a positive or negative sentiment about the brand, being top of mind with a consumer is very valuable real estate. To understand how unaided awareness is found, a survey or poll would simply ask: Name a bank. Then it might ask those being surveyed to name another bank. And to name another.

If your bank is easily named without any other prompting, congratulations, you at least have a brand, and baring a negative opinion, should at least be top of mind when future purchasing decisions are made. You definitely want to be a leader in unaided awareness in your business category. This allows you to move from brand building into more product promotion and creative content to take advantage of your well know brand and its equity with consumers.

Aided awareness is the second tier of branding identification. This is when those being surveyed have exhausted all brands they can think of on their own and the pollster asks them if they have ever heard of a specific brand. Although a little tricky because people never want to sound ignorant—see late night comedy skits when they have made up political candidates and asked people if they have ever heard of them and often people say yes—this means that although your brand is not top of mind with consumers, it is at least in their mental filing cabinet. Although you want your brand to be high in the unaided awareness category, being truthfully recalled in aided awareness is still better than the dreaded bottom of the barrel: no awareness.

No awareness, to state the obvious, is when those being surveyed have exhausted all the brands they know and then have acknowledged brands they have heard of and are now not able to both name or recall your brand name. If you survey your market and the highest percentage of respondents place you in this category, welcome back to branding 101.

If a brand has no awareness, it’s really hard to move into product and location promotion, especially in an industry with product parity and more than 5,000 similar financial services institutions. And that’s not even considering the lack of unique names in banking which could cause market confusion if your bank shares a similar name with another bank. Thus, if you run a brand survey and end up with your highest percentage in unaided awareness, depending on a few specific variables, your next move should be a branding campaign and as much of it as you can afford.

To review, although modern polling is increasingly difficult due to technology, shifts in demographics and logistical challenges, brand surveying still provides value to see how your bank is viewed in your consumers’ minds. As you look to plan your marketing strategy for 2021, knowing if you are top of mind, top of being “reminded” or nowhere to be found can help in your decision process when you plan where to place your marketing dollars.

To hear part one of our two part conversation on polling and small business bank marketing, listen to this week’s Marketing Money Podcast with Josh Mabus, President of the Mabus Agency and me.

John Oxford, director of marketing at Renasant Bank, and Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, are co-hosts of the Marketing Money Podcast.