In the news, articles, resources & more.

Expert insights.

Brand awareness lessons from Scotiabank's massive sponsorship deal

The Air Canada Centre is rebranding and Scotiabank is writing the cheque – rumoured to be $800 million over 20 years. Believed to be the biggest sponsorship of its kind to date in North America, Scotiabank is raising the brand awareness bar.

For years, Scotiabank has branded itself as the bank of hockey, spending hundreds of millions and supporting more than 8,000 community teams; plus Scotiabank Saddledome (home of the Calgary Flames). It can be difficult to affect loyalty and differentiate in a market where most banks offer similar products, but research shows that customers who are aware of Scotiabank's hockey support are significantly more likely to consider using its services, with higher positive sentiment associated with the brand. Hockey - as marketing strategy in Canada - is a good play.

But most of us are not a global financial powerhouse with nearly a billion to drop on brand. And brand awareness as a goal is often done wrong – which can mean marketing dollars (albeit on a much smaller scale) are wasted on campaigns that never translate to understanding, much less preference and purchase.

Brand equity versus operational objectives

When done right, brand awareness can generate significant premiums above and beyond an organization’s book value – a company’s brand equity. It's also especially important in markets where goods and services among competitors are difficult to tell apart. It's the marketing foundation of the entire pharmaceutical industry - where billions are spent annually to convince doctors, pharmacists and patients to opt for a brand name over the identical, cheaper generic.

Where organizations can stumble, is when brand awareness becomes a one-stop, magic bullet solution to the operational objective of increasing sales or revenues.

The simplest marketing funnel moves from awareness to interest to consideration to purchase. While it’s possible to enter the funnel at any point, catching as many customers as you can in the awareness stage will theoretically translate to higher purchase conversion later on. But it’s difficult to draw a straight line between awareness and sales. As a stand-alone objective, building brand awareness can be the lazy marketer’s justification for ad spends that don’t show ROI. It’s nearly impossible to claim purchase causation, and difficult to show correlation.

In particular, improving brand awareness presents three major hurdles before marketers are even out of the gate:

Problem #1: awareness is too vague

When it comes to awareness, focus is important. Will it be on your company? Brand? Selling features? Perceived value next to key competitors? Building awareness among your target audiences is crucial. Spending dollars on general awareness less so. Arguably, brand awareness should go beyond increasing name recognition and move into ensuring that the specific audiences most inclined towards influence or purchase are aware of your brand’s key attributes, advantages and competitive differentiators.

Problem #2: the wrong audiences

Not all marketing dollars are spent equally. Not only is it important to identify the segments in which you want to increase awareness, you’ll also want to identify high versus low value market segments and weigh your budget accordingly. Using your baseline metrics, identify those buyers who are already in your purchase funnel and those segments that share similar characteristics. Social media is a great way to engage with your audience but if your demographic is only moderately active on Twitter and Facebook, don’t put your eggs in that basket no matter how attractive it is. Time and resources are often allocated to channels that only tangentially connect with a brand’s actual customers. Sure, a rising tide lifts all boats but paying that water bill is pretty expensive.

Problem #3: no starting point

In order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you are. In all the campaigns in which you’ve identified awareness as a key objective, how many of them started with a thorough quantitative understanding of brand awareness among prospective consumers? There are any number of ways to measure but it’s critical to pick at least one metric and go from there. Whether it’s familiarity, reference set ranking, volume, share of voice or other criteria; if you’re making the case that awareness is an investment that justifies a marketing spend, you need to be able to demonstrate results.

Before you build brand awareness into your objectives, stop and consider these guidelines:

1.      Arguably, the earlier in the funnel you concentrate your spend, the more dollars you’ll need to convert through purchase.

2.      The link between awareness and purchase is weaker than the link between interest or consideration and purchase. If you’re working with a limited budget, is there lower hanging fruit?

3.      Be mindful of the overall organizational goals you’re trying to achieve. Are you driving sales or is your mission broader?

Marketers must ultimately align brand awareness with organizational goals. When it comes to generating leads and improving sales, putting the bulk of your budget into brand awareness is flimsy at best. But if the name if the game is brand equity or market differentiation, betting on brand awareness can pay off in a big way. Scotiabank's commitment to a 20-year deal to re-brand the Air Canada Centre building is further evidence that they know where and who they are to the Canadian marketplace, with a well-planned roadmap laid out ahead of them.

After all, Scotiabank shares are trading up by nearly $2 since yesterday’s announcement. Who knows what will happen if the Leafs make a Stanley Cup run? But I wouldn't hold my breath - $800 million seems like less of a gamble.

Jill KnaggsComment