Brand Awareness Isn't Enough (You Need This, Too)

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Brand awareness isn’t good enough.

There, I said it. 

Brand awareness is about as helpful as screen doors on a submarine. 

If brand awareness is what you seek, stop looking for it. 

What you need to focus on instead is brand affinity. 

Brand affinity can change the way consumers interact with your brand and grow your reach far beyond any awareness campaign that you run. 

Before you throw your arms up in anger, allow me to explain further. 

What is brand awareness?

Brand awareness is a marketing term that refers to how familiar consumers are with a particular brand. Awareness is simple, a consumer sees a brand on social media, TV, or online, and knows who it is and what it sells. It’s the first layer in a marketing funnel where people connect to a brand on the surface level.

Brand awareness is everywhere. From the ads we see on the Instagram feed to the billboards that plaster every single highway, brands are always fighting for the attention of consumers. 

If you’ve worked on the brand side of marketing, chances are this term has come up in business conversations countless times. 

It probably sounded something like this, “We want to increase our brand awareness amongst consumers so that when they hear of _____ they know it’s us.”

Don’t get me wrong, brand awareness is a good thing at its core. Without it, consumers like us wouldn’t know which toothpaste to choose while standing in the store aisle looking at a collage of Crest, Colgate, Oral-B, and Sensodyne. That’s how brand awareness works, it captures just enough of our attention to push us in a particular direction. 

But here’s the thing about brand awareness…it doesn’t sell. I know that’s a hot take but the reality is that consumers have endless options when it comes to buying. 

Just because we know a brand doesn’t mean we’re going to buy it. We’re so inundated with commercials, YouTube ads, and in-feed messaging that choices are everywhere and often result in random selections instead of informed decisions. 

Which leads me to brand affinity.

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What is brand affinity?

Brand affinity refers to the strong personal and emotional connection an audience has with a particular brand. It’s the idea that a brand represents the audience’s values and purpose, which extends beyond products and into the ethos of the brand. 

What makes brand affinity unique is its ability to connect the identity of the audience with the identity of the brand. It’s not just awareness of the brand, it’s advocacy for the brand—it’s siding with it and supporting it. 

We all have brand affinity ingrained into the way we consume products. 

Think about your favorite pair of shoes. Chances are you didn’t purchase those specific shoes at random but for an identifiable reason. Maybe the brand represents the image you want to convey, like the deep tie Nike has to athletic feats and pushing the limits of sport. Maybe the brand is known for sustainability like On Running’s Cyclon Program. Maybe the brand is respected for its durability and ruggedness like Red Wing Shoes

All of these elements build affinity that translates into advocacy for the brand. Advocacy is the pinnacle of branding. When a product goes from just another item to a lifestyle, a way of existing, an identity that audiences buy into, support, and build up. 

How do they differ from one another?

The difference between brand awareness and affinity is clear. 

Awareness drives conversation, affinity drives conversion. Brands want conversions over conversations. 

Too many brands chase awareness through traditional marketing channels like paid advertising and commercials, where the consumer has become ad blind. Marketing dollars are poured into these efforts with little to no attention directed toward developing a brand that consumers truly buy into. It’s an overinvestment in awareness and an exclusion of affinity.

Consumer conversations are now happening in places that traditional marketing cannot access. Brand affinity allows brands to enter that conversation in an organic way that builds a relationship with an audience. Sure, it requires more intention on the brand side, but that intention can help build rapport with true fans, which turns them from just another consumer into a loyal lifetime customer.

Why is brand affinity better than brand awareness?

1. Brand affinity is a more efficient and effective way to build brand loyalty.

Every brand wants loyal customers. But how does a brand convert everyday consumers into faithful fans who stand by the brand day after day, decade after decade? 

The answer is simple: investing time in getting to know the audience. 

This means listening to conversations on the social media feed, engaging with audience members in an authentic way, conducting research that explores audience preferences, and observing the trends that bring people closer to the brand.

2. Brand affinity establishes an emotional connection with an audience that extends beyond products and transactions.

Whether we know it or not, much of our purchasing preferences are driven by emotion. How a product makes us feel, and how it helps us perceive ourselves is subconscious but highly impactful. 

The question then becomes, how do brands establish an emotional connection with consumers? 

You guessed it, brand affinity.

Brand affinity speaks to audiences and acknowledges how they feel, think, and observe the world. This emotional connection steps beyond how a product serves them and instead, focuses on how the brand as a whole represents how they feel in relationship to the product. 

Think about Apple—a brand loathed by many for its ruthlessly loyal customer base. How do audiences feel when using Apple products? 

From my experience as a content maker, I can say that Apple makes me feel creative and innovative which taps into my emotional connection with the brand. Every time I pick up my phone or open my laptop, I am excited to make something. Even though I’m not fully aware of this as it’s happening, I’m confident that these tools will enable me to create something I’m proud of. The long-term result of this is that I’m now a die-hard Apple fan, who will continue to use its products for my creative endeavors.

3. Brand affinity ties consumer identity to brand identity and aligns the two with the same ideas and values. 

Identity and brand affinity are deeply connected. We all want to identify with something—a group of people, a lifestyle, a way of existing in the world. The way we perceive ourselves is driven by identity. That identity is directly connected to the products and services that we buy into. 

A simple way to think about it is that when we buy into a product, we are also buying into the identity of the brand. Choosing that brand identity can also shape the way we behave. 

For example, let’s go back to the Nike analogy. Nike is best known for inspiration and empowerment. “Just do it” are three of the most powerful words in branding history. This idea of “just doing it” permeates through the brand to the point that people buy into the idea and the identity of the brand. 

Phil Knight said it best, “When you get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to go for a run, even if it's cold and wet out, you go. And when you get to mile 4, we're the one standing under the lamppost, out there in the cold and wet with you, cheering you on. We're the inner athlete. We're the inner champion.

That’s your identity when you put on Nike shoes—you are the doer, you are the champion. That identity connection is incredibly powerful because it aligns the brand and the audience with the same values and purpose. 

This is the driving force behind brand affinity–when a person no longer sees themselves as a customer but as part of the culture. 

How do you create brand affinity?

This is the question you’re asking right now. 

Here’s the answer: build relationships with your audience. 

But how does a brand build real relationships on the internet? There are many ways to do it, but there’s one path that’s proven to be more effective than any ad campaign or commercial. That path is influencers.

Influencers have been a hot topic in the marketing world over the last five years and for good reason. They’re creative, inspiring, and credible. Social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube created a space for influencers to share their ideas and thoughts in a way that no other distribution channel could before. With that came a wave of audiences flocking to social media feeds to consume content that entertained, inspired, and educated them.

Brands caught onto this and began collaborating with influencers to create content that integrated products in a way that felt less like an ad and more like a story. As a result, followers of influencers tapped into the brands they represented and started to see how these products enabled them to do what they do best: create.

This influencer content captures the attention of followers and directs it back to the brands that empower them. As a result, it creates exposure for the brands to touch an entirely new audience that is already inclined to align with them because the influencer they follow and trust is also a fan.

Influencers are the catalyst for brand affinity. Often, they are the faces of brands and represent who and what they stand for. They speak on behalf of brands they care about and advocate for them time and time again in their content. That advocacy goes a long way with audiences because they feel that the influencer represents them—how they think, how they feel, and most importantly how they identify.

Alignment like this is hard to come by these days, as most of us are bombarded with ads that brag about how great a product is compared to the rest, or how one product will change their lives completely. Content like this doesn’t speak to the audiences, it chokes them.

Influencers have established their reputation as relationship builders, connecting with followers in an authentic and intimate way, unlike some salesmen trying to convince you to buy overpriced perfume at the mall kiosk.

With all that said, influencer partnerships can change the way brands interact with their audiences and help turn brand awareness into affinity.

Here’s what that looks like in practice. 

3 Ways To Increase Brand Affinity

1. Understand Your Audience On A Personal Level

In order to truly understand your audience, you need a way to connect with them on a deeper level. Influencers can grant you this access by introducing your brand to a wider audience that is already aligned with what you bring to the table. 

Influencers are trusted by their followers so when they share a brand they love, the audience is primed to do the same. This opens the door for conversations between your brand and the audience, via the influencer, helping you deepen your relationship and truly understand the needs and desires of the people you want to win over.

2. Develop A Brand Voice That Speaks To Your Audience

It’s imperative to speak the language of your audience. This language varies from audience to audience depending on industry, niche, and demographic. That is where influencers are the ultimate translators.

They already know the audience and speak the language. 

Work with them to help you develop a brand voice that does the same. Whether that’s through video, imagery, or written word, these influencers know what to say and how to say it. This will help your brand speak to a specific group of people in a way that grabs their attention and shows you are aligned with how they think.

3. Make Audience-Relevant Content

This is an obvious one, but many brands overlook the value of influencer-made content. Influencers have an audience, brands want that audience too. What better way to reach that audience than by collaborating with the influencer to make content that will resonate with them and point them toward your brand?

These collaborations are particularly effective on brand affinity because it’s an organic way to share your brand with a larger group of people, without sounding foreign to them. Over time, your brand gets tied to the identity of the influencer they trust, leading to a deeper relationship that results in conversions. 

Affinity Outlasts Awareness

Brand affinity is what keeps brands like Nike and Amazon at the top of their respective industries. It takes brands from just another option, to the only option. When it comes time for people to make a purchase, there’s no question who they are going to choose in a sea full of brands—yours. 

Building brand affinity takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight or in 30 days. It’s consistently showing up for your audience and building a relationship with them. Influencers are the matchmakers in these relationships. They are the true advocates of your brand and have the power to build the affinity you need to become the first choice in your industry. 

If affinity is what you seek, influencers are ready to make it happen.

Speaking of influencers…

We’ve worked with countless brands to build affinity through influencer partnerships. If you’re ready to make the jump, we want to help you. Tap right here and we’ll get you on the path to building that brand affinity today.  

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