“I’m aware of you” – George Costanza

Those who know me will tell you that there are a few terms that I never use; not in life or business. One of these terms is awareness. This is a long post as it focuses on a topic in which I am greatly impassioned.

One of my greatest mentors and I’m proud to say, friends, Gerry Tabio, once said “If you want awareness, light a building on fire. You’ll be shocked how many people become aware of you.”

It never really hit me until many years later how influential that quote would be in my life. Unfortunately, the popularity of this word and how it is applied have only become more prevalent – especially when companies, such as HubSpot, promote the ridiculous, buyer’s journey. which they define as having three stages, awareness, consideration, and decision. Each is ridiculous but we’ll keep consideration and decision for different posts – I’ll just keep you in suspense until then.

HubSpot states:

“What is the buyer doing during the awareness stage?

The buyer is experiencing a problem or symptoms of a pain, and their goal is to alleviate it. They may be looking for informational resources to more clearly understand, frame, and give a name to their problem.”

No problem, not one, is ever solved because I’m aware of a solution. Awareness is the byproduct of having five senses…Think about it, I want BBQ because I smell it and in turn, I’m aware it is near. We are aware of a lot of things in this world…but we don’t buy every product, use every service, or change our behavior after having simply learned of the existence of something. Want proof? How many doctors and nurses are smokers? I’m quite aware of Victoria’s Secret but I’m not wearing a teddy, to bed.

Focusing on awareness leads to a pure loss in revenue and is a distraction from true marketing efforts. It also pisses off consumers. Receiving email from a company that rented my name from a third-party list rental company might make me aware of a company but it is not going to make me engage with them. And while you can argue it might drive some recipients to engage, I have never, in my over 20 years of working in marketing, ever seen such efforts lead to a positive ROI.

Awareness comes in two forms- self-awareness and awareness of other things/places/people, etc. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the latter but want to quickly state that one commonality between both forms is that neither will or can directly influence behavior. As a result, awareness is not quantifiable. And if it isn’t quantifiable, it is a bad business practice.

The expression I hear all-too-often is “we want to create awareness of your brand.” I cringe every time I hear this. Why a company would pay an agency or consultant to create awareness defies any logic or reason. To be clear, it isn’t that I feel awareness is a bad thing…something to be avoided…it is just that I don’t see how focusing on it can help a business sell more products or grow if it is going to happen, anyway, as a byproduct of your efforts.

How can helping others gain knowledge of something possibly help a business? There are no emotions, validations, or revenues tied to awareness, so how can it even be analyzed? Much like my arguments surrounding assumptions vs. hypotheses (a topic for another day), it is my belief that companies often label initiatives as being awareness campaigns when, in actuality, they are not. I searched for a few case studies that claim to support ‘successful’ awareness campaigns and have concluded that there are three primary buckets in which they (typically) fall-

CASE STUDY: VOICE – a study published by Howard University

Labeled as an awareness campaign, they state that they achieved success “through unified action, lawmaker visits, opinion/editorial writing, social media, repeated lending institution visits, demonstrations, letter-writing, town meetings, and other actions” This isn’t awareness…this is action, inclusive of guerrilla marketing efforts, which represents the all-time most important and successful marketing tool that has ever existed.


If I hear about how awareness led to the success of the ice bucket challenge one more time, I may burst. The ALS Association’s website summarizes the 2014 promotion as “the world’s largest global social media phenomenon. More than 17 million people uploaded their challenge videos to Facebook; these videos were watched by 440 million people a total of 10 billion times. It is now an annual event to raise awareness and funds to find treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).”

There is absolutely no question that this effort was a success with respect to fundraising. It was fantastic to see so much money being raised for a great cause. Allow me to be clear that my issue here is not with the ice bucket challenge itself, but rather the idea that someone might believe that raising awareness had anything to do with its success- it didn’t.

I was ‘aware’ of ALS for a long time before this promotion and I remain aware of it today. Yet, how many 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge participants even realize that the promotion has continued every year since? How many of these same participants can tell you even one thing about the ALSA or ALS and their work? I don’t outright recall my Facebook wall being plastered with videos the past few years of people dumping ice buckets over their own heads.

In my view, marketing initiatives are successful when they elicit an emotional response from someone. With that, the ALS promotion was a success because it created a unique experience that was shared between people. Well-intended or no, ALSA is still a company and people don’t developer emotional connections with companies, no matter how hard these brands try. By creating an opportunity for people to interact with each other, the promotion created a viral impact…NOT of ALS and NOT of the ALSA…let’s be clear about that. What was viral about this was that someone’s uncle poured ice over the head of an unsuspecting aunt.

“But no, no, no…it made people aware of the ice bucket challenge and not, necessarily, ALS/ALSA and the short-term win in 2014 was enough.” This line of thinking is irresponsible from the perspective of a business of an agency serving it. Short-term gains can be great…but strong marketing roadmaps focus on retention as a core concept.

The point being that fundraising is a great thing and I only wish the Ice Bucket Challenge continued to be as successful as it was in 2014. However, ALSA is not within the bubble of popular culture and with the exception of those who are unfortunately affected by it, I believe focusing on creating awareness of ALSA is just a distraction from pursuing what will actually work…creating experiences that support fundraising.


The goal of the campaign was to increase awareness of the hospital and its satellite clinics. The campaign also aimed to promote the services the hospital provided. The independent hospital was facing increasing competition from a large regional health system in all areas of provided services.

Here are the metrics they cite-

  • 2,934 relevant online engagements resulting in website visits
  • 48% of site visitors were new to the site (bounce rate of 54%)
  • 1 min 42 seconds and visit 2.9 pages per session, time on site
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) as high as 2x the national average for these ad units (they mysteriously did not include the actual CTR rate)
  • 6.31% Google Search CTR (this means nothing without session times and a confirmation if a honeypot was used to catch bots)

What do these metrics tell us? Nothing. These folks are celebrating the achievement of not understanding what constitutes a successful campaign. People went to the site, spent almost no time on it, and let’s also consider…

This means that as bad as those metrics look in the summary of the final case study, they are actually, much worse. They reference a ton of metrics in that case study and without a single mention of revenue. But what is most alarming is that the agency that managed this promotion (and published this case study) quotes their client who stated they were thrilled with these results.

Success is measured one way and only one way – by whether or not you drove a positive, net ROI. That is not to imply that any, single marketing tactic should or can (alone) drive revenue. However, what they should do is bring you one step closer to earning a sale.

In conclusion, awareness will simply just…occur. It serves no other purpose…ever.