Confusing Brand Awareness and Brand Relevance: Brand Mistake No. 8

by | Brand Strategy, Marketing Strategy

More money, time, and resources are squandered rebranding entire firms when all firms need to do to drive growth is to build familiarity of the firm’s capability in a smaller, well-defined market segment, service, or industry. At the heart of this mistake is confusing the difference between brand awareness and brand relevance.

Brand awareness, simply defined, refers to the extent that the market recognizes a firm’s name and/or logo (i.e. “Yes, I have heard of Accenture. I have seen its ads at the airport.”)

Brand relevance, on the other hand, is a measure of a firm’s marketplace established credibility on an issue or capability (i.e. McKinsey has heavy-duty brand awareness, but it has zero brand relevance in accounting services.)


Firms desire both ubiquitous brand awareness AND inclusive brand relevance in EVERY practice area. Unfortunately, high levels of awareness require substantial investments of both money and time that firms either cannot afford or are unwilling to commit. On the other hand, by definition, brand relevance mandates focus. Eminent brands simply cannot be stretched across a throng of disparate business lines.

McDonald’s corporation has many brand and business strengths. Its marketing prowess is exceptional; it is impeccable operationally and its geographic locations are coveted. These are all attributes that might apply well to, say, selling automobiles or liquor or clothes. But, would you buy a car, Scotch, or a little black dress from McDonald’s? I assume not because McDonald’s sells hamburgers and French fries. The McDonald’s brand has no relevance in those other markets. Could the restaurateur or your firm be relevant in its new market? Absolutely, but how much time and money would it take to change the market’s perception?

Your firm’s goal is to hit the sweet spot that optimizes both dimensions. That is, your firm will be known generally in your target markets and specifically as the leader for the unique value that you deliver to clients.



Building relevance and building awareness are much different tasks. Your firm must be clear about the problem it is trying to solve. Firms often over-/under-estimate their starting position on both dimensions (i.e. by forgoing objective data in favor of anecdotes), only think in terms of traditional awareness, and miscalculate the resource investment required to impact brand relevance attributes for positive outcomes.

Don’t rebrand an entire firm just to expand to an adjacent market or strengthen the market position of a fledgling practice. Instead, lay out a marketing strategy–with the commensurate investment–that incrementally builds the market’s perception of the firm’s relevant capability on the necessary preference drivers. (See Mistake No. 10: Focusing on brand attributes that do not drive preference)


Be prudent.

 Building Brand Relevance-Biggest Professional Services Brand Mistakes

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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