Building B2B brand awareness: When brand recognition doesn’t convert to sales

Simon Hurrell

25 August 2021

In an interview with LinkedIn’s B2B Institute, SVP of Global Brands, Events and Customer Marketing at Salesforce, Colin Fleming, explained that internal research had found that, “most people have heard of Salesforce. They see the big building in the sky, they see CRM on CNBC, they hear about Dreamforce. But they don’t know how we help businesses reach their goals and grow.”


Awareness isn’t just about getting your name out there. Brand recognition surveys only tell half of the story. Once you’ve achieved the basic level of awareness, what comes next?

As a potential buyer, I may recognize your logo, I may know your name but maybe I still don’t know what you can do to help me.

In The three laws of branding: Neuroscientific foundations of effective brand building, Tjaco H Walvis explains how all customer choices are at least partially-memory based – and how we often have less control over these decisions than we think.

“Much of human behavior in general appears to be shaped by factors beyond our awareness. Bargh and Chartrand estimate that roughly 5 per cent of the time, conscious deliberation plays a causal role in guiding our behavior. Persaud et al. have elegantly proven experimentally that we can make correct decisions without knowing why or how we make them. What is more, unconscious thought can even lead to better, more satisfying decisions, especially in the case of more complex product choices such as deciding between houses or cars.”

Building memory pathways is crucial during any awareness program. And building memory pathways without context means a buyer may remember your brand on any given day but won’t remember it when it comes to consideration.

From awareness to situational recall

The concepts of both mental availability and salience have been increasingly used alongside talking about broad awareness and the secondary awareness challenge of being remembered by the right people at the right time. A concept analyzed and explained by Professor Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk, mental availability addresses awareness in the context of being thought of during buying situations. In Salesforce’s case, it’s all well and good being memorable, but If buyers don’t know how its CRM platform could change the way they do business, it’s of minimal commercial value.

This is a particularly pertinent challenge in B2B where products and services aren’t generally easy to explain, nor fun to remember. It’s a lot easier for Coca-Cola to flash up images of its flagship drink on national TV and drive purchase – even then ads will look to promote both mental and physical availability by telling you how to drink Coke (at a party, at Christmas) and where you can buy it (from a vending machine or local shop).

How can B2B brands be remembered by potential buyers?

The first step is to become customer oriented.

That doesn’t mean talking about how much you love your customers or droning on about how you invest time and effort into great customer experiences. It’s about going to both customers and potential buyers to understand their context – how do they view your product, what problem are they looking to solve and how do you become front of mind when they look to solve it.

Use your Insight team to ask these questions and build your action plan around their answers.

Kevin Keller coined the term brand congruence in 1993, defining it as: “The extent to which a brand association shares content and meaning with another brand association.” Keller went on to explain that congruence should affect, “how easily an existing association can be recalled and how easily additional associations can become linked to the brand node in memory”.

Make it easy for buyers to make rapid associations that will highlight their relevance to your business – make sure to adequately represent their verticals, industries, company sizes, job roles through your content assets.

Also, understand the range of buying situations and considerations that are needed to complete the final decision. If you’re the world’s leading CRM company that might be showcasing as many industries as possible, big businesses and small, or the benefits to every function in the business – every stakeholder falls into a potential buying segment.

The second step is to understand that not every element of your marketing activity needs to lead immediately to direct conversion. Better to grow that nurture group, than discard potential purchasers because they aren’t yet ready to immediately engage.

If you expect an email address in exchange for a whitepaper or want a prospect to reply to follow up emails, you first need to build a bridge of trust, which requires significant investment and patience to get right. Doing so may contradict your sales instincts or your ingrained marketing behavior. But do it.

Differentiation needs to be made between those who are in-market ready to purchase, and those who are outside of the market at present. Depending on your market and audience maturity, as little as just 5% of your market could be ready to buy at a given time, which means the overwhelming majority aren’t. Keeping potential customers engaged during this out-of-market period is critical to converting them in the future. And even when they are in-market,

Awareness commonly comes with the advice of throw your net as far and wide as possible to catch all potential buyers. But as this Salesforce example has shown, without context it’s difficult for your target segments to not only identify that you solve their challenges but remember you as being a relevant brand when it comes to consideration and purchase.

So yes, target as many segments as possible, but optimize your tactics and creative to each one so they build mental pathways that aid contextual brand recall. If your product is something that can be utilized by teachers and construction managers alike, don’t target the former with creative depicting building sites and the latter with classrooms. It may seem so obvious that no brand would try it, but believe me, it happens far too often… In Salesforce’s case, it became so big being something for everyone that its messaging is no longer relevant.