Brand Self-Awareness guides Commitment to Tonality.

Typically, the term ‘brand awareness’ describes the level of familiarity that a target audience has with a brand. The higher the brand awareness, the more people recognize the brand.

But this post is about another type of brand awareness. I describe this other type as ‘brand self-awareness.’ My term refers to the conception that those in charge of a brand have of their brand—what the brand stands for, what image the brand must consistently project, how the brand makes people feel. Specifically, the people who market a brand must unfailingly focus on what the brand claims to be and make sure it lives up to its promises. In other words, the higher the brand self-awareness, the more likely marketers are to execute in harmony with the stated strategic game plan designed to create awareness, generate leads, close sales and develop loyalty.

Which brings me to tonality. Not the musical kind, the personality-defining kind. Those savvy marketers with high brand self-awareness have tone squarely in mind when they craft campaigns—the tone they use when messaging has to project what the brand is all about.

A quick example will help illustrate my point. Let’s take a look at Buick, that age-old auto brand that’s still alive and kicking. I have no idea what they’re calling their current brand identity amongst themselves, but ‘refreshed, youthful, and hipper’ might describe their latest approach.

The brand self-awareness runs high with Buick: their ads clearly reflect that they’re not your grand-dad’s car anymore. In their ads, young people are caught by surprise by this brand—because they had a mistaken impression, or no impression at all—and now it’s time to take notice. Thought leaders—in the case of Buick, young, hip people, plenty of women, and an older person or two—are the ‘early adopters’ of this refreshed brand. They even coyly use the term ‘early adopter, and explicitly use the phrase ‘that’s not your grandpa’ in their TV spots. Messaging doesn’t get much clearer.

Meanwhile, the tone of the spoken words conveys the shock of discovering the new Buick brand in a fun and clever and playfully self-mocking way. Fun, clever, playful—that translates readily to fresh, youthful, and hip.

From a brand self-awareness standpoint, the steady portrayal of who they now are and what they want to project has paid off for Buick: over the course of their rebrand toward youthfulness, sales are up and the average age of a buyer is down.

And, briefly, a counter example. If you’re not sure what the message is here—oppression is bad, but let’s talk about saving?—well, not many people got it. And that’s a problem. Even worse, lots of people walked away angry. Ouch.

So here’s your takeaway: the concept of brand self-awareness needs to be at the forefront of business strategy for companies large and small. Decide who you are, what value you bring to transactions, and what personality/tone you are going to use to project that identity and value. Then, use that tone whenever you deliver your message. Remember: your relationships in the marketplace depend upon consistently sounding like who you claim to be.

Reading about best practices is nice. Practicing them is even nicer.

About the author


Joe is an expert in aligning world-class creative vision with top-line focused business strategy [...]