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Advertising: Do you have a brand familiarity problem in your patch?

Updated: Feb 8

By Dave Hiebeler | July 26, 2023


(Above image source: Disclosure: The following article was authored 100% by a human with experience in the category; it includes proper sourcing and fact-checking.


Marketing agencies talk about brand recognition frequently when discussing the goals of a marketing campaign. But what does your business do about low brand recognition when you are in an emerging stage? Do the ideal prospects you claim are in "your patch" know you are a viable option? This article is meant to give you a way to assess your brand familiarity index, set a realistic long-term goal to improve it, and commit to a disciplined plan with buy-in from your team.


Let’s call this article a fun marketing strategy intervention. 

So, instead of being frustrated by spending money on marketing and advertising, you will out-fox your closest competition. I like your chances.


You know it’s a problem; it’s why you are advertising, but

As a marketing-advertising agency, we work in a world of frank assessments of clients’ business familiarity from the perspective of: “If your best prospects were going to buy your product or service, are they aware of you as a short-list option?”


It measures how steep of a hill we need to help you climb. How easy or dangerous is this mission going to be? And since marketing and ad budgets are not unlimited, let’s get real and review your businesses’ familiarity with prospects that are only in the patch that makes the most sense for you to own. Isn’t it interesting that the words “own” and “won” have the same letters?

Defining your realistic patch

Mike Higgins, Principal at Align2Compete, believes that every business should have a definable “Patch” in which they should be known as the first place to go for help. “Better yet, he says, if you decide to own your patch, you should soak it with your message.” I agree with him, and it is what top brands do.  


Let's say you have a home garden, a community garden, or a farmer's field that you take ownership of as a metaphor. A marketing patch can be both geographic and an audience demographic. A zip code, a county, a major metro, or a state could be a business patch. Your defined patch could be a networking, church, or social media group. Many fledgling companies overestimate the size of their patch, and it causes focus problems.


Some businesses decide that a major metro city or a region is their patch.

But they must realize they will need an aggressive budget to grow Familiarity with it effectively. You could be more effective in owning a handful of zip codes/neighborhoods instead of the entire city. Whatever your resources for marketing, the key is to decide to increase your brand familiarity only in your patch over time. Anything outside that goal will likely exhaust time and money resources and have low business value for you.

How to Assess Your Familiarity Matrix or Score?  

This question is most important when you think it is time to get the resources and energy together to launch a fresh marketing campaign. Take this on in-house or with the help of an agency. Ask yourself/your team: How much awareness does your target audience have about how your services/products can solve their problems? Now let's attempt to evaluate this by determining a familiarity matrix score.

Familiarity is not mystical, either. With the Familiarity Matrix, no algorithms, A.I., large surveys, or secret math are involved; that is for the big cats like Hilton Hotels and BMW. It is more of a gut feeling for the owners of the businesses. And it's usually accurate because you live, eat, and breathe in your business daily. You know what prospects say about you and your customers too.


How does a close competitor stack up?

With one being the lowest and ten being the highest, how do you rank your prospects/customers' awareness of what you do, who, and how you help? Initially, you might overrate your score if you have been around for a while, which is human nature. To help you, think of a target competitor that's been at it longer than you; what do you think is their score? Then plot how you relate to them.

For advertising campaign purposes, we view the Familiarity Matrix with five main components:

  1. The starting familiarity score with your brand for your patch (maybe you are a 4.5 right now out of 10). Good; you have built some equity, and well done.

  2. Your past and current message delivery cadence (is it once per month, every ten days, weekly, or daily)?

  3. Your past and current omnichannel placement choices (are you showing up in multiple channels like social, direct mail, email, and Google Ads)?

  4. What does the local village say and feel about you (does your Google footprint have good reviews/bad reviews, good press, and helpful content you authored)?

  5. Do you have a good mousetrap? Does your Website educate, inform, and ask anyone to do anything?

And for a business, this is REAL POWER.

When your small business looks at the goals of a marketing plan campaign through the lens of the familiarity matrix, it forces expectations to be much more realistic on what good results should look like.

Instead of focusing on buy-now short-game thinking, the focus turns to long-game thinking.  


I'm talking about a legitimate demand generation strategy over time; you choose the realistic tactic of growing your Familiarity in your patch. You might rate yourself a "2.5" score today, but if you have a 2-year goal, such as getting that to a "4 score", achieving this type of realistic strategy change makes you a powerful foe to your closest competition.

Are we conceding defeat too early?

One of our agency clients, Gary, a veteran of the financial service industry, once reminded me of a profound lesson in how to view a campaign's success in its entirety. I was reporting to him on the short-term results of a mortgage campaign directed at local consumers.


The email open rate was excellent, and their landing page had strong click-through activity from the blast. This was solid top-funnel demand generation. Their prospects were becoming aware of their solution to their financial problems. They were engaged with the message, but there were no low-funnel conversions in the short term yet.


A savvy observation indeed.

I told Gary that from our internal view of his new campaign, we liked the level of prospect's reactions to his company's message; we see hundreds of these client reports. I asked, "What are you seeing on your end, Gary?" He replies, "We have not seen the phone ring yet, Dave, but I worry that we are conceding defeat too early?"


Those were words of wisdom from Gary. He is a competitor from way back. He played high school football but never played college ball because he blew out his knee; he played the safety position with a hard-nosed attitude.  He reminded me that when you quit mentally early, you have already decided to lose, and the result will match your mental construct. It is self-fulfilling.



An ad campaign will not fail because you overestimated your familiarity index score.

A campaign will fail if you quit it too early because you deemed it was not generating enough instant revenue conversion in one month, quarter, or half-year. You conceded defeat too early because you are measuring the wrong things. As social animals, we buy based on Familiarity, which leads to brand trust and acceptance. You must recognize your ideal prospect's buyer journey. In the automotive world, shoppers consume over 24 online and offline information sources. They are the most open to being influenced by you or your competition at the mid-funnel stage of that journey. Do not quit if you believe in your patch.


Some business ad message campaigns need to be more capitalized going in.

It takes a time commitment to grow brand familiarity and trust. It takes money and buy-in from your internal team; this will take months and maybe years to develop. Some business ad message campaigns need to be more capitalized going in. Some campaigns are set up for failure before the first ad runs. And taking the same budget and spreading it over multiple channels is not the answer to growing awareness either; you won't have any worthwhile frequency repetition. Identify your patch instead with a Trial and Soak mentality.


Seasonal businesses.

Every business is seasonal, event-driven, or a combo of both. If you own a landscaping/contracting business, it's seasonal for you, and spring and summer is the time to run at optimum efficiency. You value greatly that your patch of zip codes knows about you as a choice for your seasonal engagement matrix. Your likelihood of making a sale in your patch is very high right now. You are in a handful of channels during that time, like social, direct mail, Home Advisor, email, door knocking, and Google Ads. You hit the gas; your cadence is weekly during pre-season and in-season.

Frank Azar, “The Strong Arm”

Auto dealers, plumbers, and personal injury attorneys have a weekly or daily advertising messaging frequency cadence. They realize that people have unplanned events like their car breaking down, their water heater failing, or, God-forbid, a car accident that requires quick decisions and immediate action. At that point, they will have more trust in brands they are aware of. These businesses have soaked their patches with constant omnichannel messages because planning when their services are needed is tough. In your city, you would probably rank their brand familiarity as a "9 out of 10" score.


I have lived In Denver, CO, for a while, and if you are buying a new or used vehicle, you know who "Dealin' Doug Moreland" is with his local dealerships. Or if you need a personal auto accident attorney, then you know about Frank Azar, "The Strong Arm" as a choice.


There was a time in the late 1980s when Azar was an unknown attorney with a new firm, but he kept at it. He and his team identified their demographic patch smartly and decided to own it by growing their Familiarity over time. You have not lived in Denver for long if you do not know who Frank Azar is and what he does.


Moving forward, take these steps:

o   Realistically Assess your Score for your Patch. Set the basis comparison point with how you will measure real marketing growth.


o   Create an achievable tactical plan to increase your familiarity score over the next two years. If you are at a "4" now, how can you reach a "6.5"? What are the obvious things that are weekly process actions?


o   Commit to a disciplined plan to grow Familiarity with educational repetition. Get top-down buy-in from your internal team and gauge achievable mileposts. Examples of mileposts are things like Website's unique visitors, social followers, buyer journey content, Google Reviews, first-party subscribers to your newsletters, and revenue increases. Measure mobile device I.D. cross-shop activity with your brick & local-mortar competitors. Ask yourself, in 3-6-12 months, are these things going up or down? They are very measurable.


o   Decide to Soak Your Patch and own it at the expense of your competition. Our most successful agency clients decided long ago to own their audience patch over time. They also concluded that demand conversion is their responsibility alone, and demand generation strategy is their agency's job. Long-term campaigns are a major paradigm shift for growing businesses in thinking; it packs power.

Dave Hiebeler is an Agency Principal at Align2Compete, LLC. He writes about small business marketing, audience strategy, and demand generation. Based in Colorado, Align2Compete is a specialized marketing and advertising agency that helps emerging businesses turn strangers into customers. He is also a freelance writer.


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