August 14, 2023
9 mins

CMO Barbie on how to measure brand awareness

Everything you need to know about brand awareness through the lens of Barbie mania.

“Hey Barbie.”

“Hey Barbie!” 

“Hey Barbie!!”

What about…

🎶 C’mon Barbie, let’s go party 🎶

Or even just… 

a swatch of Pantone's "barbie pink"

If you just recited any of those lines, sang a song, or thought of a doll, congrats! You’re part of the 99% of people globally who know Mattel’s iconic brand, Barbie.

Since March 9, 1959, when Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie’s full name) debuted in her black and white swimsuit at the New York Toy Fair, she’s become an icon. 

Little kids play with the grown up doll, musicians reference her in top charting hits, and artists cite her as a muse. But how has Mattel inserted Barbie so squarely into the zeitgeist at nearly every juncture since her inception? Has it been through partnerships with top fashion designers, like Oscar de la Renta? Or perhaps through dolls created in collaboration with celebrities like Twiggy? And most recently, what impact did Barbie (2023), Greta Gerwig’s live-action contribution to the Barbie cinematic universe, have on Barbie’s brand awareness? 

For Mattel, which saw decreased sales in Q1 of this year (22%) and is underperforming in the S&P 500, capitalizing on its strongest brand could be a strategic move to right the ship. Partnerships and repositioning of the doll—as marketing efforts backing the Blockbuster hit movie—are just a couple of ways to capitalize on Barbie’s iconic brand and keep the public’s favorite doll top of mind.

Little kids play with the grown up doll, musicians reference her in top charting hits, and artists cite her as a muse. But how has Mattel inserted Barbie so squarely into the zeitgeist at nearly every juncture since her inception?

With marketing activities firing on all cylinders for Barbie comes the need for Mattel to measure brand awareness, growth, and equity.

This kind of measurement allows brands to better understand how their marketing efforts are performing and enables them to make better strategic decisions. 

But what is brand awareness? And how may Mattel be leveraging this metric to continue launching successful marketing campaigns? 

What Is Brand Awareness? 

Put simply, brand awareness is the degree to which a brand’s name, logo, and overall identity are recognized and associated with its products or services. 

Brand awareness is about creating a distinct impression in the minds of consumers, ensuring that a brand is easily distinguishable from its competitors. For a brand like Mattel, where physical toy sales are the main revenue driver, creating a doll that is easily recognized in the toy aisle and creates a feeling of familiarity, positivity, and comfort is of paramount importance. 

The 2023 Barbie movie served as a powerful vehicle to enhance and refresh brand awareness by taking a beloved toy and transforming it into an engaging cinematic experience—while also telling a contemporary story about a doll who debuted in a very different time. 

Benefits of Brand Awareness 

Building Trust 

Building trust in today’s consumer landscape is like navigating a maze…and the maze is made of hundred-foot-tall ears of corn and Jack Nicholson’s character from The Shining is also chasing you with an ax.

Shoppers meticulously research before they commit to a purchase, with 53% of shoppers saying they always do research before they buy to ensure they are making the best possible choice. When your brand is recognizable, consumers don’t have to dive into product specifics or dissect countless reviews, and you gain a remarkable edge. 

Recognition breeds trust, confidence, and familiarity—all of which expedite the decision-making process. Faster decisions often mean more conversions, stronger customer loyalty, and positive experiences that might turn into word-of-mouth referrals. 

Creating Associations 

Ever used the term "Kleenex" instead of tissue? Or "Ubered" somewhere instead of calling a car? Recently, you may have “Tweeted” while posting a status on Meta’s Threads platform. These are not actually actions; they’re brands! Brand awareness forms these associations, making consumers unconsciously replace generic terms with branded ones. It’s like magic—everyday actions become part of a brand’s marketing arsenal, and consumers organically spread awareness of the brand.

a gif showing a user typing "barbie" into Google—the results page turns pink and shows sparkles
Google hopped on the Barbie-mania train following the release of Barbie (2023).

In summer 2023, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie added a whole new dimension to Barbie World by creating word association such as “Kenough” (in lieu of “enough.”) When fans of the movie utter “kenough,” to each other, they are communicating and reinforcing positive feelings around the brand, feelings which will carry over into their shopping patterns.  

Elevating Brand Equity

Brand equity, the holy grail of brand value, hinges on how consumers perceive your brand and their experiences with it. High brand equity allows the brand to supersede the product in the consumer’s mind, which means there are more options for the brand to expand, increase prices, and create enduring legacy. 

For instance, when a child asks for another doll, they’re more likely to ask for the one they already know and love; if they already have Astronaut Barbie, they might ask for President Barbie because Barbie’s brand equity is cemented in the child’s eyes. Mattel can continue making new kinds of barbies confidently if they know their brand equity is strong with their target demographic. They also may be able to expand into different markets (like high-ticket collectibles vs. everyday toys to play with), or secure collaborations with luxury brands (like Versace). 

How to Measure Brand Awareness: 

If you hear “I’m a Barbie girl” and immediately think of bright pink, you know brand awareness is a powerful asset. But measuring something so intangible is complicated. Let’s explore the strategies and metrics you can apply to measure brand awareness effectively.

Social Listening: Social media is abuzz with conversations about brands. By tracking how often your brand is mentioned, you can gauge its visibility and public sentiment. Many social media management platforms can simplify data collection, helping you uncover patterns and trends. 

A brand might consider measuring…

  • Reach of Mentions: Count the people exposed to your brand name.
  • Sentiment Score: Determine if mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): Estimate customers odds of recommending your brand.

Branded Search Volume: Track how many people are searching for your brand and associated keywords. This reflects your general public awareness and also lets you compare with your competitors. SEO tools like Ahrefs or Semrush can monitor monthly search volumes and gather insights on searchers’ location and devices.

Change in Direct Traffic: Direct traffic represents web visitors typing your URL directly into their browsers. Monitoring changes in this traffic indicates how your brand awareness may be evolving. Analyze direct traffic numbers through tools like Google Analytics on a month-to-month basis, and in conjunction with active campaigns to understand the data. 

Backlink Profiles: Backlinks (how often another website links to yours in their content) reveal how well-known your brand is and where it holds influence. Higher quantity and quality of backlinks, especially from authoritative sources, signify strong brand presence.

Brand Awareness Surveys: Craft questionnaires to understand how aware your target audience is of your brand. Cover brand recognition, recall, image, and identity. Regular surveys offer insights into growth and how you stack up against competitors, or tools like Harris Brand Platform perform always-on brand monitoring to help brands track their brand equity—and all of the components that make that up. 

Earned Media Coverage: Keep an eye on organic brand mentions in blogs, publications, and social media posts. These earned media pieces provide unbiased reviews from users and help build trust. Use a tool like PRophet (a generative and predictive AI platform for comms professionals) to get your news out to the journalists most likely to cover it, and track earned media to see how your news stacks up to editorial discretion. 

Daily Measurement of Brand Awareness: Traditional market research firms utilize various methods for conducting brand audits. These may include custom or ad-hoc research, which typically captures brand awareness metrics for just 1-2 weeks per quarter. However, such an approach overlooks a substantial volume of data that could provide a more holistic understanding of your brand’s performance. 

In contrast, the implementation of daily measurement techniques offers a distinct advantage. According to Zeke Hughes, Head of Growth at The Harris Poll, “Daily measurement enables very large base sizes, allowing brands to achieve smoother results throughout the year by employing a long-tail moving average, such as an 8-week or 12-week average. This approach also facilitates the examination of niche audiences that might better reflect their core target.” In embracing this methodology, brands can unlock deeper insights and refine their strategies effectively.

Measuring brand awareness helps you navigate the competitive landscape and assess perceptions of your brand identity and offerings. Stay vigilant and adaptable, and use these strategies to uncover the true extent of your brand’s influence.

Follow In Her “Heels Never Touch the Floor” Footsteps: What Other Brands Can Learn from Barbie 

With Barbie crossing the threshold of the $1B box office mark, and Mattel licensing 45 more toys’ IP for upcoming movies, it begs the question: What can other brands learn from Barbie and Mattel’s success? 

To shed light on this question, I turned to Barbara Ford, Partner at Phoenix Strategic Advisors and Facilitator of Marketing Essentials at the Kellogg School of Management, for her thoughts. Her answer? Don’t skip out on brand foundations.  

“Brand foundations not only direct all efforts—they help keep an extended team aligned on what the brand is and what it should say/do, as well as what it is not.” —Barbara Ford

“With the success of Barbie, I can’t help but reflect on the value of solid brand foundations to guide marketing, communication, user-experience and brand-growth efforts,” says Ford. “Brand foundations not only direct all efforts—they help keep an extended team aligned on what the brand is and what it should say/do, as well as what it is not.” She went on to explain that brand foundations are made up of three components: brand positioning, brand essence and brand equities.  

  • Brand Positioning: As Barbara eloquently puts it, brand positioning is all about “defining what the brand does for the target.” It’s the art of situating the brand within its competitive landscape, often spotlighting its tangible advantages. Beyond just enumerating features, it’s the perceived “benefits” that truly set a brand apart.
  • Brand Essence: Barbara’s insights underscore that understanding a brand’s essence is equally, if not more, vital for its comprehension and growth. “Barbie, after all, is certainly more than a plastic doll with long hair,” she asserts, and I laugh. It’s true: The brand’s allure goes beyond the realm of logical, feature-focused attributes. It’s the emotional and intangible facets that constitute a brand’s essence and shape its rapport with diverse consumer segments—the core patrons as well as those on the periphery. This essence encapsulates a brand’s identity triggers, feelings/emotions, personality. Even as Mattel evolved Barbie over time, it steadfastly adhered to the core essence that defines the quintessential Barbie experience.
  • Brand Equities: When asked to explain brand equities, Barbara cited David Aaker, author of Managing Brand Equity, who said brand equity is defined as that “set of brand assets and liabilities linked to a brand, its name and symbol, that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm’s customers.”  Much like how you can spot a Barbie poster from a distance or instantly recognize it in the toy aisle (thanks to its iconic pink hue!), brand equities are the tools that fortify a brand’s identity and resonance.

Barbie Before, Barbie Now, and Barbie Beyond the Film 

The story of Barbie’s enduring brand awareness is a testament to the power of effective marketing strategies and consistent brand management. 

From her inception in 1959, Barbie has become a globally recognized icon, woven into the fabric of pop culture and childhood memories. Mattel’s ability to evolve and adapt the brand over time, leveraging partnerships, creative campaigns, and even Blockbuster movies, has solidified Barbie’s presence in the hearts and minds of consumers. 

The significance of brand awareness cannot be understated; it builds trust, creates associations, and elevates brand equity. As demonstrated by the success of Barbie, brand awareness is not confined to traditional metrics but extends to language, sentiment, and even cultural impact. By employing various measurement techniques, from social listening to brand surveys, Mattel and other brands can gain a comprehensive understanding of their brand’s reach and impact. 

As demonstrated by the success of Barbie, brand awareness is not confined to traditional metrics but extends to language, sentiment, and even cultural impact.

What’s next for Barbie? We’re not sure. But because of her strong brand and Mattel’s ability to measure impact, we know that whatever she does, it’s likely to make a splash. 

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