This story is true, but I’ve changed the names, town, and industry.

In 2018, a local media company hired an outside firm to conduct a “top of mind” survey in their city. “Top of Mind,” as the name implies, is a name recognition survey to see which company name comes to mind when a category is mentioned. Much like word association.

If I say “soft drinks,” the first name most people say is Coke.

If I say “fast food,” most will say McDonald’s.

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This independent firm happened to ask the question “When you think of tap-dancing schools in Newport, Rhode Island, what name comes to mind?”

  • 18% said Gene Kelly School of Dance
  • 14% said Savion Glover’s Tap ‘Till Ya Drop

After those two were mentioned, few could name any school.

Those numbers might seem small, but for most businesses on a local level, if you score 14 or 18%, you’re doing great.

Most people don’t know most businesses in most categories.

Try it yourself: Name a fence company in your town. How about a mechanic? Home insulation? Eye doctor? Interior decorator? Accountant?

It’s not easy, is it? Most people don’t know most businesses…because mostly, you don’t need to know.

But the data is irrefutable, the business that comes to mind first is the one that disproportionately gets the customer more often. Every sales or marketing funnel going back 125 years always begins with AWARENESS. It’s that important.

Let’s go back to Newport in 2018:

  • 18% said Gene Kelly School of Dance
  • 14% said Savion Glover’s Tap Till Ya Drop
  • 2% said Twinkle Toes Dance House

In early 2020, I was hired by Twinkle Toes Dance House because he wanted to improve his brand (at 2%, Twinkle Toes was a non-existent company). So, I went to work on AWARENESS – because if the customers don’t know your name, you don’t have a chance.

Two years later in 2022, the same research company comes back to Newport and asks the same question: “When you think of tap-dancing schools in Newport, Rhode Island, what name comes to mind?”

And my phone rang. “We think you need to see this,” the voice said.

  • 20% said Gene Kelly
  • 15% said Savion Glover
  • 13% said Twinkle Toes

In a little over 18 months, top of mind awareness jumped 550%. 

And I was fired.

And I deserved it.

A brand awareness jump of 550% looks amazing on paper, but it doesn’t pay the rent. I was deservedly dismissed because I failed to read the entire situation.

  • Twinkle Toes certainly had a brand awareness problem, plus internal issues (I missed that).
  • Twinkle Toes thought building his brand would open a faucet of money pouring in (I didn’t adequately explain it doesn’t work like that).
  • Twinkle Toes had a short-term mindset (I can’t change what’s in a person’s heart).

That’s the sticky wicket of Marketing.

That brand awareness lift is the sign of things to come. I fully believe Twinkle Toes was headed for big success, but it wouldn’t come for a couple of years.

While the seeds of that rich crop were germinating, I should have helped him with today. It appeared, from my vantage point, he had many of the short-term devices doing their job. Tactics like PPC, SEM, direct mail, and promotions appeared to be in place. What I failed to see was his constant moving of the pieces. Turning things on and off. “Trying” things he heard other people trying. Plus, a host of internal challenges like staffing issues, sales training, customer response, and culture.

And yeah… every one of those things falls under Marketing.
Marketing is not advertising. Advertising is just one part of Marketing.

You need a strong brand. It’s the very foundation of everything that comes next. It’s not optional.

But a house of straw on top of a strong foundation…is still a house of straw.

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