Should I Run Brand Awareness Ads?

Welcome to Ecommerce Marketing with the Pitbulls where we tackle the tough questions business owners face!

Today's topic: should you run Brand Awareness campaigns? The short answer is, it depends.


An agency has pitched an idea to you of spending $6,000/month with an expectation of seeing little to no results until about six months later. Is there anything wrong with this?

Brand Awareness Ads

What they’re really proposing here are brand awareness ads. You’re a small brand, just getting started. They want to run ads for your brand and you may not get any purchases out of them. But people are hearing your name and getting to know a little bit about you. The purchases will follow. But usually not for six months.

When I hear something like this, I cringe. Brand Awareness Ads, especially for very small brands, should seem like a dirty word. When you are running ads, especially when working with an agency, you want to be able to measure results. Anything you do should be measurable. And part of that is making sure you’re getting purchases out of your ad spend.

If you’re being asked to spend that $6,000/month over a couple months, you have to be able to know where it’s going, what are you getting out of it, and what your results are. So push back any time anyone tells you they’re going to run some ads and you’ll get some brand awareness out of it.

Other People’s Advice

Today we hear all kinds of advice on YouTube, podcasts, social media, and LinkedIn about various strategies brands can employ. One thing to remember about this advice is that it’s generally for bigger brands with larger budgets. They have better solutions and are able to take bigger hits than small businesses.

Remember: Not every solution that’s thrown out there by a guru has to or should be, applied to a smaller business. It’s actually the measurable stuff that’s going to help you gain confidence in your marketing shoes. If you can’t measure it, it’s probably not going to be the best option for you as a smaller business.

Other Strategies

We talk a lot about Google Analytics for measuring when people hit your site, when they make purchases, and everything else. It’s a free tool. There are paid tools, and beyond that, deeper measurement strategies, including customer surveys. It’s important to remember that the larger business may be running some of these things.

These bigger businesses have the ability to run with bigger budgets, which will be more effective in the brand awareness arena. Whereas, you might be throwing money at it, hoping you get a little more brand awareness or that people will recognize you a little more. The other strategies the bigger brands are running will likely cost you more than the ad append itself. 

We talked with Chelsea Ford in one of our interviews about many ways that you can cut under the bigger guys and really shine as a smaller brand. Make sure to check that one out if you’re curious about the tips we covered there. 

Direct-Response Ads

I love direct-response ads. This is where we’re going to run the ad and see a direct outcome from it; hopefully a purchase. And we’re measuring our ROAS; hopefully getting a 2:1 ROAS. So you’re running ads and you’re getting back purchases.

But I can hear what you might be asking: what if nobody knows about my product? How do I find more customers and scale up if brand awareness ads don’t work?

Alternative Strategies

  • Hit the Pavement - go to farmers’ markets, do in-store samples, and offer free products to family & friends and ask for reviews. Build this into your marketing budget. Carve out an amount you’re willing to give away in free products and divide it over the course of the year. 
  • Another in-person suggestion is to hand out a coupon code for use on your site to start driving that traffic and collecting those emails.
  • Influencers - Give products to influencers; have them try and post about them.
  • Early Morning News Shows - these are usually fun and well worth it. You can give away free products and services that way.

So hit the pavement, do things in person, get reviews and social proof, and get people recording, and posting their experiences with your product on their social media. Get out there as much as possible and you’ll start to collect tons of gold you can keep until you run ads in the future.

If you’re trying to get started and you don’t have any sales coming through your website, you need to do something to juice that up a bit. You can’t just turn on Facebook or Google ads and have instant profit.

Really nurture those in-person relationships. You will start growing your brand and you’ll learn a ton. You may even change your brand value proposition and get yourself in a better position when you are ready to scale online.

In another interview, we spoke to Parker Olson from Forij. He was really able to hone their copy and get better ideas on messaging because he was out there talking to people in person. He was getting real-time feedback on his product just by being present. That’s the real brand awareness.

A Middle Ground Approach

Let’s talk a bit more about direct-response ads. Typically, when you turn on your ads, you’re looking for a 3x, 4x, or 5x ROAS to help you cover your margins. But if you can’t get that yet, don’t just throw that idea out. Maybe you can start with a 2X ROAS, or even just break even. Now that’s not the way to long-term profit or even sustainable in the long run. If you’re going to end up putting money toward brand awareness anyway, make sure you’re getting some purchases with that, some measurable data. Plus, you get customer emails, people you can reach out to for reviews, as well as data you can feed back into Google or Facebook to ramp up later and become more profitable.

When you have a coupon for a percent off the initial purchase, go ahead and count that as a conversion because they’ve given you their email address. It’s a lot easier to get those and they can be nurtured for future purchases.

You’re figuring out what’s happening on the back end once a customer hits your site. That’s measurable and you can see improvement over time. Try this middle ground first, making sure you’re getting something back, even if it’s just covering your costs at the beginning.

Organic & Social

Start honing in on your brand and strategies on each platform. 

  • Are your posts optimized for the particular platform?
  • Do you have people responding, commenting, and asking questions?
  • Are you checking your inboxes?
  • Are you posting fun, interesting, and unique content that encourages interaction with your brand?

Yes, all of that is incredibly time-consuming. You could hire it out, but that’s also very difficult to measure. But this is the kind of brand awareness you need to be doing. You would be doing these things at in-person farmers’ markets, now it’s time to do them on your social platforms.

You’re looking for a direct response from those customers right in front of you; commenting on your posts and videos. Or, if they don’t like it, you’ll have that tumbleweed go by in your comment sections. You will be able to gauge what’s working and what’s not. You take out what’s not working and try something different; maybe even go viral or have your product featured by an influencer.

This is something I hear from other agencies when they’re pitching brand awareness. They’re saying you can no longer get any organic reach with your posts on Facebook and Instagram. You’re putting stuff out there and it’s not going anywhere unless you’re willing to pay to boost or spread your ads wider. This is true in that it’s definitely more competitive than it used to be. But I think there’s still something to be said for putting in the work and testing things out. 

Going from 30 to 60 views on a post is not really going to do anything for your business. It’s about learning more about your brand messaging and what you need to be doing in order to get more engagement and grow. You’re playing a long game. It might take six months to really build something up, but you’re not spending any money on it.

But with a brand awareness campaign, you’re putting up $6,000/month on these ads, not knowing if it’s going to work or not. On the other hand, you can spend an hour a day putting up posts and responding to comments. Sometimes people overlook the ability through organic social to build a strong, loyal community from your customers.

If you have product evangelists who are sharing your product on social, be supportive and encouraging of that. Send them free products to encourage them to continue to talk about you on social and mention you in groups. Facebook groups are huge and people are constantly asking other group members for recommendations. So don’t overlook that hour a day when you could be building up product evangelists who will practically do the work for you for free. It’s a lot cheaper than spending a ton of money on ads that may or may not be going anywhere.

TL;DR (Summary)

We talk about brand awareness ads, specifically when an agency tells you you’re going to spend $6,000 and hope to get results. That’s a really bad place to be for a small brand. Brand Awareness should be a dirty word.

Focus instead on direct-response advertising. Make sure you see some results even if they’re not where you want them to be. Get results you can improve on and grow from. 

Also, remember that you’ll do really well in an in-person setting, building relationships. Go to farmers’ markets, and give free samples. In the online space, post on social, make connections and try to get featured on podcasts. These are great ways to get initial brand awareness without spending money on an ad channel that may or may not pay off for you.