In a recent brand training class I was conducting for one of our clients I asked the participants what were some of their favorite brands. Several of them said Geico (of lizard and caveman fame). When they gave those answers, I asked why. Many said because the commercials were funny, they thought the lizard was cute and the ads made them laugh. Then I pressed some more: did those that said the liked Geico have any of their products or services. Not a one raised their hand.

They were aware of the Geico brand but never used the Geico brand. What good does it do a brand if people are aware of it but never use it. Not much. This is the brand awareness trap.

Several clients have inquired recently about doing brand surveys in their markets. These local financial institutions want to know how well their individual credit union or bank is known in the communities they serve. While certainly attainable, that type of research is fairly expensive to conduct. And the results usually don’t offer the insights you are seeking. Think about it at the credit union level: according to CUNA, 71% of Millennials don’t even know what a credit union is (much less your individual credit union).

This is another example of the brand awareness trap. A better gauge of perception in your area is market penetration. How much of the market or share of wallet has your institution captured? Honestly, who cares if people know about you? I’m much more interested in if they use your products or services.

Of course, they have to know you first before they can use you. But the best way for consumers to get to know your brand is through word of mouth (through their friends and family members). And no amount of research and data about how well they do or do not know your financial institution is probably going to move them.

Data is important. Research is valuable. We need to know how our own consumers and employees feel about our brand. But people who don’t use our products and services already? Their lack of awareness doesn’t reveal all that much.

As Scott Bedbury eloquently put in A New Brand World, “brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold.” Or more of a trap