Top of Mind Awareness: How Brands Get it and Keep It

When consumers think about your product category, what’s the first brand that comes to mind? Whatever it is, that brand has achieved top of mind awareness. If you’re the first brand people think of, it essentially means you have the highest level of brand awareness in your industry.

Obviously, every consumer has their own experiences and preferences that influence which brand is “top of mind” for them. So top of mind awareness generally refers to which brand the largest percentage of consumers think of first in a category. Market researchers use this percentage to gauge the most popular brands in an industry.

It’s usually a good thing, but it doesn’t necessarily imply a positive association. Depending on the category, people may think of a brand they strongly dislike faster than one they like.

Still, the value of top of mind awareness should be pretty clear. If you’re the first brand people think of, it makes your marketing efforts a lot more effective, and it can mean consumers will instinctively look for you when they want to buy a product in your category. Even when your competitors advertise their products, it will prompt some consumers to think about you.

So how do you acquire top of mind awareness? And once you’re at the top, how do you stay there?

Let’s start by looking at the factors that influence which brands consumers think about.

Factors that influence top of mind awareness

In the spur of the moment, when consumers are forced to name a brand in a category, they don’t analyze and compare leading brands and say the name they like the most. The industry or niche immediately brings to mind the brand they most strongly associate with that category. And that’s usually based on what they’ve been exposed to or had the most memorable experiences with. Here’s how it happens.


When consumers try to solve a problem or achieve a goal, they may not even be aware of the product categories that address them. They may turn to Google, YouTube, a friend, an expert, or a sales associate at a brick and mortar store to learn more about what they need to do.

The brands that show up at this stage are a lot more likely to be top of mind, because they’re the first brands consumers learn to associate with the product category. They’re more “discoverable.” 

These brands have in-depth articles and videos on their websites to address the problems, goals, and aspirations their target audience looks for help with online. They’ve optimized their product pages to win the digital shelf, so they show up first in retailer’s search engines and provide a first-class shopping experience.

Market penetration

Often, brands that have top of mind awareness also have one of the largest shares of the total market. They’ve outsold the competition, and there are more people using their products. So that means more people:

  • Have experience with their brand
  • Talk about their brand
  • See or hear about others using their product
  • Associate their product category with their brand

And assuming consumers generally have good experiences with the brands that have the most market share, there are going to be more people recommending these brands, too. So the potential market and average consumer is more likely to be exposed to them.


Even when you’re not in the market for a product, ads leave an impression on you. Huggies and Pampers ads are so ubiquitous that even if you don’t have kids, when you think of diaper brands, these names immediately come to mind. Advertising in print and digital mediums is an important way to build brand awareness because regardless of whether it leads to sales, it exposes your products to a large number of consumers.

Social media presence

Most brands will never “go viral” on social media. But being there is an important part of how major brands achieve and maintain top of mind awareness. Consumers spend an absurd amount of time on social media every day, and it’s become one of the main channels they use to communicate directly with brands. Being present on social media doesn’t mean you spam your target audience with posts, insert yourself into every national conversation, or try to spin popular topics to talk about your brand. It means being accessible, and expressing your brand in relevant ways. But optimizing this channel for conversion is important too. 

Physical presence

When consumers physically see your products, it reinforces the association they make between your brand and your product category. So if every major retailer carries your products (and prominently displays them), that gives you a significant advantage over brands that sell direct-to-consumer only or that aren’t available through as many retailers. Your brand is more likely to be top of mind when consumers think about your category, because they keep seeing your products on display at Target and Walmart when they pass by the relevant department.

Similarly, people have greater awareness of products and brands they physically use more often. That’s not to say you want your products to take up a lot of space, but you do want consumers to use them as often as possible, and that could mean making your product useful for a wider range of applications, or simply educating consumers about the importance of tasks your products are well suited for.


Memorable experiences influence which brands people most strongly associate with a given category. Generally, people are going to reference the brands they’ve interacted with. Someone who has owned a Chevrolet for years or passes by a Taco Bell every day is probably going to think of those brands first, regardless of if their overall experience with them has been positive or negative. 

This isn’t just about the experiences people have with your product, either. Their experiences with your content, marketing, sales, checkout process, customer service, and technical support can all impact whether or not consumers think of you when they think of your category.

How to get and keep top of mind awareness

Most brands will never achieve top of mind awareness by simply creating the best product in their category. That certainly helps, but if you want to be the brand everyone associates with your niche, it’s going to take an intentional effort to increase your brand awareness.

Diversify your ad spend

Digital advertising lets brands create highly targeted, highly efficient campaigns. You can isolate the consumers who are most likely to convert, maximizing your ROI and preventing your ad dollars from going toward people who aren’t likely to buy. 

But if that’s the only way you use digital advertising, you might not be “top of mind” for most people.

With digital advertising, focusing on the ROI of every campaign means your brand awareness takes a hit. Simon White from AdAge argues, “You have to reach those who aren’t currently interested.” While some marketers would consider this “wastage,” it’s crucial if you want more consumers to think of you first when they think of your product category.

Invest in search engine optimization

One of the best ways to make your brand more “discoverable” is to take the time to research what kinds of things your target audience is searching for, and then produce content that satisfies their searches. Whatever your product category, there are concepts and questions that relate to your products, industry, and audience. If consumers look for information about those concepts or answers to those questions online, your brand should show up in the search results.

In many cases, search engine optimization (SEO) does create opportunities to plug your products, but more importantly, it’s a chance to establish thought leadership and shape the way your target audience thinks about something that relates to your industry. They’ll see your brand as an expert on topics and questions that relate to your niche, so they’re more likely to turn to you in the future, and they have more reason to trust your products.

When you invest in SEO, your target audience finds you and slips into your marketing funnel before they’ve even heard of your competitors.

Create resources people rely on

People use some product categories more frequently than others. Depending on your niche, your customers could go days, weeks, or even months between uses. But that doesn’t mean they have to go that long between encounters with your brand. If you create resources that help your target audience solve problems, reach goals, or pursue their aspirations, they’ll be thinking of you (and your products) a lot more often.

The key of course is to find problems, goals, and aspirations that closely relate to your product, so the association is strongest and your content is as relevant as possible. Maybe there are common (or unusual) problems that simply can’t be solved without your product. Or goals that overlap with the reasons people use your product. Aspirations that your product can support. Tasks that have to be completed before people can do the main thing they use your product for.

You don’t have to make these resources about your product. You don’t necessarily even need to mention them. You just need to find relevant ways to be helpful, so that your target audience keeps thinking about you when they aren’t using your product.

Build relationships with influencers

Most niches have established thought leaders who people turn to for education about that category. Maybe they review products or teach people how to do tasks and think about key concepts. If your industry has well-known thought leaders, try to find ways to partner with them. Maybe they’re open to an affiliate relationship. Maybe they would review your product if you give it to them for free. Or maybe there’s a way to partner with them to create something new and interesting, like a study or a resource for their audience.

But what if there aren’t any thought leaders in your niche? Or none of them have any kind of a following? In that case, you may be better off identifying public figures who have a large audience and values that align with your brand’s. 

In the past, it’s been notoriously difficult for brands to measure the value of these “influencer marketing” relationships, but thanks to advances in technology, that’s changing. Brands still need to be selective about who they work with and focus on choosing influencers who have high levels of engagement with their audience, not just a large number of followers, but our Where to Buy solution lets you track and measure purchases that come from your marketing campaigns even when they happen on another website.

(Check out how Febreze recently used our Where to Buy solution to increase sales in an influencer campaign with Khloe Kardashian.)

Get prominent retailers to carry your products

If your products aren’t available through major retailers, you’re going to be fighting a constant uphill battle for top of mind awareness—because your competitors are going to be more visible to consumers. Depending on your niche, there may be particular retailers you need to partner with to get noticed, let alone become consumers’ number one choice. But the main thing is to make sure that wherever people buy items in your product category, your products are there. (And ideally, prominently displayed on the shelf.)

That includes ecommerce. In ecommerce, you have to be more selective about who you allow to sell your products, but you want to make sure consumers can find you through major online retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Otherwise you’re leaving a prime opportunity for your competitors to create stronger associations between your product category and their brand.

It’s important to make sure you don’t let just anyone sell your products, and you don’t want to have too many sellers in one marketplace (this confuses consumers and often leads to price erosion), but your products should be discoverable wherever consumers look.

Get on top and stay there

Top of mind awareness is the pinnacle of brand awareness, and it almost never happens by accident. Brands that want to be first on consumers’ minds need to have a strategy for consistently increasing sales and raising awareness. It’s hard to have one without the other, and if you want to get and stay top of mind, you’re going to need both. The most important impact on awareness is the customer experience, how people experience your brand every time they interact with you. The number one way to take control of that experience is to ensure you have the tools you need to do it and then make the best experience possible. Discover the PriceSpider Platform and how you can make discoverability profitable, schedule a demo today.

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