If you think all you have to state as a marketing objective is to increase awareness, guess again!

Back in the 1990s there was a sweet white-haired woman with cat-eye glasses and floral dresses who attended the weekly Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce networking meetings. Her introduction from the front table was, “I’m Marjorie Simms with the Stricklin Snively Mortuary, and it’s better to know us and not need us than to need us and not know us.”

It was the perfect anecdote to kick-off a Wednesday morning. It speaks perfectly to the desire to increase awareness, however it’s not all there is to the story.

Yes, everybody wants their business or nonprofit to be a household name, but do you really need that to be successful? When I ask a client or student why they want to promote their business and its mission, they often say, “To increase awareness,” or “We want people to know about us.”

“Why?” I ask. “Why do people need to know about you?”

Increase Awareness

Not surprising, I am often met with a stunned look that says, “Duh! That’s why we called you!”

I need the client to delve deeper. As much as you want to believe that everybody ought to know about you, not everyone needs you the same way everyone will need a mortuary one day.

“WHY do you want people to know about you?” I persist.


The answers are usually something along the lines of one of the following:

  • So when they need our services they know who to call.
  • If they know someone who needs us, they can share the information.
  • Because we are constantly looking for more volunteers.
  • When we launch our capital campaign people are familiar with what we do.
  • Because we are celebrating a big milestone and we want the public to know that we’ve made a difference in the community.
  • Because we know more about our topic than anyone else and we are rarely quoted.

Aha! Now we are getting somewhere! These answers point to the real objectives, the meat of what they are after. They want more customers, some of them from referrals, more volunteers, more money, to be positioned as a respected contributor to the community, and as a thought leader.

With this information we can create some measurable objectives, strategies and tactics that will increase awareness while addressing many other quantitative results that help the business or nonprofit thrive.

I would turn their comments into the following objectives with the variables to be developed by them:

  1. Increase number of clients enrolled in our ABC program by X% by the end of fiscal year Y.
  2. Increase the number of referrals to our ABC program by X% by the end of fiscal year Y.
  3. Grow our volunteer program by X# of volunteers by the end of Y calendar year.
  4. Raise $X in our capital campaign by fiscal year end Y.
  5. Celebrate our centennial anniversary as a centerpiece for increased promotion in all areas of the organization.*
  6. Position the organization as a leading authority on XYZ topic/issue/treatment.

*I would argue that 5 and 6 are more likely Strategies or Goals and the Objectives that support them will dictate the metrics via clients, funding/sales, reach, and other successes that will be a natural byproduct of “increased awareness.”


Sometimes Increase Awareness Remains an Objective

For various reasons, sometimes a nonprofit client is adamant that all they are after is to increase awareness and they want to shut-off the discovery sessions. I’ll let-up on the pressure to be more specific with clients so we can get to the tactics allowing staff to move forward. In general, if the client only approves a nebulous objective like “increase awareness”, then I recommend tactics supplying broad reach, instead of a very specific target market. For example:

  • Bulk mail a postcard or other promo piece;
  • Pepper the press with story ideas;
  • Daily social media posts, boosted posts and ads;
  • Speakers bureau with weekly engagements.

These aren’t bad tactics, they are great, really, but few small to mid-range nonprofits can keep up with this frequency. If you have the capacity to start all of these things, you’ll have to pay close attention to measure what’s working by asking prospects, new clients, and donors (virtual and in-person) how they heard about you. Then adjust to focus on what is actually working.

The truth is, most promotion will increase awareness. If people know about you but nothing changes, then something is off. You’ll need to ask:

  1. Are you reaching your target market?
  2. If so, is your brand and messaging resonating with your target market?

Click here for a FREE Marketing Assessment Tool to get you started.


Stay tuned for future blog posts to answer these questions and more.


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Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Sign-up on her website today to receive helpful insights like this one in your inbox.  See how easy your efforts can be here


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