About once a month a few of us at the office get together during lunch for what has become known as a SWAP meeting. We share thoughts, stories and sometimes play Pictionary. It’s a great way to relieve stress and learn interesting tidbits about the people we work with.

One afternoon our conversation turned, as all conversations eventually do, to the topic of The Lord of the Rings. Our discussion about differences between the book and the movie evolved into a discussion about the characters in the movie which made up the Fellowship of the Ring. The interesting thing to note was the difference in the levels of awareness of these characters by various people. We were struck by the similarities in how people remember these movie characters and how people remember certain brands.

The highest level of character awareness can be called ‘the geek level’. These are people who know the character’s full names as well as additional details about them. For example, knowing that Legolas, Sindarin elf of the woodland realm, is a great archer is comparable to those people who know the brand name, logo and jingle, all unaided. The next level, still pretty high on the scale, can identify the characters by name and race: Aragorn the human, Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf. These are the people who know the brand name and correctly match it to the product still without a helping hand. Then there are the people who know the characters by the actors who play them. These people may know the parent company of the brand or the name of the product, but don’t know the advertising or what the product actually does.

After that, the characters become a bit more fuzzy. They may be identified by type of being (the dwarf, the elf, the hobbit, etc.) or even worse “the hot guy from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie.” That’s when you know your brand may be in trouble. These people may only be aware of your brand when prompted, and may not be at all aware of the advertising or maybe incorrectly identify the brand that is being advertised.

There are varying levels of brand awareness. While we’d all like our brands to be known on the geek level, realistically they may only be known by association with another brand.

Scott White is President of Brand Identity Guru a leading Corporate Branding and Branding Research firm in Boston, MA.

Brand Identity Guru specializes in creating corporate and product brands that increase sales, market share, customer loyalty, and brand valuation.

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Over the course of his 15-year branding career, Scott White has worked in a wide variety of industries: high-tech, manufacturing, computer hardware and software, telecommunications, banking, restaurants, fashion, healthcare, Internet, retail, and service businesses, as well as numerous non-profit organizations.