When I began writing for MM in January 1995, this column carried this tag line: "There are two primary objectives in continuing professional education--to fill the seats with the right people and to make sure good things happen once they are in their seats."

At its most basic level, "filling the seats," otherwise known as marketing, begins by generating attention for the existence of our programs, products, and services. The marketing goal of generating attention for our offerings is called awareness, and it is the first step in a successful campaign. It is the first step in getting prospects to ask for your brand by name.

Brand Awareness: Remember Me? Brand awareness refers to the consumer's ability to recognize and remember a product or brand name.The objective of any marketing campaign is to move toward an ever- increasing presence in the mind of the consumer. The stronger this presence, the more likely consumers are to recognize the brand, recall it, and consider it for purchases.

The number of marketing messages in the consumer environment has increased dramatically. The average consumer is exposed to thousands of commercial messages each day. The challenge in marketing continuing professional education is to stand out in that crowded environment. Thus, awareness is one of the most important assets an organization can have.

Levels of Awareness Unawareness: At this level, an organization's product or service has no presence in the buyer's mind, and, without a significant awareness campaign, the brand will be less likely to be considered for a purchase.

Recognition: This reflects the consumer's familiarity gained through exposure to or experience with a brand. Even without experience, simply recognizing a brand can result in a more favorable attitude toward the brand. In the consumer's mind, recognition is a signal that the brand has value. Example: Have you heard of the Harvard School of Public Health's executive education program, "Advanced leadership strategies for health care executives"?

Recall: This refers to the consumer's ability to remember a specific brand when its product class is provided as a cue. Brand recall can be a deciding factor when a prospect is considering a purchase. Example: What leadership programs for health care executives (brands) can you recall?

Top of Mind: The first brand that comes to mind when the consumer is asked about a product category.

Dominance: The defining brand in a specific product category. This is the ultimate level of awareness in which a brand name is used interchangeably with the generic product name (e.g., "Rollerblades" for in-line skates).

Brand awareness is critical for at least four reasons:

1. It establishes an anchor in the prospect's mind to which other product and organizational associations can be made.

2. It provides familiarity, a key asset particularly in a highly competitive environment.

3. It suggests that the manufacturer or provider stands behind and supports the brand.

4. It substantially increases the likelihood that the brand will be considered before a purchasing decision is made.

Strategic Awareness A key strategy for building awareness is repetition. However, while awareness is essential, it is not enough. Strategic awareness means that your brand must be remembered for those attributes you want it to be remembered for, and not remembered for those things you don't want it to be remembered for. To progress to strategic awareness, first you make them aware and then you make them care. In my next column, we will continue to explore this first building-block of brand equity.