Because the best marketers deserve great content.
The Secret to Brand Growth? Mental and Physical Availability
Welcome to the final blog post in our five-part series. We set out as marketing mythbusters, taking a scientific approach to marketing in doing so. Throughout the series, we identified a number of marketing myths, using data to show why they are false. Our fifth post will cover the importance of mental and physical availability, and tie together everything we’ve learned so far. Make sure to check out posts one, two, three, and four if you haven’t already.
Up until now, we’ve presented a lot of brand growth “don’ts”: don’t build a strategy chiefly around customer loyalty, don’t focus on heavy buyers, don’t aim for differentiation, and don’t rely on price promotions. But what should you do to grow your brand?
The key to brand success is both mental and physical availability. In other words: are customers thinking of your brand and are they able to access it when they’re thinking of it? Brands largely compete not in terms of differentiation or even product offering, but in terms of mental and physical availability. When a brand is strong in those two regards, more people can more easily buy it in more situations.
What is mental availability anyway? Your brand’s mental availability, or brand salience, refers to the probability of a consumer noticing, recognizing, and thinking of your brand in a buying situation. This is critically different from brand awareness, which is simply the link to the name of the product category and depends on a single, specific cue. Mental availability extends beyond brand awareness: it depends on the quality and quantity of a consumer’s mental structures. So how well-defined those mental structures are, and how many of them there are?
A brand can achieve greater mental availability than its competitors if it’s easier to access in consumer memory in more buying situations and for more consumers. Brands can build their mental availability by developing a number of different memory links in buyers’ minds. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, this can be done via distinctiveness and clear branding. Maintaining customer share of mind depends on consistent and quality advertising: deployment of the same distinctive assets is what will help your brand win in the marketplace overtime.
To break it down a little further, here are five actionable measures your brand can take to increase its mental availability:
- Create distinctive assets
- Get noticed
- Continuously reach potential buyers
- Refresh brand-linked memories
- Be consistent
Now that we better understand mental availability, what is physical availability and how does it impact your sales? Your brand’s physical availability refers to the breadth and depth of your distribution in time and space. So how much product you’re supplying in different areas at different times.
Though seemingly straight-forward, physical availability then becomes a supply chain problem. Brands must ask themselves how they can get their product physically in front of their consumer wherever they are, right when they want it. This is a problem brands have been trying to solve for a long time, and it’s not just B2C or CPG brands that struggle with this issue. For example, how do SaaS companies design, build, and manage their product so that their software is immediately available to the consumer, making the supply chain between purchase and deployment seamless? Every company has a supply chain of some sort — be it internal or external, a physical product or not — making the challenge a universal one.
All brands struggle with optimizing the way in which they supply their products or services. This is no easy feat to overcome. In fact, this is our first marketing myth: though brands may claim to have achieved 100% availability, no brand has actually accomplished this yet. But, the following three measures can help your brand move towards that:
- Supply all desired pack types and sizes
- Keep stock levels high
- Expand into new geographical locations
CUSTOMER OPTIMIZATION VS. SATISFACTION
In order to better understand mental and physical availability, we must also take a quick look at the consumer. From a psychological perspective, how does the modern consumer shop? Do they optimize their preferences or satisfy them? If a consumer were to optimize their preferences, they would search through an entire set of options until they were absolutely certain their specific preference had been met. For example, an optimizing consumer might scan a restaurant menu from start to finish multiple times, until they can be certain they’ve chosen a dish they will love.
A satisfying consumer, on the other hand, might begin searching through a set of options but stop once they’ve come across a preference that meets their immediate needs. In a restaurant, the satisfying consumer might browse through the first three options on the menu, realize they would enjoy the steak frites enough, and then order that. Knowing whether your consumer is an optimizer or a satisfier has critical implications beyond the restaurant industry, as you can take a very different branding approach for either.
Enter the next marketing myth: it is widely believed that U.S. consumers search for an exact preference match. As it turns out, consumers tend to satisfy their needs instead. In other words, they settle for “good enough”. This is, indeed, a way for them to cope in today’s busy world. They have more options available than ever before, are bombarded with more advertisements than in the past, and the competitive landscape is simply more crowded.
So what does this mean for your brand? Well, this behavior helps explain why customers buy into a brand in the first place. It isn’t because the brand is differentiated or has particularly innovative products, but because an emotional response has been triggered, leading them to settle for that brand. They’ve browsed a few options and will impulsively go with the one that elicited some sort of internal response.
In this sense, then, we’ve arrived back at mental and physical availability. First, brands need to be physically available, to even be part of the initial mix a consumer browses through. At the same time, brands need to create associations, to refresh salience, and build new memories to be the brand consumers stop at.
We’ve taken you on quite the myth-busting adventure, beginning with the underlying foundations of small and large brands, all the way to increasing mental and physical availability. Though the future may seem daunting — it takes years and years for brands to establish themselves in consumer memory — brand links are quite stable once established. Take for example Nike: though it took them 20 years to establish their swoosh in consumer memory, it will take many years for their distinct brand element to fade. This is impressive, and promising. If done strategically, your brand can do the same.
Though this marks the end of our marketing myths series — for now — we hope you feel inspired to grow your brand beyond what you ever thought possible. Here’s a summary of a few tips and tricks for long-term success:
We’ve highlighted the fact that marketing requires creativity and thoughtfulness, while also requiring certain standards. In systemizing these standards, marketers can achieve greater creativity and further reach, while crafting more impactful marketing. The above graphic outlines the five best practices we’ve discussed in this series, designed to help you build your marketing system and start growing your brand.
To learn more about how the world’s largest brands are driving growth in 2017 and beyond, join us for Transition in New York City on September 28.