Mental availability is not awareness, brand salience is not awareness

A brand’s mental availability refers to the probability that a buyer will notice, recognize and/or think of a brand in buying situations.  It depends on the quality and quantity of memory structures related to the brand.  See chapter 12 of “How Brands Grow“.

So this is much more than awareness, whether that is top-of-mind awareness, recognition or recall.  Indeed all of these measures are flawed by the use of a single, a-situational, cue (usually the product category name, i.e. what the marketer calls the product category).

And mental availability is not attitude.  It’s not about what consumers like about the brand, or not.  Though the better a consumer knows a brand the better they tend to feel about it – familiarity breeds contentment.

A brand’s availability varies across situations, so higher mental availability means being easily noticed and/or thought of in many different buying situations.  Some brands do well in some particular situations, some do well in many situations.  Some do well with a few consumers, some do well with many consumers.  The easier the brand is to access in memory, in more buying situations, for more consumers, then the higher the overall mental availability.

And this means that advertising to refresh and build mental availability requires  more than merely reminding consumers that the brand exists, but that’s another story.

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BrandWorks University – unlearning some textbook myths

I’ll be talking at BrandWorks University, May 23-25, 2011.  Madison, Wisconson, USA.

See the short video trailer here.  It talks about 4 popular marketing myths:

1. That customers care deep about brands, or that it is marketing’s job to strive to make them care about our brand (not just buy it).

2. Thou shalt target.

3. Rival brands have different appeal so they therefore sell to different types of people, or for different situations.

4. 80/20 law.

Scientific investigation of the real world explodes these myths, yet they linger in textbooks and are often portrayed as modern marketing.

Social Media is not a viable advertising medium (yet)

This is my current advice on social media to consumer brand owners.  Use social media as research (into media), but you can’t justify it as part of your advertising budget.

Key to my position is that currently very little is known about the effectiveness of advertising using social media.  There are a few success stories, but success  stories always get a lot of attention (while the (many more) disappointing case studies are swept under the carpet) and many of the people promoting these have a vested interest.  There are plenty of social media marketing zealots, who say ridiculous things like “TV advertising is dead”.

Just because successful companies are doing it does not make social media marketing effective.  The Roman Army, which was very successful in its day, used to consult pecking chickens before deciding when to go into battle.  My guess is that the way the chickens pecked had little or nothing to do with their success!

Also it’s worth noting that successful companies like Apple have practically no FaceBook presence – I guess Apple don’t see it as an advertising medium.  Instead they use TV, print and outdoor.

Marketing science tells us that brands need to reach all category buyers over and over.  This is what makes media like TV so valuable, it is vast and fast – delivering a lot of reach quickly, at low cost per contact.  Also media like TV, radio and print offer us very reliable, trustworthy metrics.

When we carefully look at social media we see that it is highly fragmented (e.g. the typical tweet only reaches about a dozen people).  It’s impossible for a campaign to be guaranteed reach.  We just have to pray that we “go viral”.  Few brands have more than 1 million Facebook ‘fans’ globally.  The Sunday Mail, in Adelaide alone, can deliver that sort of audience!  Or any moderately rating show on Australian TV.

Also we know very little about how viewers consume advertisements within Social Media.  Do they even see them (when they are concentrating on talking to their friends) ?

So there is much research to be done – which we are doing in the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

I also encourage companies to do small experiments with social media, to learn something.  That’s why I say it should be part of the research budget, not the media budget.

If we were looking at Social Media purely as an option for our advertising budget then most firms would conclude it is not a viable option.  So it can only be justified from a business perspective if we are using it purely to learn about this new media – so that we know what it might be useful for our brand in the future (if at all).

Professor Byron Sharp (March 2011)

PS That means firms who are using social media need to have careful experimental designs in place.  The expenditure should be planned by the research department (not the marketing team) and preferably with academic advice because it is really easy to muck up an experiment and waste money learning nothing.