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Awareness Isn't Enough, Design for Mental Availability

Marketplaces are more crowded than ever - and, standing out from the competition is more challenging than ever. Growth-stage brands (~$100MM+ ARR), in particular, must navigate the complexities of capturing consumer attention with far fewer resources than the incumbents they intend to steal share from. One critical concept that can significantly impact a brand's success is a concept known as 'mental availability'. It's the idea that simply being known isn't enough. Instead, your brand should focus on being known (awareness) and associated with the need states or usage occasions that motivate category purchases. Only then out-of-category buyers will put your brand in the consideration set when they switch to in-category buyers. Understanding mental availability will change that way you look at your marketing strategy and the tactical decisions within it.

What is Mental Availability?

Mental availability refers to the likelihood that a consumer will think of your brand when they are in a buying situation. It’s about being present in the consumer’s mind, so when they recognize a need or a specific occasion arises, your brand is one of the first they consider. This concept is rooted in the principles of behavioral science and is pivotal for driving brand growth.

Byron Sharp, a prominent marketing scientist, emphasizes that brands grow by increasing mental availability and physical availability. Mental availability is not just about being memorable; it’s about creating a network of positive associations that link your brand to various usage occasions, emotions, and needs​​.

Growth-stage brands are often already expanding physical availability - that is, expanding the sales channels or geographies in which the product is sold. Coca-cola, as a reference point, is available in almost every store in the world. That helps drive sales, obviously.

Growth-stage brands are also often expanding the product portfolio itself. Many start ups build tractions with a narrow niche before diversifying their product or service strategy.

And so, growth-stage brands need to build integrated strategies that build awareness with mass-market consumers, drive key associations in priority product and services need state or use cases, and create momentum in key timeframes to ensure conversion. Then, loyalty, but we won't get into that yet.

Why Mental Availability Matters

  1. Competitive Advantage: In markets where multiple brands offer similar products, the brand that comes to mind first has a distinct advantage. Mental availability ensures your brand is considered over competitors when the consumer makes a purchase decision.

  2. Consumer Behavior: Consumers often rely on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, when making purchasing decisions. Brands that are mentally available are more likely to be chosen because they simplify the decision-making process for consumers.

  3. Long-Term Growth: While short-term sales tactics like promotions and discounts can drive immediate results, building mental availability is essential for long-term brand health. It fosters brand loyalty and repeat purchases, contributing to sustained growth.

Building Mental Availability

  1. Consistent Messaging: Ensure that your brand’s messaging is consistent across all channels. Consistency helps reinforce brand associations and makes it easier for consumers to recall your brand. This includes visual elements like logos and colors, as well as the tone and style of communication.

  2. Diverse Touchpoints: Increase your brand’s presence across multiple touchpoints. This can include traditional advertising, social media, influencer partnerships, content marketing, and more. The more frequently and diversely consumers encounter your brand, the stronger the mental connections will be.

  3. Emotional Connections: Create content that resonates emotionally with your audience. Emotional connections are more likely to be remembered and can strengthen the associations consumers have with your brand. Whether it’s through storytelling, humor, or shared values, tapping into emotions can significantly enhance mental availability.

  4. Relevant Associations: Link your brand to relevant occasions and needs. For example, a sports drink brand should associate itself with fitness and athletic performance. These associations should be clear and reinforced through targeted marketing efforts.

Measuring Mental Availability

To gauge the effectiveness of your efforts, you need to measure mental availability. This can be done through brand tracking studies that assess brand recall and recognition among your target audience. Surveys that explore how often consumers think of your brand in various contexts can provide valuable insights into your brand’s mental availability.

Additionally, tools like Google Trends can help track search interest over time, offering a proxy for how top-of-mind your brand is in different regions or among different demographics.

Closing Thought

Mental availability is crucial to modern marketing strategy, particularly for growth-stage brands looking to compete with larger, established players. By consistently reinforcing your brand’s presence across multiple touchpoints, creating emotional connections, and linking your brand to relevant occasions, you improve the chances of being recalled by a prospective consumer when the time comes to make a purchase in your category.

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