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How Brands Grow - what you need

to know
Published on November 20, 2016

Dan WhiteFollow
151 6 51
Managing Director, Marketi

Professor Byron Sharp has had a bigger impact on modern market than anyone
else. The phenomenon of 'Double Jeopardy' was first identified in the 1960's but it
took Byron Sharp to make the marketing community sit up and consider the
implications. Here's my attempt to summarize the learning and what it means for
brand and communications development & measurement.

The key learning is that a brand is more likely to be chosen if it is highly 'mentally
available' at decision moments.

If a brand comes readily to mind for many different people in the context of many
different purchasing contexts (needs/uses/occasions referred to as Category Entry
Points or CEPs from now on) then more people will choose it. And
since using a brand helps it to lodge in memory, the brand will become more
mentally available among those who did choose it and these people are therefore
more likely to choose the brand again soon.

This means that brand growth comes from increasing mental availability across as
many people as possible in order to drive penetration which will in turn drive
greater mental availability and frequency of purchase.
Why targeting and positioning are still relevant

The big caveat is that in most established categories, if a brand tries to be Jack of
all Trades it is likely to be master of none. At any point in its life-stage there will
be some CEPs a brand could more realistically, affordably and profitably attempt
to dominate.

Identifying the CEPs to focus on at any point in time requires an understanding of

which CEPs:

Are already dominated by existing brands (e.g. Coke and thirst)

Occur more frequently (and would therefore result in more sales if the brand
could dominate the CEP)

People are prepared to pay more for, thus yielding more profit (e.g. to give
as a special gift as opposed to 'to keep the kids quiet')

Require associations that would be difficult to connect with the brand given
its existing associations or the product itself (e.g. McDonalds and impress
on a date)

The role of emotion

Previously, marketers often believed that creating emotions would make current
buyers more loyal (i.e. increase volume share through selling more volume to an
ever more committed group of buyers) but there is a huge weight of evidence that a
penetration strategy gives a much better ROI, suggesting that brands cannot be
successful if they just aim to leverage emotion to increase loyalty.
Emotion, however, also plays a powerful role in penetration.

Brands have a better chance of being chosen if they come to mind more quickly
and easily than competitors at the decision moment, making them the obvious and
easy choice (in a world where nobody has time or inclination to think hard about
trivial daily decisions). If, when a brand comes to mind, or is cued (seen on shelf
physical availability), the brand also triggers some positive feelings and
associations, the brand then becomes an even easier choice (i.e. the affect
heuristic we do what feels good!).

This emotional response does not need to be strong (for brands it rarely is); if it is
just slightly stronger than any other brands with similar mentally availability, the
brand will have an increased probability of being purchased.

Why distinctive brand assets are valuable

A distinctive brand asset is anything (e.g. a shape, colour, sound, word or phrase)
that is associated with the brand in peoples minds and is not associated with other

These are valuable for two reasons:

Once established, featuring them in the brands communications will help

bring the brand to mind when the communications are experienced and this
helps the communications to create new, or reinforce existing, associations
more efficiently.
If people are exposed to distinctive brand assets near or at the decision
moment (e.g. the pack itself or in point-of-sale) the brand and its other
associations automatically come to mind and make the brand more mentally
available (e.g. as soon as you see the distinctive purple colour of a Cadbury
bar, Cadbury associations are triggered). The very best assets are those that
not only cue brand memories but also communicate something relevant to
CEPs (e.g. the cuddly bear on the Snuggle fabric softener pack or the shape
of the Toilet Duck bottle that reminds you how well it reaches every

Implications for communications

The role of communications is to create new, or strengthen existing, brand

associations to make the brand more mentally available during decision moments.

Communications with the best ROI cost-efficiently build associations that are
vivid, relevant to CEPs and positive and flood the mind at decision moments. This
is achieved by:

Grabbing attention. People are bombarded with information that they filter
subconsciously which means that for communications to be effective, they
need to get noticed through being different and generating emotions.

Being remembered. People remember things that make them feel something
strongly, so, again, communications need to generate emotions.

Brand associations being triggered during decision moments. A brands

associations need to be triggered at decision moments if they are to influence
the decision. Brand associations can be triggered either because the brand
automatically comes to mind when people are thinking of a CEP (e.g. Shall
we take a quick break?.... ooh, a KitKat would be nice) or because the
pack/POS is within view and triggers the brands associations. Effective
communications make either or both of these happen.

Brand associations being relevant to the CEP and positive.

Implication for media

Media should generally not be targeted at heavy buyers of the brand (old fashioned
thinking was that this would keep them loyal and that was more valuable than
attracting more buyers).

Media should usually aim to increase mental availability across all potential brand

Reach should be prioritized over frequency (apart from when a certain low
minimum frequency has been proven to be required to establish memories). This
provides clear direction for how to use traditional and digital media together (i.e.
identify the combination that most effectively maximizes reach).

However, to ensure good ROI, the media should be concentrated (where possible)
on people for whom the chosen CEPs are most frequent (if this can be done).
Programmatic media may be appropriate here.

Choice of media should reflect the chosen CEPs (e.g. Red Bull sponsoring sports
that require mental alertness)
The role of brand performance research

A key role of marketing is to build mental associations that make the brand come
to mind in more contexts and flood the mind with relevant, positive associations
(thereby preventing other brands from being prominent).

Brand performance research therefore needs to:

Measure the brands total mental availability and how this varies across the
CEPs (vs competitors)

Calibrate increases in mental availability with increases in penetration (for

target setting purposes)

Establish the associations (e.g. facts, emotions) that help the brand come to
mind for different CEPs and bring a sense of relevance and emotional
positivity when the brand is in mind

Establish which distinctive assets are associated with the brand, and how

Monitor progress in mental availability (& target CEPs/associations) through

the year, against targets

Identify which marketing activities/mixes are most effective at increasing

mental availability (& target CEPs/associations) - for optimizing mix,
redeployment & learning

Measuring mental availability

MA can be measured by presenting consumers with a set of CEPs that cover the
vast majority of decision moments (i.e. things like as a treat to give as a
present, a mid-morning snack etc.) and establishing which brands are associated
with each.

The key principles for effective measurement are:

The approach needs to capture associations as opposed to considered

thought. This means avoiding wording like which of these brands do you
think are

Endorsement should not just come from people who happen to have actually
bought the brand recently. This means avoiding phrases like consider
buying which would be difficult for someone who hasnt bought recently to
endorse. It also means not using words like you/your in the wording of the
CEPs (e.g. teatime is preferable to having for your tea).

To monitor development of a brand sensitively (e.g. before it has started to

dominate CEPs) respondents should be encouraged to endorse multiple
brands they associate with each CEP. This means avoiding phrasing that
encourages just one brand to be endorsed (e.g. for sharing with friends is
preferable to best for sharing with friends). It also means logos of all
brands should be presented during the question rather than respondents being
required to mention brands spontaneously (because the spontaneous
approach prevents smaller brands being endorsed at all until they start to
dominate CEPs)

One of the recommended Kantar Millward Brown questions conerning mental

availability based on these principles is:
Which of these brands do you associate with...

Please select all the brands you think this applies to. Please give your
impressions of these brands, whether or not youve tried them yourself.

A headline measure ('Share of Mental Availability') is calculated by totaling all

endorsements of the brand across all the CEPs and expressing this as a share of the
same total across all brands included in the survey. (An enhanced approach is to
weight each CEP according to how frequently it occurs in real life if such data is

There are many different types of mental association that a brand could build
around itself to increase mental availability. These include facts/claims, concepts
and emotions. Different approaches are required to measure different types of
association accurately:

Facts/claims and the perceived benefits they deliver require System 2

processing in order to be accessed. Therefore association with facts/claims
needs to be measured using traditional direct questioning.

Concepts (such as pride, prestige, excitement , comfort) are not

reliably measured with direct questioning and are better captured using
implicit techniques (e.g. reaction times)

Overall emotional affinity can be assessed using certain direct approaches (e.g. a
Love-Hate sliding scale) but for a complete measurement, an implicit technique
(e.g. emotional priming) is desirable.
For a complete diagnosis, the raw mental building blocks of these associations
can also be measured (e.g. specific words/phrases, images, sounds, rituals, some of
which will be distinctive brand assets).

Measuring distinctive brand assets

Assets come in all forms (shapes, colours, sounds, words & phrases etc.) so
measuring their association with the brand requires a technique that can fairly
accommodate virtually any type of stimulus.

Kantar Millward Browns recommended approach involves its proprietary implicit

association measurement (based on reaction times). The strength of association is
measured for all brands so that the brands share of association can be calculated to
see if each assets is genuinely distinctive for the brand.

I wrote this primarily as a record I can refer back to later but also hope others find
it useful. Feedback very welcome as I know I don't have a full understanding in
certain areas.