Brand Salience – Why It Matters for Your Brand

Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is just showing up .” Unfortunately, at purchase decision time, the vast majority of brands never show up at all. Getting consumers to “think” about your brand more often, and in more buying situations, is one of the most under-rated marketing challenges that brands face today.

Brand Salience — What is It?

Brand Salience is the degree to which your brand is thought about or noticed when a customer is in a buying situation. Strong brands have high Brand Salience and weak brands have little or none.  This helps explain to some degree why big brands are big and small brands are small: if no one thinks about you at the moment of buying truth, your brand is going to be relegated to the dustbin of small and unnoticed brands.

Moment of Truth - Does Your Brand Have Salience ?

Brand Salience IS NOT the same thing as top of mind awareness. Top of mind awareness is simply what brands come to mind when consumers are asked to recall brands within a category. Brand Salience is different. Why? Because it is what brands come to mind when consumers are in a purchase situation. More specifically, Brand Salience is the memory of your brand and its linkage to other important memory structures. The buying situation “mindfulness” and linkage to memory structures is what differentiates Brand Salience from top of mind awareness.

What Drives Brand Salience

This all sounds very simple. But there really is some science behind it. Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science have done research into Brand Salience, and the findings are surprisingly simple, yet counter-intuitive, for Marketers. Brand Salience is a function of the quantity and quality of the consumers memory structures. Brand Salience is the step before consideration–is your brand even “thought of” before the consumer considers a brand or brands and makes a final purchase decision? Or is it mentally screened-out, like the majority of brands?

1.  Quantity Of Memory Structures

In buying situations, consumers are often driven by mental “cues” that trigger their thoughts around brand consideration sets. For example, if I’m thinking about getting a quick meal for under $5, I’m likely to consider Subway based on their ubiquitous “$5 Foot Long” campaign.

Subway $5 Footlong - Building Brand Salience

Or, if I want to eat something “fresh and healthy,” then I’m also likely to think of Subway given their focus on fresh and healthy eating. The more memory structures your brand is linked to, the more salient your brand–e.g. the more likely it is to be thought of during a buying situation. The examples above point out something important: what buyers remember about brands isn’t always the same across buying decisions. So, the quantity of memory structures can make a difference.

2.  Quality of Memory Structures

Romaniuk and Sharp argue that the quality of Brand Salience is a function of the strength of the association and the attribute relevance.  Taking the Subway example above: because I’ve seen so many $5 dollar foot long creative executions, the linkage is very strong. Additionally, if value is important and relevant to me because I’m on a budget, this further increases Brand Salience.

So, to summarize:  Brand Salience is a function of: a) the quantity of memory structures your brand is linked to; and b) the quality of these structures, as defined by the strength of association and relevance of the structure. By building the quantity and quality of memory structures, you maximize the number of consumers who will think of your brand and the number of times they think of your brand in various buying situations. So, in Woody Allen parlance, your brand “shows up.”

Brand Salience vs. Brand Equity — A Conflict?

If you grew up in traditional CPG brand management like me, you were trained to believe that a brand should define its equity and rigorously and relentlessly focus on communicating it without deviation. I still recall senior P&G managers speaking scornfully of advertising which was “off-brand.” On the other hand, Brand Salience sounds a bit like a license for freelance communication–equity be damned.

There needn’t be a conflict. Marketers need to consider two approaches to building Brand Salience:

1.  Focus on Defining and Communicating Different Cues Against A Common Equity – Assuming you’ve defined a focused and important equity for your brand, you need to do the consumer research to understand the most important and relevant cues which link to your benefit. Then, having defined these, brands need to execute creatively against these cues to maximize the number of memory structure associations.

Subway Fresh & Healthy - Building Brand Salience

For example, Subway’s “fresh and healthy” positioning can be executed via a range of cues like “good for my kids,” “for people on diets,” “good for outdoor activities,” etc. These are all different cues that may lead to a consumer considering Subway for a “fresh and healthy” offering.

2.  Create and Own Distinctive Executional Memory Structures – A second approach is to increase the quantity and quality of executional memory structures. For example, the Subway logo, usage of the Jared Fogle character, the $5 dollar foot long music, etc. are all examples of creating executional memory structures. These executional memory structures help create a platform that enables consumers to more easily remember your brand in buying situations.

Subway's Jared Fogle - An Executional Equity

So, Brand Salience is an important but often ignored challenge for Marketers. Do your brand a favor. Listen to Woody Allen. Make sure that your brand “shows up” and is salient — a very important step in ensuring your brand gets considered for purchase.

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9 Responses to Brand Salience – Why It Matters for Your Brand

  1. Juan Carlos Fernández says:

    Interesting concept.

    C < Thanks!

  2. Sandeep says:

    Thanks Randall for explaining the difference between ‘brand salience’ and ‘top of mind recall’. I agree to this.
    However, there could be a overlap when a person applies linkage while replying to a brand recall

    • beardrs says:

      Sandeep — Thanks for reading the blog and taking time to comment. Yes, I agree that there is some overlap. Having said this, I can certainly think of examples where brands have high top of mind awareness but not necessarily a wealth of connections to memory structures. A good example is AFLAC. It’s well know that they drove huge increases in brand awareness with the duck campaign, but it’s also equally clear that people do not really understand much about the brand. It’s interesting, therefore, to see that their new advertising “you don’t know quack” is attempting to move beyond simple top of mind awareness and create depth of understanding. Whether they are successfully doing this is debatable, but I do think it’s a good example of a brand with high top of mind awareness and likely low brand salience. Thanks again for your comment.

      • Jenni says:

        Top of mind is a very blunt concept that is also highly contaminated by recent past events. This makes it not really sensitive enough to pick up changes, particularly in non-users. Brand salience is about the who memory network- not just the link to the category cue.

        BTW – We are currently working on a piece unpacking brand awareness metrics, looking at who contributes to scores and the impact of brand size on this. One thing we know, is that it is not a “once size fits all” measure when it comes to brand awareness tracking.

        • beardrs says:

          Jenni — Thanks so much for reading the blog and taking time to share your valuable perspective. I agree with your point around the bluntness of brand awareness. There are quite a few brands that I’m aware of, but have few connecting memory structures. Would love to have you share the awareness learnings at the appropriate time. Thanks.

  3. Matt Daniels says:

    Nice overview Randall.

    Not sure if you’re a fan of Rob Walker, but he had a great write-up of brand salience in the context of Michael Jackson’s death and his surge in record sales–a great read:

    Regarding your write-up:

    -Is there really any difference driving salience or top-of-mind awareness? For all practical purposes, can’t the average marketer treat them the same?

    -I’m sure this is assumed–but shouldn’t it also include the temporal effect of salience? Every memory study that I’ve read has a level of dependence on intervals of exposure. Brands achieve salience by merely exposed consumers to a brand, regardless of quality, periodically (a la Walker’s point regarding Coke).

    • beardrs says:

      Matt–Thanks for sharing the link to the Rob Walker post. My key takeaway from his post is the importance of thinking of the brand RIGHT NOW in the current buying situation. Advertising has a major role to play not just in making people aware of a brand, but also to making it so top of mind that its “top of mind.” I think salience actually goes beyond this because its about the quantity and quality of connecting memory structures. Let me use the AFLAC example again: I’m aware of the brand, but the only connecting memory structure I have is the duck. So, I don’t think about AFLAC when it comes to buying or considering insurance–there’s no connection to needs based cues–and hence I have no idea why I should even consider the brand. I agree that there is a temporal element as Walker points out that is important. But ideally, the frequent brand advertising reminders are more than that. They remind the consumer of the brand and connect it to important emotional or functional needs based cues. Thanks again for the Rob Walker link. Randall

  4. […] Brand Equities – Every brand should have both strategic and executional equities.  Strategic equities include brand benefits and reasons to believe, while […]

  5. […] Availability – This means having brand salience and top of mind awareness. When consumers are in a buying situation, brands that have high mental […]

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