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.
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.
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.
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.
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.