Imagine you’re in a bar and the barman asks you: What would you like to drink?
How do you decide? Do you Google it?
Chances are, you won’t be searching through your phone for the answer. Instead, you’ll be searching through your brain, as it looks through its shortlist of options, stored deep in its memory bank, and then picks your preferred choice.
The human mind is more powerful than any other search engine in the world. The original supercomputer; it comes with an amazing inbuilt cognitive algorithm that can perform a scan before you’ve even had time to think about reaching for your phone.
Now shift that focus to marketing. It’s an underlying truth of our profession, that the more you know about your customer, the better equipped you are to capture their attention. Customer attention is like gold dust in a digitally distracted world. In the age of technological advancements, it is easy to lose sight of what really drives marketing: People.
Marketing uses memory to influence potential buyers before they even begin the search process. This is the power of ‘mental availability’, a metric espoused by Professor Byron Sharp, the author of How Brands Grow. This is a crucial insight, as humans are pressed for time and prefer a mentally available brand they are familiar with, even if that familiarity is subconscious.
Stuck at the bottom
No one can argue that search isn’t a fantastic bottom-funnel tactic. From a historic perspective, much of the ‘must-convert-now’ thinking of performance marketing was a direct outcome of the global economic recession between 2007 and 2008. Digital marketing and the wealth of data it could generate made even the savviest marketer extremely myopically focused on bottom-line KPIs. As a result, bids on the bottom-funnel cranked up. After all, ROI is why we invest in Search in the first place.
If you ask marketers even today what they crave, the answer will be “more organic traffic.”
But what causes customers to type a name into that browser? Brand marketing, not performance marketing.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that Airbnb’s strategy of investing in brand marketing (think: MRT posters advertising the new ‘OMG’ category of properties) and lessening its reliance on search-engine marketing is, unsurprisingly, paying off.
The lesson? If you want to grow brands, it’s not through grinding conversions at the bottom. The only way to grow business impact is by building brands in people’s mind.
Which is why there’s no better time for marketers to invest in the oldest and most powerful search engine in the world – The human brain.
Brain engine optimization is the new search engine optimisation
Marketers obsess over Search keywords. They want their brands to come out on top when prospects search online. The intent is right, the engine isn’t. Marketers must instead obsess with memory generation.
“The most important search engine is still the one in our minds.” Jon Bradshaw, shared founder of the consultancy Brand Traction in an article in 2022.
By making brands memorable at the point of buying, you find a way to remain consumer’s brains, not just their phones. In other words, effective communication works by winning mental real estate, not just taking up space.
If your brand doesn’t get recalled in a buying situation, it isn’t likely to get bought – period. People mostly buy what they easily remember, and brain engine optimisation increases the odds of being remembered.
Category Entry Points (CEPs) are the real keywords
According to Professor Jenni Romaniuk’s research from the Linkedin B2B Institute, consumers will tap into memories in buying situations. Or what the Professor calls ‘Category Entry Points’ (CEP). Think of them as ‘mental keywords’, as opposed to the ‘Search keywords’ we are familiar with.
A good way to identify ‘Category Entry Points’ relevant for brands is to start with five basic questions:
Why: The motivation, goal, purpose of consumption.
When: Occasion or timing of activities.
With what: What else is co-purchased or consumed.
With whom: Other people involved.
Let’s take a relatable example – say Domino’s.
Why: Make football nights more memorable with the perfect football-watching party and pizzas.
When: Sunday night: ‘Game Day’.
Where: At home, in front of the screen.
With what: Besides football, pizzas go well with carbonated drinks, beer and chips.
With whom: With friends and colleagues.
If you observe, there is a media and messaging opportunity in each of the above moments and occasions, we just have to tap into them.
Strong brands are built on memories, not clicks
Based on the premise that ‘memories generate sales’, here’s three easy things to remember on how you can create memory associations and differentiation.
Take time to research your customer: Focus on creating a natural association to make clever use of CEPs in communication, making it relevant and increasing the likelihood that potential customers think of you, rather than the competitor.
- Think of relevant moments and situations when your brand is considered: You would think of Starbucks, with the smell of coffee early morning. You would think of Volvo for a family-safe car after the birth of a child. You would think of 100Plus post a cardio or long run. What would you think of before going on a long drive for holiday?
- Embrace the possibilities and don’t limit your approach: Apple recently introduced CarPlay that allows users to tap into the app to navigate to a petrol station and buy fuel straight from a screen into the car, skipping the usual tapping of a credit card. There is an incredible power of technology, that can turn a vehicle into a store accelerating sales for not just fuel, but groceries, snacks, food & beverage. Imagine the possibilities!
Albert Einstein once said, "Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Mental availability fits that bill. It may not be the only metric that matters, but it’s far too important not to be a key part of your marketing dashboard.
Aditya Kilpady is regional strategy director with UM APAC based in Singapore. The opinions expressed are the author’s personal views.