As professionals operating in STEM, we appreciate the value of science. And new marketing principles based on scientific analysis are worth paying attention to, particularly when they concern brand and business growth.
The learned folk at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, South Australia, and The B2B Institute experts Ty Heath, Jon Lombardo, and Peter Weinberg excel at throwing out the rule book. Indeed, Lombardo and Weinberg proudly label themselves ‘contrarians’. Why? Because these iconoclasts have challenged the ‘impressions and untested assumptions’ of marketing to create and champion new marketing laws: laws based on science.
Using many market data sets over decades, the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute (hereafter, EBI) has developed evidence-based predictive rules for foundational marketing elements such as brand, growth, and advertising. And a lot more besides.
A is for Availability
Let’s face it; nobody wants to buy from a brand they’ve never heard of, so brand awareness is naturally every marketer’s top objective. As Weinberg notes, everything is harder to achieve without brand awareness: lead generation, clicks, event registration, and conversions.
So how do brands increase awareness?
According to Professor Bryon Sharp, Director of the EBI, brand growth results from a refined and singular principle: availability. But what does this mean?
The concept of availability splits into two main areas: physical and mental. Let’s deal with physical availability first:
- Physical availability is how easy a brand is to buy. Physical availability covers distribution, procurement, shop floor displays, event booths, and connectivity between buyers and sellers.
- An example of physical availability is having B2B company representatives available to customers on LinkedIn (mental availability is running a paid LinkedIn ad campaign alongside) (The Scientific Laws of Growth in Marketing, 2022).
Mental availability is a more complicated concept.
Contrary to what many marketers believe, customers buy the product they know. Weinberg notes that customer loyalty is a misnomer and what’s understood as customer loyalty is just habit. In real terms, it is the brand that comes to mind that gets purchased.
Mental availability occurs because of memory structures that prime the consumer to want to buy that brand. In his book How Brands Grow, Professor Byron Sharp writes in much more detail about availability (please find time to read this; it is illuminating).
- Mental availability goes deeper than awareness; it operates at conscious and unconscious levels to promote strong associations influencing future sales in various buying situations.
- Brands with high mental availability come to mind more easily in buying situations, making people more likely to buy.
Advertising should be constant and consistent.
Research from How Brands Grow shows that regular advertising supports brand growth. Sharp states that millions of dollars are wasted each year in creating bursts of advertising which dissipate into long periods of advertising silence. Evidence shows that big and small brands suffer brand decay over time from this stop-start strategy. Sharp suggests that a steady flow of branded advertising messages over time mitigates this decline and strengthens mental availability.
This is the reason why Coke and Apple constantly advertise even though we all know who they are.
To build brand memories, it follows that all advertising must include distinctive elements, such as colours, logos, and taglines. Clear and unambiguous branding, invested in over a long time, (think L’Oreal’s, ‘Because you’re worth it’) helps brands stand out and be recalled easier.
Advertising Using the 95:5 Rule
Customers are the cornerstone of any business, and customer buying habits are the subject of one of the EBI’s most illuminating pieces of research, that of the 95:5 law. (Countering Binet and Field’s previous 60:40 rule)
The 95:5 rule states that 95% of B2B customers are not in the market for your services right now and only 5% are looking to buy at any given time. Given the lengthy time lapses between purchases, this tenet makes sense to any B2B marketer (The Scientific Laws of Growth in Marketing, 2022).
Dealing with the phenomenon of in- and out-market customers means radically altering the traditional sales funnel to communicate with all customers, even those not buying today (or anytime soon), as Heath (2022) graphically demonstrates.
Using the availability laws, Heath sums up the different tactical and strategic advertising approaches for in and out-market customers:
For in-market buyers (5%):
- Rational messaging, like communicating expertise and product focus.
- Narrower targeting aimed at customers buying right now.
- Measure success using sales metrics, such as ROI.
For out-of-market buyers (95%):
- Emotional messaging to create situational awareness scenarios.
- Broader targeting aimed at future buyers.
- Measure success using fame metrics, such as recall and salience.
With most companies basing their finances on 25% of current cash flows, and 75% on future cash flows, the benefit of marketing to the 95% is to protect future cash flow. The 95:5 law is finance- and customer-centric.
Be a Contrarian Creative
To grow, we must advertise. Consistently. But also, well.
It is a hard truth, but most B2B businesses are not known for their creativity. In fact, according to the System1 scoring index, ‘a B2B ad is 154 times more likely to score 1 star than 4-5 stars’.
Producing mediocre advertising is a B2B problem and one that Weinberg and Lombardo attribute to ‘product delusion’ – the misplaced belief that buyers always choose the best product, and brands grow by communicating the superiority of their product. Leading B2B marketers to over-rely on product features in their creative as a result.
But product-centric advertising does little for the 95% of out-market customers. You’re not striving for clicks with that 95%; it’s all about memorability and mental availability to ‘ensure the brand is top of mind when the buyer eventually comes to market’.
Research shows that attention-grabbing and even likeable ads are ‘effective because they better encode an association in a buyer’s memory’. So, choose creativity to build brand recall and salience. In other words, be more contrarian!
This is a big topic, so here are a few ideas:
- Make it easy for more customers to buy in more situations.
- ‘Creative’ advertising will establish a competitive advantage, particularly in B2B.
- Always use distinctive brand assets: fonts, images, logos, and colours.
- Continuous advertising builds memory structures to refresh, reinforce, and remind.
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