Memories are inherently situational.
What do we mean by this? Well, memory can be thought of in two stages: how we build it, and how we recall it. Simply put, situation prevails over both. The situation we are in when we experience something new largely influences the memory we form of it, and down the line, being triggered by that same situation highly boosts the probability of recalling that memory.
This link between situation and memory is so powerful that something as simple as learning information under water means that you are reliably more likely to recall that information when under water again.
This fascinating phenomenon was proven out in a classic study of divers, where researchers asked participating divers to memorize a list of words in one of two contexts: either on land, or under water. After the words were memorized, the researchers asked half of the divers to recall the words in their original context, and asked the other half to recall the words in a context different to where their learning took place. The researchers found that the words learned underwater were best recalled underwater and vice versa.
So what does this mean for marketers?
Here at the B2B Institute, we like to say that the brand that’s remembered is the brand that’s bought. Given that situation heavily influences memory, marketers ought to have a better understanding of situational awareness. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re seeing in the industry today.
Brand awareness is out – situational awareness is in.
Success in brand marketing today is typically measured by how often a customer remembers a brand when prompted. This metric rarely correlates with purchasing behaviour for one simple reason: there is no awareness independent of situations.
Just like memories are situational, brand memories are situational too. Phil Barden, author of Decoded, found this in an experiment where he asked participants to name ice cream brands. The result was that situation largely influenced which brand came to mind:
It’s not about whether prospective customers know your brand. What matters is whether prospective customers think of your brand when it’s time to buy.
Build Your Situational Awareness By Growing Your Share Of Mind
In order to boost the chances that your brand easily comes to mind when buyers enter a buying situation – also known as boosting your brand’s mental availability – you must increase the number of situations your brand is linked to in the minds of current and future buyers.
In other words, you must grow your share of mind.
Share of mind can be illustrated as a funnel, and is best understood by first looking at what it is not.
At the bottom of the funnel, we can see that share of mind is not awareness. This is unfortunately where most marketers live. In the coffee category, a market researcher focused on brand awareness might ask, “how many coffee brands can you name?”
Salience goes one step further: “when you think about the coffee category, which brand comes to mind first?” This question often leads respondents to name the largest competitor in the category (in this case, likely Starbucks). But salience is still not share of mind. Salience is top of mind. Availability is the top of the funnel, and it is the golden ticket.
Availability asks respondents which brands come to mind in certain situations, i.e. “Which coffee brand comes to mind when you’re on your way to work? On the weekends? When you’re catching up with a friend?” Even if Starbucks is the first coffee brand to come to mind, if you think of an at-home brew like Nespresso for weekend use or a local independent café for meeting up with a friend, you are more likely to purchase those brands in those respective buying situations than you are to purchase from Starbucks.
This is because situational cues more closely mirror the fundamental reality of the buyer experience. We don’t evaluate brands in a vacuum – we evaluate them when we’re in a buying situation.
Buying situations are the key to growing your share of mind and mental availability. So how can you bake situational awareness into the center of your marketing strategy?
Step 1: Understand your key buying situations.
Buying situations are known in academia as category entry points (CEPs), since they are the points where buyers enter a category to purchase a new product or service.
The “W’s” offer a great framework for identifying your key category entry points, which can then be distilled to specific buying situations:
Once you know the category entry points that are most common and relevant to your category, you can begin to prioritize the ones where your brand is the most credible, and where there is the least category competition. See our Strategy By Subtraction trend for more.
Step 2: Advertise your key buying situations.
Once you know which buying situations are important to you, tell your customers about them! Invest in campaigns that showcase your core buying situations, and run these ads over time to build situational awareness.
Salesforce does a brilliant job at this in its Trailblazer campaign, where it clearly articulates a series of buying situations that a potential customer may find themselves in – as illustrated below. By using a memorable character like Astro and distinctive brand assets like the blue of its logo, the Trailblazer campaign grabs attention, builds strong memory structures, and ultimately boosts the chance that Salesforce comes to mind when the viewer finds themselves in the situations advertised.
Read our full Salesforce Case Study to find out how their Trailblazer campaign builds situational awareness.
Step 3: Measure your impact.
How well is your brand linking itself to its core buying situations? This is something that can be tracked over time using CEP measurement analyses like the one we offer in our B2B Edge consultation package. Reach out to your LinkedIn Marketing Solutions representative to find out if you may be eligible for this added value program.
To win the market, you first need to win the mind.
Your customers might not be underwater, but they certainly find themselves in buying situations regularly. Make sure that your brand is the one that comes to mind when they do – market share will be yours for the taking.