Let’s play a game. I’ll name five categories and you tell me the brand that comes to your mind first upon hearing the category. Game?
Athletic shoes. Cell phone. Beer. Lingerie. Soft drinks.
Chances are you answered the following, in order: Nike, iPhone, Budweiser, Victoria’s Secret, Coke.
There may be some variance in your answers and mine, but these products, in one way or another, always manage to find their names on top of the consumers’ favorites list, just like it did on mine. It’s safe to say these brands have earned their way into our collective “top-of-mind” awareness.
“Top of mind awareness” is a term coined by Ellis Verdi, former president of the National Retail Advertisers Council in the US. He observed that most marketers wrongfully seek to achieve their promotional objectives through discounting, a short term cash flow solution. The problem with discounting, he said, was that it diminishes the value of the product. Unlike discounting, however, top of mind awareness influences consumers to think of your business or product first to fulfill their needs above all others.
Let’s take Coke, for example. In one of the most popular, intriguing, and sometimes, personal product rivalries since product rivalries were documented, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola have both been jockeying for position as the “top-of-mind” product in the carbonated beverage business. The competition is so stiff it was dubbed the “cola wars”. For more than a century the two companies have tried to one-up each other in every marketing “P” there is: product, price, promotion, positioning, packaging, place, and even people.
There will always be people whose top-of-mind product is Pepsi, in the same way that there are those who only think of Coke, but if being top-of-mind translates directly to market share, then Coke is the clear winner here. According to the latest stats, Coke has a market share of around 40%, while Pepsi’s is at 30%.
So what’s Coke’s secret?
First, we should agree that when we buy something, be it a car, a designer bag, pizza, or soda, the decision making process is the same: we choose products based on how high we rank them in our subconscious. Of course, the rankings are affected by many factors (quality, price, etc) and there’s a tiny caveat: being top of mind does not translate to sales, but the higher the brand is up there, the better it is for business.
While the concept is pretty simple to grasp, the journey from being a mere brand to becoming a top-of-mind brand is more of an uphill climb. But if you know how the right approaches, you’ll get to the top and realize the view from there is a lot better. Ask Coke.
Be Different (in a good way)
I remember a line I once told a girl I courted in college. She was quite popular in the campus, and just broke up with an equally popular guy. When it was time to lay my card on the table, I told her, “I am not better. I am not worse. I am just different.” We had a good four-year run before immaturity caught up with us, but I sure had her at “I am just different”.
Just as no guy would tell the object of his affection that he is not good enough or that he’s a total jerk and a klutz, too, no brand would go out and tell people their product is not excellent or the best. No company would dare tell consumers they don’t have the best service. All good marketing hinges on making customers believe that you are selling the best, cheapest, most durable and so on. So yeah, tell them you have the best product, but differentiate your brand from your competitors by focusing on an area that they do not have. Find something in your product that sets it apart from others. Is the price that does not compromise quality? Is it your unique formula/component/ingredient? Is it the great after sales service and customer support? Whatever it is, find it and focus on it.
Coke was not just different. It was the first of its kind, so it had a big lead in the awareness department. Later on, when Pepsi was threatening to catch up, it changed its image. It even created a different bottle – the patented contoured bottle – just so Pepsi will have no choice but stick to the boring plain bottle.
Exposure, exposure, exposure.
It’s a no-brainer. The more often you tell people about something, the more familiar it becomes to them. Genius! I mean, there’s a reason everybody knows who Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga are. Or what an iPhone or Viagra is. Either via good or bad publicity, these brands have been ingrained in the consumers’ subconscious. Sometimes, exposure and repetition function interchangeably. Even psychology says repetition kind of mesmerizes the brain. That’s why the advertising industry is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut – experts know how much product exposure affects people’s buying patterns.
As early as 1900 (Coke was in the market in 1886), Coke had popular musician Hilda Clark endorse the product. Later on, popular baseball players joined the long list of endorsers. By 1906, it signed a 50-year contract with an ad company. Even when Pepsi was just a fledgling company, Coke was already thinking about exposure.
Stay in their consciousness.
Even tougher than getting exposure and getting in people’s consciousness is staying there. See, not everybody who sees your brand today will buy your product now. According to a study, 34% or more than a third of consumers buy a product (a major purchase, such as a car or an expensive appliance) between seven and 12 months from the time they first considered buying it. In this regard, “top of mind” awareness is owning the time between the potential consumer is first considering buying the product up to the moment he or she finally decides to buy it. Sometimes, it really takes some nurturing. How? Once you have identified a prospective consumer, stay in touch, but don’t pester him/her. Be helpful by giving out free information about the product or any way you thing the customer can benefit from.
While this does not hold true for soft drinks, Coke still made conscious efforts to stay in the consumers’ consciousness by making sure the name Coke is heard as often as possible by as many people as possible.
In 1950, Coke rolled out its first TV commercial – several spots during a 30-minute Thanksgiving special.
Three years later, “Coke Time” debuts on both radio and television, and in 1961, it finally appeared in a feature film. Clearly, Coke knew how to turn its product into a household name.
Connect with customers.
“Top of the mind” isn’t reserved to products with a global reach and millions of dollars in advertising budget. Look around you. Surely, there are little home-grown companies that have made an indelible mark on its local customers in a way that makes them top of the mind, albeit locally.
In my city, there’s a couple of Starbucks stores a couple of minutes away from each other. Yes, they’re popular, in the sense that it is “top-of-mind” when my lawyer friend asks where to meet up for coffee. But most of the time, say, when I’m by my lonesome, I go to this quaint local coffee shop that has been around half a century before Starbucks arrived. The reason? It has gained a following from local customers because through the years, it has formed a connection that even Starbucks’ combination of personalized paper cups and Caramel Macchiato cannot replicate. People across all social strata can relate to it because, to a degree, it embodied the characteristics of the people in the community: resilient, humble, laid back. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the coffee costs a fraction of the Starbucks’ cheapest, and tasted great, too. When people can identify with your product, you will be “top-of-mind”.
Perhaps the most telling factor in Coke’s dominance over Pepsi is the fact that it connected better with the consumers.
Photo Credit: PopandRoll
Coke’s marketing campaigns, slogans, and ads had a more human touch – they appealed to the emotion and tugged at the heartstrings. It placed very high value on family and friendships and relationships in general, and it resonated with everybody.
In the end, Coke knew that to be top-of-mind, first, you have to be top-of-heart.