Why Does Mental Availability Matter for Sustainable Brand Growth?

The idea of “mental availability”, now a critical factor in determining the success of a brand, was first introduced by Byron Sharp, a marketing expert, and the Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia.

Sharp outlined this concept in his book How Brands Grow, published in 2010. In this book, he proposed that consumers are more likely to make a purchase when a product is both physically present and readily on their minds.

According to research, 95% of a business’s potential customer base isn’t currently looking to buy their services. In fact, only 5% of B2B buyers are actively seeking to make a purchase at any given moment. Trying to convince people to buy sooner when they don’t need it yet usually doesn’t work, because they already have what they need, and they’re not planning to change it anytime soon.

If a business or a brand wants people to remember them when they eventually are in the market for their services, they need to invest in building mental availability.

What Is The “Mental Availability” of A Brand?

“A brand’s mental availability refers to the probability that a buyer will notice, recognise and/or think of a brand in buying situations. It depends on the quality and quantity of memory structures related to the brand.” – Byron Sharp

Having a high mental availability therefore means that a brand is easily remembered and is the go-to choice when potential customers consider purchasing certain services. Too many businesses tend to focus on the present and don’t realise that just because people might not be interested in their services right now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.

That’s why it’s so important to consistently build brand recognition and a positive impression to increase the likelihood that when customers do need that business’s services down the road, they will remember them and consider their business.

Mental Availability Is Not Awareness

When Sharp first introduced “mental availability,” he was addressing an issue with our typical understanding of “brand awareness.” He argued that brand awareness is flawed because it relies on a single, general cue – often the product category name – without considering specific situations.

To illustrate this difference, let’s take the popular Coca-Cola example. It’s one thing for people to easily recall the name “Coca-Cola” when asked to name a soda brand (that’s awareness) but it’s a whole different level of success when people naturally think of Coca-Cola as their go-to drink when they’re thirsty on a scorching summer day – and that’s what Sharp means by availability.

The key takeaway here is that context is everything when it comes to awareness. It’s not enough for people to simply connect your brand with its category when they’re asked about it, even if yours is the first brand that pops into their heads. What you really want is to be the brand that they remember and pick when it matters most – in other words, during those relevant moments when they are making buying decisions.

Taking Advantage of Category Entry Points (CEPs)

People don’t typically think of a brand out of nowhere. Brand thoughts usually need to be triggered by either a signal or a cue (like in the example above). When you’re trying to “win” a buyer’s mind, your goal is to find out which cues make them connect your brand with something. The stronger this connection is, the faster your brand will pop into their head, and the more likely they’ll choose you. These cues that trigger thoughts about your brand are what we call Category Entry Points or CEPs.

What Types of CEPs Can Be Identified?

We’ve already established that CEPs are moments when something enters a person’s consciousness and triggers their recollection of a specific category – CEPs are the triggers that engage our senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell.

In the context of B2B brand marketing, the focus is on the first two senses, which are sight and sound. So, we are mainly concerned with how visual and auditory stimuli affect buyers’ perceptions and memories.

WHY you are buying: This narrows down a buyer’s top-of-mind considerations to the specific purpose they have in mind for a purchase – their motivation behind the buying decision.

WHEN you are buying: This primarily pertains to the timing of a purchase, which can be influenced by factors such as seasonality, time of day, or even the day of the week.

WHERE you are buying: The physical environment where a purchase occurs can provide cues that influence your decisions, such as banners, signs or announcements within the retail space.

WITH WHOM you are buying: The presence and preferences of other people, especially in a business partnership context, can significantly impact purchasing choices. Collaborative decisions often stem from the needs and wants of those involved.

WITH WHAT you are buying: Purchasing decisions frequently involve considering how one product or service complements or interacts with another. Businesses are particularly concerned with ensuring that their acquisitions work well together.

These 5 types of category entry points help us understand the various factors that can influence and shape consumer and business purchasing decisions. When you recognise and leverage these entry points effectively, you can enhance your brand’s ability to stay top-of-mind and relevant in your target markets.

Using The 3 Cs to Decide Which Buying Situations Matter Most

The 3 Cs approach involves making choices that guide your resources and efforts toward situations where your brand has the best chance for success.

Credible: Do people trust your brand, product, and/or service in a particular buying situation? You need to assess how your offering is perceived in that context. A higher level of credibility would, of course, suggest a stronger position for your brand in that scenario.

Competitive: How many other companies or competitors are vying for attention within the same buying scenario? A situation with a lot of competitors can be more challenging to succeed in, whereas one with fewer competitors may offer better opportunities.

Common: How often do people engage in the specific buying scenario in question? More common situations are often more valuable as they present more opportunities for your brand to connect with potential buyers.

The Bottom Line – CEPs Help You Win The Mind To Win The Market

CEPs are great tools that you, as a B2B marketer, can use to get inside the minds of buyers and essentially guide their choices. When you pinpoint those key moments when your brand can enter their consciousness, you can strategically position your brand to win not just a place in the buyer’s mind but also a strong position in the market.