How to grow your brands- mental availability

In the last few weeks, I have been focusing on dispelling some of the biggest marketing growth myths

  • the myth of focusing on building loyalty
  • the myth of focusing on the heavy buyer
  • the myth of focusing on being different
  • the myth of focusing on the satisfied customer

And have challenged these myths using Byron Sharp and colleagues new research based paradigm.

Now, I’ll describe HOW you can use these insights to grow your brands and your business.

Mental and Physical availability

Simply put… when you look at the data, what works in branding is surprisingly simple – making your brand easy to buy (increasing penetration) – by maximising it’s physical availability and creating an attractive and memorable set of distinctive brand assets-  sensory and semantic cues such as colours, packaging, logo, design, taglines and celebrity endorsements – that make the brand easy to like, memorise and recall at point of purchase.  You create a positive expectation in the minds of consumers and then deliver a positive experience when they select your business or brand.

Thus the secret to growing your brand is to build ‘market-based assets’ and these come in two types – maximised distribution (physical availability) – and clear and distinctive branding using sensory cues (colours, logo, design…) that are easy to remember (“distinctive memory structures”) and recall.  The real challenge of marketing is all about availability – available in the mind and on the shelves.

So how have I considered this approach in a simple model?

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I’ll divide this approach into two posts, the battle increase mental availability amongst customers and the battle to increase physical availability at point of purchase. Admittedly, in a single post this will be a cursory review of what needs to be done and to try to make this more relevant I’ll use an example from my teaching using Oreos startlingly great performance in China, in the last decade, as a means of testing these ideas.  In 2005, the Oreo’s brand was a disaster, as it applied a clearly US product and a US themed marketing approach to a hyper competitive Chinese environment.

les influencing expectations 3

Where can we start?

Let’s think of shoppers going on a journey to buy, where does the journey begin? Typically the consumer decision journey begins with a CATEGORY NEED. I’m hungry, i need food.  But its only 10am and I don’t want to eat too much.  OK, I think I’ll have a sweet snack.

So how can I influence this? What you are trying to do is to build a positive image of your brand in the potential customers mind- create an EXPECTATION.

As mentioned above the critical understanding is to have clear and distinctive branding using appropriate sensory cues (colours, logo, design…) that are easy to remember and recall.

Why did OREO’s fail… because the expectation and the experience were not attuned to China. Oreo’s was a sweet sandwich type cookie (in a market dominated by not sweet wafters), advertised using milk (which was not widely drunk) with kids dunking the biscuit as an icon (irrelevant to consumers). There were some other experience issues we’ll discuss next week.

Let’s use Oreo’s as an example of How we can use these ideas of creating an expectation…

Be CATEGORY RELEVANT. So when it comes to influencing the consumers mental availability, everything you do with regard to awareness building is to associate your brand with a relevant category. Show your brand in a typical category setting or usage setting, so consumers can easily place your brand into a category.

As a Sandwich snack Oreo’s was not an easy fit with the sweet snack category as it was too sweet. So a reformulation to less sweet was a first step for Oreos, it sat more clearly in the Chinese snack category.

Remember  consumers think first about categories, and so not only does the message have to be relevant to a category the media has to be relevant to. Here’s how Sharp summarizes

  • Ensure the brand is easy to buy (communicate how the brand fits with the users life) by being category relevant. OK Oreos changed the flavour


  • Continuously reach all buyers of the category ( reach is composed to both communication and distribution) – avoid being silent. Oreo’s did this by changing their media plan and using a unique icon… later

If you wish to have your brand linked with several categories, then you need to find category relevant messages and media to advertise. Select the most relevant to your consumers first.


How did Oreo’s break through?  Oreos were certainly DIFFERENT from other Chinese snacks- and this shows that difference may not be all its cracked up to be. The key is to ….

Be DISTINCTIVE. As your aim to influence consumers minds, your brand doesn’t need to be different. This is again a marketing fallacy, there are only so many differences a category can have. Logically different and better would seem to win, but the marketing battlefield is littered with different/better brands. What you need to be is distinctive. This means being outstanding, having a special quality, style or attraction. You don’t need to be different, but you do need to be noticed, and noticed more than all the others.  What you do need to be is advertised widely, as you have to attract more light or non-users to your brand, and that can only be done by using mass media. Sharp also focuses two of his 7 Marketing rules here.

  • Create and use distinctive brand assets (use sensory cues to get noticed be remembered and stay top of mind)


Oreos did have a distinctive element, the twist, lick and dunk nature of a sandwich cookie. But the depiction of this was not relevant to China- western kids drinking milk is not part of Chinese snacking category and so this was DIFFERENT but irrelevant

Yao Ming- though was Chinese, a distinctive icon of Chinese success in the USA. And he played basketball… where the dunk.


So this was the concept used the bring dunking of Oreo’s into the Chinese consciousness in a relevant and distinctive way.

He then taught young Chinese how to “dunk” their Oreo’s.


  • Get noticed (grab attention and focus on brand salience to stimulate the shoppers mind)

The use of YaoMing certainly grabbed attention, and the use online developed the thought then the habit of considering dunking Oreos


Be MEMORABLE. As consumers have limited space to remember things, and limited interest in what we have to sell, the critical element identified by Sharps research is to be memorable, and to build on consumers existing memories. In fact, three of his 7 rules of marketing have to do with being remembered

  • Refresh and build memory structures (consistency is a virtue – respect existing associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy and easy to remember)

While Chinese consumers had no memory structure of dunking Oreos as little kids… they clearly knew and admired Yao Ming; and basketball; and him dunking a basketball… and then an Oreo.

  • Be consistent (avoid unnecessary changes, whilst keeping the brands fresh and interesting, aiding memory)

YaoMing was a feature of Oreos China’s strategy for a long time. This consistency created a foundation for sustained success.

And in so doing you create a (positive expectation) in the minds of your potential consumers that draw them to your brand when they are considering purchasing within your category.

So in creating an expectation, Oreo’s China reinvented the US tradition of “twist, lick, dunk” through YaoMing’s basketball to young Chinese consumers. THEN and only then could they reintroduce kids dunking Oreos in milk.


So that’s how you can influence consumers by increasing your mental availability. Next week, how to build physical availability.

If you desire to know more, I’d really suggest you either take my SMU course- Winning Business Performance in Asia or buy Byron Sharps book- How brands Grow Part 1 and Part 2.

Oreo's name and image are trademarks of Mondelez International.