Increasing Penetration is all about mental and physical availability

Welcome central summary blog post in my series dispelling marketing myths.

Throughout this series, I have identified a number of marketing myths, using data primarily from Byron Sharp’s publications and recent Asian research to show why these myths are false. This post will act as a summary emphasising that to grow businesses and brand owners need to understand the importance of mental and physical availability, and tie together everything we’ve learned so far.

Up until now, we’ve presented a lot of brand growth as a series of myth busting “don’ts”:

  • don’t build a strategy chiefly around customer loyalty,
  • don’t focus on heavy buyers,
  • don’t aim for differentiation,

But what should you do to grow your brand?  The key to brand success is growing both mental and physical availability growing penetration, or customers as a result.

Mental and Physical availability

In other words: are customers thinking of your brand when they need something from your category and are they able to access it when they’re thinking of it? Brands largely compete not in terms of differentiation or even product offering, but in terms of mental and physical availability. When a brand is strong in those two regards, more people remember it, and can more easily buy it in more situations.

Let me ask you a question- you are flying from Singapore to Bangkok- which Airline would you fly.

You’d immediately think through Airlines- Thai Airways, SIA, AirAsia etc. OK, now what’s your view of Singapore Airlines or Thai?  Pretty much everyone will have a view. Whether they have flown on these airlines or not there will be a view. If they haven’t flown SIA, that view is made up of SIA advertising, friends comments about the airline, reading the press reading review etc. A disconnected series of impressions about SIA that’s already in the mind of consumers. So the role of  SIA is the influence those thoughts, to CREATE AN EXPECTATION in the minds of consumers. If this expectation is positive then you have a bias towards travelling SIA.  Being available in consumers’ minds and to create a positive expectation encourages customers to select SIA when they wish to fly to Bangkok.

We can use the following diagram to map this relationship.

les marketing 1


So with SIA, what do we mean by mental availability? SIA’s mental availability, or brand salience, refers to the probability of a consumer noticing, recognising, and thinking of SIA  when they are planning a trip to say Bangkok. This is critically different from brand awareness, which is simply a link to the name and to the product category. Mental availability extends beyond just awareness: it is built upo on the quality and quantity of a consumer’s mental structures- saw advert and liked it, had neighbour why flew and was positive, saw magazine report on SIA new planes to Bangkok, saw online advert for special price on SIA etc. How well-defined those mental structures are, and how many of them there are result in the level of Mental availability you have for SIA.

A brand can achieve greater mental availability than its competitors if it’s easier to access in consumer memory in more buying situations and for more consumers. If more people think of SIA when thinking of flying, or travel, or holidays then its has greater mental availability. Brands can create and build their mental availability by developing a number of different memory links in buyers’ minds via distinctive and clear communication. Maintaining customer share of mind depends on consistent and quality advertising: deployment of the same distinctive assets is what will help your brand win in the marketplace again and again overtime.

To break it down a little further, here are five actions your brand can take to increase its mental availability, and we will discuss this further in the next post:

  1. Create distinctive assets
  2. Get noticed
  3. Continuously reach potential buyers
  4. Refresh brand-linked memories
  5. Be consistent


Now that we better understand mental availability, what is physical availability and how does it impact your sales?

Once you have mental availability- have created an expectation in a consumers mind – the next step to growth is to actually get consumers to select or buy what you have on offer. How you do this is to be available… and then to deliver an experience to your consumer.

les marketing 1

Your brand’s physical availability refers to the breadth and depth of your distribution in time and space. So how much product you’re supplying in different areas at different times; how in stock are you in relevant packs and sizes.  But is also refers to making sure a consumer makes a purchase decision, actually buys, by providing a trigger to a decision.

Businesses and Brands must understand how they can get their product physically in front of their consumer wherever they are,  when they want it. This is a problem businesses have been trying to solve for a long time.

All brands struggle with optimizing the way in which they supply their products or services. This is no easy feat to overcome. In fact, this is our first marketing myth: though brands may claim to have achieved 100% availability, no brand has actually accomplished this yet. But, the following three measures can help your brand move towards that, and we’l discuss availability in two weeks:

  1. Supply all desired pack types and sizes and keep stock levels high
  2. Be visible
  3. Expand into new geographical locations
  4. Deliver the expectation as an experience


In order to better understand mental and physical availability, we must also take a quick look at the consumer. From a psychological perspective, how does the modern consumer shop?

Do they optimize their preferences or satisfy them?

If a consumer were to optimize their preferences, they would search through an entire set of options until they were absolutely certain their specific preference had been met. For example, an optimizing consumer might scan a restaurant menu from start to finish multiple times, until they can be certain they’ve chosen a dish they will love.

A satisfying consumer, on the other hand, might begin searching through a set of options but stop once they’ve come across a preference that meets their immediate needs. In a restaurant, the satisfying consumer might browse through the first three options on the menu, realize they would enjoy the steak frites enough, and then order that.

Knowing whether your consumer is an optimizer or a satisfier has critical implications beyond the restaurant industry, as you can take a very different branding approach for either. And this is linked to Kahneman’s System 1 or System 2 thinking

So when your consumer selects a brand, typically it isn’t because the brand is different a logical reason to buy, but because an emotional response has been triggered. They’ve browsed a few options and will impulsively go with the one that elicited some sort of internal response, because its distinctive and relevant to them

Enter our last marketing myth: it is widely believed that consumers search for an exact preference match to meet their needs.  They try to get as much information as possible and go through an extensive investigation phase to identify just the right fit.

As it turns out, consumers tend to satisfy their needs instead. In other words, they settle for “good enough”. This is, indeed, a necessary way for them to cope in today’s busy world. They have more options available than ever before, are bombarded with more advertisements than in the past, and the competitive landscape is simply more crowded.

So what does this mean for your brand? Well, this behaviour helps explain why customers buy into a brand in the first place. It isn’t because the brand is differentiated or has particularly innovative products, but because an emotional response has been triggered, leading them to settle for that “good enough” brand that is available and priced right. They’ve browsed a few options and will impulsively go with the one that elicited some sort of internal response.

In this sense, then, we’ve arrived back at mental and physical availability. First, brands need to be physically available, to even be part of the initial mix a consumer browses through. At the same time, brands need to create associations, to refresh salience, and build new memories to be the brand consumers stop at.

In the last two posts, I’ll go in detail how you can take these ideas and create a marketing and sales plan to implement this.