Chris White and Marcus Hickman
The mental availability of B2B brands in buyers’ minds is critical to drive business growth. Understanding how your B2B brand relates to the needs and context of buyers compared to your competitors is vital and enables you to select the right marketing and communication strategies.
Mental availability is a trending concept, but few companies fully embrace it within their marketing and comms strategies. Even fewer think about it for B2B marketing. Many see mental availability as a brand awareness measure that can be solved by high reach advertising. This is wide of the mark. Mental availability considers the probability a customer will think of a particular brand in a buying situation. To use this concept effectively you need to understand how brands are retrieved from a buyer’s mind, and that remains true not just for B2C marketing but also for B2B marketing.
What is mental availability?
A good starting point from which to understand brand retrieval is to appreciate that consumers, and business buyers, really don’t think about your brand very often. As Byron Sharpe establishes in How Brands Grow points out, consumers tend to think about brands when they want to use or buy a product or service in the category. With this point in mind, marketeers need to know how easily accessible or mentally available brands are to the customer at buying cues.
These buying cues come from a combination of contexts and needs that people have for a category. In fast food, consumer contexts include time of day, who is with the consumer and where the consumer is. Needs range from the functional, social, emotional or life-changing events. The diagram below sets out some buying cues in the consumer fast food category.
Mental availability and buying cues in B2B marketing
Just like with B2C, we need to think about buying cues in terms of contexts and needs in order to build mental availability in B2B marketing. The buying B2B context is the businesses’ current environment, situation and who is involved in procurement. The B2B need for the product or service is the reason for the procurement. B2B marketeers need to build linkages and pathways in the minds of buyers to their brand. Here are some examples for the B2B technology sector:
- Your CEO has learnt from an industry benchmarking report that their customer service costs could be 30% higher than the main competitor (context). They want to improve performance by procuring a new digital AI driven CX platform (need)
- The annual business planning meeting in November invites different parts of the organisation to suggest areas for investment (context). The CRM software is underperforming, creating extra work and confusion for colleagues. The ROI of a new CRM platform will persuade the finance team to spend (need)
- New internal audit results create a heightened focus around regulatory compliance (context). The industry regulator requires the company to keep recordings of all customer transactions in a secure solution that is ISO 27001 approved (need)
If you are a software brand you will want to understand the cues, including any linkages and pathways, which connect these potential buyers’ contexts and needs to your brand. This will help you to co-ordinate the content and channels of your marcomms.
The following diagram summarises the buying cues for B2B technology.
Personal buyer contexts and needs are important in B2B marketing
Just as with B2C, B2B marketing should consider the contexts and needs of the individual buyer or procurement person or team. When building mental availability it can be critical to understand both business and personal contexts and needs that can steer decisions. For example, think of the following:
- The employer is very risk averse and the procurement team has a detailed RFI process (context). However, to be more competitive you need a fast decision (need)
- The working environment is very competitive, and it is difficult to get promoted (context). Following an average 360 performance review, the executive is looking to impress colleagues with a good procurement decision (need)
- The director favours an existing supplier, they have had a close relationship over many years (context). However, the core team prefers a new supplier and needs to overcome the prejudices of the director (need)
How do buying cues impact B2B marketing success?
Once you have established the buying cues in the market (be they from personal or business context and needs), you can start to see how your brand is thought of in the market. Using an implicit research methodology we can ask key buyers in the market which brands are more available in their minds than others across the range of key buying cues. This will enable us to answer key questions such as:
- Which brands are likely to be included when B2B buyers draw up a potential list of suitable suppliers?
- Are you looking at more personal needs and the contexts of the buyers (most sellers focus on buyers’ business needs)?
- Are your marketing cues, linkages and pathways reaching new buyers?
The beauty of this methodology is that the results are very actionable. For example, if you find you are low in two of three key buying cues you can inform your marcomms plan accordingly to meet these deficits. For example, if the research showed that you are not associated with personal cues around speed or status you may want to ensure your communications strategy helps build these entry points.
Depending on your brand maturity, size and market share ambition, you can use a mental availability framework to help decide how to shape your marketing campaigns e.g. advertising, events, content, sponsorship, digital reach, etc.
How do we assess mental availability in B2B marketing?
We have developed a four-step process to assess mental availability in business marketing as outlined below:
We work in partnership with clients using our unique methodology to test the important buying cues in category. Then we identify which brands potential buyers retrieve from the linkages and pathways they have prioritised to differing cues. Previous work with buyers has found that many consumer brands, whilst enjoying high awareness per se, don’t regularly come to mind in key category cues.
Finally, from the data findings we understand how the brand is deficient in building mental awareness and we make evidence-based marketing communication recommendations including operational and strategic changes. Often the data will confirm hunches that the marketing and communications teams have had about perceptions of the brand. Importantly it gives credence and evidence for future investment decisions.
In addition, we run the implicit test year on year, track market penetration and check the results against business performance. For more information, please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris White – headed up the insight department of PHD Media. Specialises in media and communications decision making.
Marcus Hickman – in 2007 set up Davies Hickman Partners a data and insights market research consultancy having previously worked with WPP. Expert in B2B market research.
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