Boosting Your Bottom Line with Brand Salience

In today‘s crowded marketplace, standing out is harder than ever. Consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages per day and have more choices in every product category imaginable. To cut through the noise, it‘s not enough to just build brand awareness – you need to create brand salience.

What is Brand Salience?

Brand salience refers to the ability of your brand to come to consumers‘ minds quickly and easily in purchasing situations. As branding experts Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp define it in their book How Brands Grow, brand salience is a brand‘s "propensity to be noticed or come to mind in buying situations."

While brand awareness is about whether consumers have heard of you, brand salience is about being thought of in the right moments. For example, consumers might be aware that Pepsi exists, but when they‘re thirsty and looking to buy a soft drink, "Coke" is the first brand that pops into their heads.

Brand salience has three core components:

  1. Distinctiveness – Having unique, memorable brand assets (logo, colors, tagline, etc.) that distinguish you from competitors
  2. Relevance – Being strongly linked to a specific product category and consumer need
  3. Accessibility – Easily coming to consumers‘ minds when they are ready to buy

Highly salient brands tend to dominate their categories. Think of Band-Aid (bandages), Kleenex (tissue), or Google (online search). Their salience is so strong that their brand names have become synonymous with the generic product.

Why Brand Salience Matters

The impact of brand salience on your business performance is dramatic. A study by Kantar Millward Brown across 2,400 brands found that those with higher salience grew market share an average of 6.3% per year, compared to an average of 1% growth for lower-salience brands.

Salience Level Average Market Share Growth
High 6.3%
Medium 2.2%
Low 1.0%

Source: Kantar Millward Brown

Other benefits of strong brand salience include:

  • Increased sales revenue and volume
  • Ability to command premium pricing
  • Higher customer loyalty and retention rates
  • Faster and more successful new product launches

According to a Nielsen study, on average, 59% of consumers prefer to purchase new products from brands they recognize, demonstrating brand salience‘s role in supporting growth.

Examples abound of how brand salience translates to business success:

  • Starbucks has maintained an approximate 40% share of the U.S. coffee shop market
  • Heinz accounts for about 60% of the $2B+ ketchup market
  • 60% of smartphone users have an iPhone, leading Apple‘s $200B in annual revenues

The bottom line is this – if your brand is the first one consumers think of and seek out when they‘re ready to make a purchase, you have a huge competitive advantage.

How to Build Brand Salience

Building brand salience takes time and consistency, but is achievable with a systematic approach. Here‘s a step-by-step framework:

  1. Develop distinctive brand assets. Your brand‘s logo, color palette, typography, tagline, packaging, etc. should be unique and consistently used across all consumer touchpoints. For example, McDonald‘s golden arches logo and "I‘m Lovin‘ It" jingle are instantly recognizable around the world.

  2. Link your brand to consumer needs. Your brand communications should explicitly link your brand to the needs consumers have in your category. For example, Snickers‘ ads with the line "You‘re not you when you‘re hungry" directly tie the candy bar to satisfying hunger.

  3. Be present at key purchasing moments. Maximize your brand‘s visibility – both physical and mental – when consumers are actively shopping in your category. This could include prominent shelf placement, memorable point-of-purchase displays, or ads on relevant search terms.

  4. Create salience-building content. Develop communications that reinforce your brand‘s distinctive assets and link to consumer needs. Aim for consistency in your message across channels. For example, Red Bull‘s high-energy, adventurous advertising aligns with its tagline "Red Bull gives you wings."

  5. Refresh and repeat. Keep your brand assets current and relevant by making gradual updates over time. And continue investing in salience-building activities consistently – high salience is typically the result of regular efforts sustained over years. Coca-Cola has maintained its salience by evolving its logo and ads since the 1800s while keeping its core brand idea of "refreshment" and red color scheme.

Measuring Brand Salience

To track progress in building brand salience and identify areas for improvement, regular measurement is essential. Key methods include:

  • Brand tracking surveys. Ask representative consumers questions like "When you think of [category], which brands come to mind first?" and track metrics like top-of-mind brand awareness over time.

  • Mental availability studies. Measure how many consumers link your brand to different category entry points (usage occasions, emotional benefits, key product attributes, etc.).

  • In-context research. Survey consumers at or near the point of purchase to understand which brands are top-of-mind in actual buying situations.

  • Neuroscience methods. Techniques like EEG and eye tracking provide insight into consumers‘ unconscious responses to your brand assets, which can indicate salience.

To gauge whether your brand salience is "good," compare your metrics to competitors and category benchmarks. Highly salient brands are typically:

Metric Benchmark
First brand mentioned in category 25%+ of consumers
Named as a top 3 brand in category 50%+
Associated with 3+ category entry points 70%+
Selected in an unprimed buying situation 2-3x more often than competitors

Source: Kantar, McKinsey

Future of Brand Salience

As consumer habits and the marketing landscape evolve, brand salience strategies must adapt as well. Some key trends to watch:

  • New technologies like voice assistants and AR are changing how consumers search for and discover products. Brands need to build salience outside of traditional shelf-based retailers.

  • Media fragmentation makes it harder to reach consumers consistently. Brands must orchestrate communications and experiences across more diverse touchpoints.

  • Shorter attention spans make it even more critical to invest in brief yet memorable and emotional brand assets that can create salience quickly.

  • Increased personalization will be needed to tailor salience-building to different consumer needs and mindsets. AI can help optimize which brand assets are shown to each individual.

The most successful brands of tomorrow will likely be those that find ways to build and activate salience across the entire ecosystem a consumer encounters throughout their buying journey. By strategically designing assets and experiences that adapt across physical and digital contexts, these brands will achieve the holy grail of feeling both personally relevant and universally known.

Driving Growth with Brand Salience

Brand salience may seem like an abstract concept, but its impact on business results is clear and measurable. Kantar found that moving up by just one point in their Brand Power Index (a composite of salience metrics) results in a 5% growth in brand value.

For marketers and executives, focusing on brand salience needs to be a key priority, not an afterthought. In crowded categories, your sales depend on it. Even a 1% shift in salience can swing millions in revenue.

Start by benchmarking your brand salience, setting specific objectives, and ensuring your full organization is aligned around your brand identity and assets. Then consistently execute a focused salience-building plan across touchpoints, while regularly measuring results.

The world‘s most valuable brands – from Apple to Nike to Coca-Cola – provide a roadmap. By following the principles of distinctiveness, relevance, and mental availability, these brands have achieved enduring salience… and growth. Now it‘s your turn.