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Opinion: How to Build Mental Availability for Your Brand

Richard Colwell, CEO of Red C Research writes about the importance of Category Entrance Points (CEPs) when it comes to building mental availability for your brand.

For every brand to grow, it is vital that it increases mental availability among the wider market.  Mental availability, as defined in Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow”, encompasses the shortcuts that help consumers to choose brands, in that it refers to the probability that a buyer will notice, recognize and/or think of a brand in buying situations.  That is more than just brand awareness or fame, it’s actually coming to mind at the moments that matter (category entry points CEPs) and being easily chosen when the brand does come to mind.

In very basic terms, the purpose of CEPs is to grow the number of buying occasions that your brand / service comes into the mind of consumers (mental availability).  The more occasions that your brand/service might come to mind, the higher the probability that on one of those occasions, your brand will be really considered and ultimately bought.

After a successful year of working with several brands on how to understand and focus on CEPs, we have been able to answer some of the questions regularly posed.

How do you find relevant Category Entry Points for a brand?

As researchers, we believe there is great value is asking people!  We use a curated workshop process, including staff and end users, to develop an exhaustive lists of possible entry points.  It’s vital to get views from all different types of people, not just those close to the brand, and also important to bring people along the journey of what CEP are so that they really start to think outside the box.  Once in the process we have found people are able to generate large numbers of CEP’s for any brand without too much difficulty, with some categories we have worked with uncovering more than 150 CEP’s in this initial process.

The trick then is to filter these down to the most relevant.  Frequency is a clear indicator here – there is no point in a brand focusing its attention on a CEP that doesn’t occur very often. It’s  much better to target entry points that occur more regularly.  Initially we filter down to a more manageable number quite easily by reviewing the broad initial trawl between ourselves and the client, down to a more manageable 50-75 top CEPs.

These 50-75 are then measured among a robust random sample of the target market, in order to provide confidence and clear guidance on the ones that really matter.

Do category entry points matter for every category?

An often-made assumption is that the work of Ehrenberg Bass around mental availability and distinctive brand assets is really most applicable to FMCG brands, and not really applicable for service or B2B brands.  That is certainly not what their evidence suggests, and in our experience the benefits of understanding category entry points are significant for every brand, no matter what category they are in.

Having now conducted CEP analysis for a number of brands, spanning FMCG brands, B2B brands, a National Lottery service, and a Media brand we have found the analysis and outcomes to be valuable in all cases.

To make sure entry points analysis provides real value, we look at relevance in two ways, frequency of occurrence and also the likelihood for any brand in the category to be mentioned for that entry point.  This allows us to build a relevance index that considers the category we are interested in.

We also look at the opportunity quotient for each entry point.  By measuring the brands permission to play in that entry point, we can look at the gap between current association and permission to provide “easy wins” for the brand to focus on.  This identifies entry points which are relevant, where the brand doesn’t currently have strong associations, but has permission to do so.

What can a brand do with CEPs once they are defined?

As CEPs are all the key purchasing occasions for your brand or category, you can start to weave these into your marketing communications and create content which features these. The more you feature these, the greater the likelihood that consumers will start to associate your brand with this buying occasion and then build this into their mental availability.   Entry points don’t need to stand alone but can be grouped together to provide a clear creative positioning, and while the focus might start with some entry points it can change as the brand grows.

When we filter down category entry points to the top 10-20 for any category/brand we tend to classify these into three key groups.

Keep & Maintain: These are CEPs that the brand already has strong association with across the full target market, and most likely where the brand currently gets any mental availability. They are key for the brand to protect and maintain, through marketing and comms.

Keep & Grow: These tend to be CEPs where current users think of the brand, but maybe others do not. By finding these we can identify what entry points brought the brand to mind among customers, and push these links further across mass market.

Get & Grow: These CEPs are opportunities for the brand where it doesn’t currently have any real association. They present new opportunities either for new marketing campaigns to create brand linkages with the entry point, or for new product or service development with the entry point space.

Identifying key entry points in this way allows the brand to build on brand positioning and messaging that will ultimately drive mental availability at the moments that are important for brand linkage.  They should and can underpin advertising creative, direct sales messaging, brand positioning and product development.

Can we use CEP with segments?

Obviously, the theory suggests that you are better off targeting advertising to the mass market, so it makes sense to look at mental availability and CEP’s from an overall point of view.

Having said that it is possible to analyse CEPs by different target groups.  In our analysis, we have looked at those CEPs that are most relevant to the “long tail” of consumers for a brand or service, in other words those that are light, lapsed or non-users, vs. current users.  This allows you to identify key CEPs where you can focus on driving mental availability among non-users.

In the same way it is also possible to look at CEPs by your segments in order to build this into any targeted communications, building targeted messaging around entry points that are most relevant for each segment.

In summary, our work in defining key CEPs over the past years has shown just how valuable this understanding can be for brands.  If we believe the theory that brands grow due to a combination of Mental and Physical Availability, then it is vital to truly understand what the opportunities for building mental availability are.   The output from CEP analysis can feed into all aspects of product and marketing, providing clear understanding to aid strategic planning, creative platforms and ultimately brand growth.

 Richard Colwell is CEO of Red C Research