When it comes to branding, there’s a certain level of je ne sais quoi that top companies ooze from their pores.
Netflix, Facebook, Starbucks, Pepsi, Google. No matter where in the world you are, you instantly recognize them. And upon further inspection, it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of history and strategy behind it.
This kind of brand recognition makes these companies among the most powerful in the world. It goes beyond familiarity. It’s salience. But what, exactly, does that term entail? And what can you do to measure and increase your own?
Brand salience refers to when a business has become so popular, it’s the first thing people think about when they need such goods or services. For example, when you want to research something online, you google it.
This, despite the fact that there are plenty of other search engines — Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, Ecosia, among others. But Google has become so salient, the term is now used as a verb, synonymous with looking up something.
What’s even more brilliant about brand salience is that people think of it when they’re ready to make a purchase decision. Tired while driving to work? You likely immediately think of going through the drive thru at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or McDonald’s for some coffee (depending on your geographical location, you may go to Wawa; but you know what I mean).
It’s automatic. I need coffee. Starbucks. My cell phone broke. Good thing the new iPhone is out. You already know the solution to your pain points.
This one’s pretty obvious. If the first business people think of when they need what you have to sell is yours, you have won Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. But let’s break down how this works:
Keeps You Top of Mind
While it’s certainly wonderful for your target audience to find you when they do a search for what you have to offer, brand salience means that you don’t have to fight to be among your top competitors. You’re no longer one of many suggested options. You are the answer that pops into their head as soon as they need your product.
And you don’t have to be a world-renowned brand for this to happen. It’s profitable enough to be that person within your niche, industry, or location.
Associate Emotions With Your Brand
What do you feel when you think of Nike? Whether it’s good or bad, it’s there, it’s real, and it’s strong. If it’s a positive feeling, then perfect. You’re their target market. If it’s a negative one, it doesn’t really matter to them, because they’re selling to others.
Makes You Stand Out
Brand salience doesn’t just happen to random companies. It’s a fact of their existence for a reason: They could provide superior products, an extraordinary customer experience, or be brilliant at marketing.
Any way you look at it, they’re doing something better than their competitors. Whichever one of these reasons, they’re enough to cause people to choose the salient brand over other companies who offer a comparable product.
Makes You Instantly Recognizable
Brand salience is the result of several elements added together: A distinct brand identity, superior products and/or customer experience, strategic marketing, consistency, and word of mouth.
A salient brand is so ubiquitous, you instantly recognize it: You don’t have to be able to read a sign to know what golden arches mean. Twitter doesn’t even have to spell out their name. Neither does Mercedes.
Increases Impulse Purchases
There are several actions that trigger impulse buying: discounts, Black Friday sales, limited editions, and emotional appeal, for example.
If a no name leggings brand at Target slashes their price by 20 percent, you may not care about it and walk right by them. But if Alo Yoga does it, you know those things are gonna sell out fast.
To know how salient your brand is, you’re going to have to ask a lot of questions. Conduct polls on social media and/or send customer surveys to focus groups and ask about their awareness of your brand:
- How did they find out about you?
- How often do they think of your brand vs. competitors when needing to make a purchase?
- How do they feel when they think about your brand?
- How often do they come across your brand?
- Which brands do they associate with certain statements?
- When you think of XYZ products, which brands come to mind?
- When was the last time you used this brand?
- Where have you seen or heard about our brand recently?
- How many of their friends and family know about the brand?
- How often do they talk about the brand?
- How often has the brand been suggested to them?
- How often have they suggested the brand to others?
- What has been your experience with the brand?
While you can use check boxes, it’s a lot more effective to ask in an open-ended format. This way, you can see what’s in their mind without being prompted — and thus a better way to get more accurate information.
There are several things you can incorporate into your marketing strategies to increase your business’ brand salience.
You can no longer just sell a product or service. Your actions have to align with your messaging. This means being transparent with your stances: In today’s age, people are pretty familiar with a company’s core beliefs and values.
When you’re honest about them, take a stand on important issues, and own up to your mistakes, you’re also building up your brand’s trustworthiness.
Create Emotional Connections.
As a species, humans love to connect. Yes, even introverts who prefer to be hermits in their own homes (no shame. That really is so appealing). We connect through texting, social media, and reading books and/or watching shows we can relate to.
And businesses that are able to tug at those heartstrings have a much better chance of becoming more recognizable. When doing this, however, always do so authentically. Tell stories you believe in. Always be honest about why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Take Bold Risks.
Playing it safe is so 1952. It also makes sure that you’re forgettable.
Look at all the brands that have taken significant risks in recent years and how well it’s paid off: Dove, with their True Beauty campaign. Nike, with their social justice stances. TOMS, with their buy one, give one promise, which was later replaced with giving a third of their net profits to charity.
All of these examples would’ve likely made entrepreneurs of the past cringe; yet it’s taken these brands to higher levels of brand salience.
Cast a Wider Net.
While it may be effective to advertise in industry publications, diversifying your content portfolio can pay huge dividends: It’s why book publishers sell actual books, digital versions for electronic readers, and audiobooks.
They’re all getting consumed by the author’s target market, but the different mediums allow for versatility. Readers can get immersed in a story while sitting in a comfy armchair — or while cleaning their house, exercising, or driving. The “I don’t have time to read” excuse goes out the window.
Being ubiquitous makes it a lot easier for you to remain top of mind. And by repurposing existing content, you can cover many of these bases (writing a blog and turning it into an infographic, a podcast discussion, or a YouTube commentary, etc.)
Regularly Monitor What Works.
You’ll need software for this. Track analytics to see how many website visitors you’re getting, how many people are opening your marketing emails, clicking on those calls to action, downloading your free content, engaging with you on social media.
The only way to track progress is to measure it, so this step is essential.
Keep Your Target Market Informed.
Transparency is crucial. Letting people know upfront what to expect (prices, timelines, new editions, fixing blunders) fosters trust and brand loyalty. This also makes you look authentic rather than ultra-polished and unrelatable.
No matter what form of marketing you prefer, you have to be consistent. And this includes everything: Publishing content regularly (pick a timeframe: daily, weekly, twice a week). Do it frequently.
This can be blog posts, social media statuses, YouTube videos, podcasts. Let people know when you publish and keep that promise. Out of sight means out of mind – and there will always be competitors who are willing to be as visible as possible.
Netflix started by mailing out DVDs. You made your queue online, and depending on the tier of your membership, you could get one, two, or three of them sent to you at the same time. When you returned them, you’d get the next ones.
Imagine the state of their business if they still ran it using the same model. Streaming movies; then also streaming shows. Suggesting content based on what you typically watch. Creating original series.
They’re the gift that keeps on giving — and that’s what keeps people interested and keeps them relevant in the age of Hulu, Disney+, Peacock, and whatever else is out there for people who are over cable TV.
In a nutshell, achieving brand salience is no small task. And once you reach it, you still have to be strategic and intentional about it so that you can continue to evolve with the times. But hey, it’s still the epitome of success — and it will certainly bring in more customers organically.