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How Implicit Brand Equity Drives Market Share

Brand equity is a key success indicator in marketing. Therefore, a critical activity for any marketer is to build brand equity. Because it ensures that your brand can be bought as easily as possible. 

For strong brand-equity, you need two things. (1) physical availability (e.g., where to buy a brand) and (2) mental availability (e.g., what to remember about a brand) to establish the easiest possible buying environment (Sharp, 2010). Achieving physical availability is a question of distribution. But we are “brain guys”, thus this article will focus on measuring and improving mental availability.

As you can see below, the market leader McDonalds dominates the relevant association space (all the associations in yellow) giving the brand great mental availability which makes it easier for consumers to remember when they are hungry to buy.

Read on to learn how you can get a grip on your consumers’ associating brain as well. 

Learn how McDonalds dominates the fast food association "brain"

McDonalds implicit associations in the fast food "brain"
Zoom into the network by clicking the image - McDonalds implicit associations in the fast food "brain"

The importance of mental availability in brand equity

Mental availability is related to consumer’s brand memory and reflects the associative network structure about a given brand. According to Keller (1993), essential elements to create and stabilize the associative network are the establishment of favorable and unique associations (see Figure 1). Specifically, any brand-related experience is stored in (and retrieved from) that network as a remembered value. As an associative learning process, this happens largely automatically on an unconscious level (Plassmann et al., 2012).

Mental availability that is largely subconscious poses a big problem for traditional marketing research approaches. Methods like Likert scale questionnaires or focus groups are insufficiently capable of accurately capturing this stored information (Ariely & Berns, 2010). 

Neuromarketing methods are able to uncover hidden information about consumer psychology that would otherwise remain in the dark. Thus far this meant expensive brain scanners or EEG caps on real people. But since a few years, AI based methods have entered the market that promise a more automated and affordable solution. This article highlights one such method and such methods may very well become a key tool in every marketing professionals “tool-belt”. 

Brand associations model - Keller, Kevin Lane. “Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Managing Customer-Based Brand Equity.”
Click to enlarge - Figure 1. Keller (1993): Dimensions of Brand Knowledge.

Mental availability increases a brand's mind share

Pepsi often beats Coca-Cola in blind taste tests. Pepsi is generally sweeter and people prefer this taste when sampling cola. But the Coca-Cola brand has almost double the market share, triple if you count Coca-Cola light. Why? Because their brand evokes more in the minds of consumers.

McClure et al. (2004) studied this counterintuitive effect when scanning consumers in an fMRI machine and found that that functional preferences (e.g., taste) can be easily overridden by brand associations that trigger brand preferences and affect consumer’s decision making. Thus, brand associations frame the subjective consumption reality and influence consumer’s buying behavior.

Why brands invest in creating (implicit) associations

Click to enlarge

The goal of any marketer should be to improve brand-related association links, so-called brand’s share of mind. In a nutshell, brand mindshare is the (1) quantity and (2) quality of association links to and from a brand in consumer’s memory. 

Mindshare quantity indicates the number of associations, while mindshare quality is related to the strength and relevance of an association. 

The more stronger and relevant an association is linked in consumer’s memory to a brand, the greater the probability that this association will be activated and drive consumer’s behavior in a specific consumption situation (e.g., quick shopping in the next supermarket after work).

Click to enlarge

How McDonalds got its large brand mind share

What can we learn from McDonald’s brand share of mind? Most importantly, the brand has become very valuable. Ranking in the top 10 of the current Best Global Brands by Interbrand (2019), and is thus one of the most valuable brands worldwide (see Figure 2). 

McDonalds share of mind includes associations like “fast food”, “hamburger” and of course the “Big Mac”, McDonald’s top-selling burger. Other brand associations are the Golden Arches of their brand logo and their mascot Ronald McDonald. And who can forget social experiences such as children birthday parties or having a quick burger with friends after a long party night in the morning.

Brand associations are established by personal and non-personal experiences, but above all by being exposed to marketing actions, especially brand communication.

McDonalds 99 billion burgers sold
Click to enlarge

Measuring brand equity with networks of implicit associations

To predict mental availability most accurately, you’d want a methodology which can show you all relevant associations instantly and allow tracking over time. Which is what Neuro Flash has created. A machine learning method, based on Neuromarketing principles which predicts the implicit associations connected to a brand without needing to ask consumers. With this method, brand equity can be predicted by the amount of relevant associations a brand has created.

Fast food market share 2017 in the USA and brand equity associations
Fast food restaurants revenue 2017 in the USA and semantic associations. Sources below

The table above shows the relationship between brands that have created many associations in the consumer’s semantic network surrounding fast food. Brands with more sales are also better connected in the network (see network connectedness as measured by weighted degree).

Market share is connected to higher mental availability

Having more connections between a brand (e.g. McDonald’s) and product topic (e.g. fast food) is and indicator for higher market share. When consumers are in the mood for food, they will more easily think of a brand with more associations and hence be more likely to eat there.

Higher mental availability and ease of purchase are the two keys to a higher market share. This relates to one of the few empirical laws in marketing, double jeopardy, coined by Byron Sharp (Sharp, 2010). In other words, the more paths lead to Rome, the more people will end up at the capital. But how does it “look like” in the consumer’s mind, let’s illustrate.  

Below you see the association network surrounding fast food. There are over 2000 words associated with over 400.000 connections with each other. When fast food is likely to make people think about McDonald’s, both words will be connected by a line. The 5 colors indicate clusters of similar associations. Download the full PDF file here (caution, will take a long time to draw all connections).

Fast food implicit association network in the usa
Click to enlarge - Implicit association network about fast food in the USA.

Market leaders acquire more implicit associations

Mental availability is determined by the quantity and quality of a brand’s associations. Higher brand equity emerges when many relevant connections are present

To visualize the difference between a market leader and a challenger, let’s visualize how many connections various brands have already created in the consumer’s mind and how strong they are. 

McDonalds Brand associations
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McDonalds – The market share leader with over 14,036 locations in the US (2017) shows a strong grip on the associations relevant in the fast food market.

Burger King Brand association network for fast food in the USA
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Burger-King – Closest competitor to McDonald’s with ca. 7,226 locations and has fewer associations than the market leader, but they are still very well connected in the fast food and restaurant foods semantic space.

Wahlburgers Brand association network for fast food in the USA
Click to enlarge

Wahlburgers – A small fast food chain with ca. 20 locations has significantly fewer connections. When you think of fast food and you don’t think of Wahlburgers,  this is why.

Keep in mind that for a challenger, the ease of purchase is also significantly lower. With only around 20 locations in the US, even if you think of them, you won’t be able to eat there easily.

Brand equity tracking of key associations

Tracking of McDonalds, Burger King and Wahlburger Associations
Click to enlarge - Tracking of McDonalds, Burger King and Wahlburger Associations

The association networks provide a snapshot of a brand’s position in the consumer’s mind. Tracking of brand relevant associations enables brand managers to check how effectively marketing campaigns impact the mind share in consumers. 

Above you see the association of three brands with “food”, a key association to have in this space.

The three brands appear quite stable, but Wahlburgers is gaining momentum in the latest period (July 2020).

So what can you do to improve your own brand associations? Creating great marketing and putting it out there! 

Conclusion 1 - why to get into the consumer's head

More associations lead to stronger mental availability and mental availability is strongly related to market share (Sharp, 2010). Because the stronger the brand association network in consumer’s memory is, the greater the probability that the brand will be the chosen and purchased without further deliberate considerations in the buying situation. 

In this article, we have demonstrated how three fast food brands (McDonald’s, Burger King and Wahlburgers) show a clear relationship between mental availability, as measured by acquired associations and market share. The bigger the brand, the more associations they have claimed.

Conclusion 2 - how to get into the consumer's head

By enriching and refreshing the brand association network using brand communication, marketers are able to enhance the number of consumers who think of a certain brand (quantity) and the number of times each potential buyer thinks of that brand as the only purchase option (quality). Indeed, that is the power of neuromarketing-based brand communication. What we recommend to do is:

1.) Know which associations drive market share in your category.

2.) Track the associations your brand has and wants to capture.

3.) Create marketing that targets the relevant associations to increase mental and market share. 

Do you want us to support you in that process? Then schedule a call via this link or send us an email contact@neuro-flash.com

Alternatively, read our case study with Volkswagen to see the neuromarketing ai approach in action, leading to a doubling of brand consideration and up to 417% more engagement. Click here to read the VW case.

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