Branding - every marketer and business owner knows it’s important. But it can seem like a vague or abstract concept sometimes. Why does it matter, and what about it is so vital?
Brand salience is one of the most critical components of a strong brand. It means that your business is top of mind when people are in buying situations - the ultimate test of your company’s brand.
But brand salience isn’t always as well-known or understood as it should be. That’s why this guide will cover everything you need to know about brand salience - what it is, why it matters, how to measure it, and how to build brand salience for your own company.
The typical brand salience definition is the degree that your customers think of or notice your brand when making a purchase.
What does brand salience mean, in the real world? It means that you have a strong brand image and presence that comes to mind easily when people need to buy something.
For example, when you have a cold and need to buy tissues, you probably put “Kleenex” on your shopping list - that’s strong brand salience right there. You likely didn’t even notice doing it because the connection between the product and the brand is so strong.
If your brand salience is high, people will recognize or think about your brand when they need to buy something - you’re top of mind. And that recognition means they’re more likely to choose your brand over others.
If you have low brand salience, on the other hand, consumers might not know your brand even exists or makes the products they need. And so they’re unlikely to end up purchasing from you.
Let’s say that your bookstore sells specialty coffee, but you haven’t made much progress in getting the word out about that in your community. The average person in your town who has a coffee craving is much more likely to think of Starbucks than your bookstore, and thus more likely to head there even though you offer a higher-quality product.
Brand salience is especially important in today’s world. Your customers are busy people with lots on their minds - they don’t have time to scour reviews and do sophisticated price comparisons every time they need to make a purchase decision. And there are so many products on the market these days, making those decisions is even harder.
Brand salience is a little mental shortcut that helps consumers pick out one option they feel confident buying when faced with too many choices. It’s a method of differentiation - they get what they need fast and have confidence in the result.
That Starbucks buyer mentioned above doesn’t want to pour through a list of options on a sleep-deprived day - she wants coffee she knows is reliably good, and brand salience offers her a way to make that choice fast.
There are two main factors that influence brand salience. Both factors are tied to memory structures in the brain that help your buyers make that short hop from thinking of your brand to making a purchase at the moment of decision. The more memory structures your brand is linked to, the more salient your brand is - and the more likely it is to arise during a buying situation.
If your brand is linked to a lot of memory structures in the brand, it will be more salient to your audience, and so more likely to be top-of-mind while making a purchase.
For that Starbucks buyer, she’s seen a lot of Starbucks stores and ads over the past decade, and so she has a large quantity of memory structures linked to that brand. All those mentions in tv shows, stops she’s made there over the years, and pictures of red holiday cups on Instagram have reinforced the brand salience of Starbucks in her brain.
The other factor in brand salience is the quality of memory structures in the brain. If a brand is highly relevant to you, or recommended by someone you deeply trust, that will often create a high-quality memory structure in your mind that increases brand salience.
For example, if you love South Indian food but it’s very difficult to find in your neighborhood, you’ll remember it strongly when you read an article about a new South Indian restaurant opening a few blocks away. That’s a high-quality memory structure created by that increased brand awareness.
Brand salience and brand awareness are often confused. But they have important differences, though they’re related concepts.
On the other hand, brand salience is focused on measuring awareness during the actual purchasing decision. It’s a critical piece of the larger brand awareness journey.
You want customers to think of your brand often so they recognize it and are aware of it - that’s the purpose of marketing and brand awareness campaigns.
But customers typically don’t see those ads when they’re about to make a purchase, like when they drive by a billboard or see a tv ad. Those ads increase brand awareness generally, and reinforce positive brand associations and familiarity.
Brand salience, however, is focused on that critical purchase moment. That’s why Google search ads work so well, because the customer is often conducting a search to make a purchase at that moment. The ad reminds them of your company and products when it matters.
You need both brand awareness and brand salience to succeed - but they come into play at different points in the customer journey.
How is brand salience measured? There’s unfortunately no one mathematical metric that can accomplish this - brand salience is pretty conceptual in nature.
The best way to measure it is through surveys and focus groups, asking your customers directly when they think of your brand, what they associate with it, and if they recall your company when making a purchase.
Surveys are helpful because you can ask a wide range of people questions to determine where your brand salience currently stands. You can ask your current or prospective customers whether they recall or notice your brand in relation to your competitors.
You should also ask whether customers think your brand is merely recognized or highly sought after, to determine how favorably they think of your brand.
And you can present your survey respondents with a randomized list of attributes and cues to ask them which brands come to mind with each statement. For the bookstore trying to sell more coffee, the statements could be something like:
This will help you measure how high your brand salience is compared to your competitors. Looking for inspiration for your brand salience survey? Try tweaking some of the questions in the SurveyMonkey brand awareness survey template to be relevant to the purchase decision moment.
In focus groups, you can ask many of the same questions as you would in a survey. But they also offer a chance to dive in deeper into the responses you receive. You can ask participants why they feel a certain way about your brand, or dig into their feelings about your competitors.
Surveys and focus groups should ideally be used together. With a survey, you can reach a much larger number of people, and with focus groups, you can get deeper answers to your questions.
The minds of your customers have a lot going on - they only have so much room. And they’re certainly being bombarded with other marketing and branding campaigns all day long.
So in this crowded environment, how can you help your brand to stick out and stick in the minds of customers during the most critical moments? Here are the seven top ways to increase brand salience.
Branding is not just about rationality - it’s about creating an emotional connection with the customer that makes them want to purchase from your business. Leaning into emotive storytelling can help engage your audience, increase your brand equity, and gain customer loyalty.
We’ve all had an experience where a story in an ad deeply connected with us - maybe it made you cry, or remember a beloved childhood pet, or create a nostalgic feeling for an old home. Those stories stick with us, and are more likely to come to mind during the purchase decision.
While these emotional stories can be valuable, they can also become repetitive within an industry if too many competitors try to use the same narrative. Ensuring that your brand story has a different emotional impact from your close competitors means your brand will actually stand out.
Your content and the stories you tell should be uniquely yours. And your brand design assets need to be individual to your business as well. Remember, you don’t just want customers to remember the story you told - they also need to be able to pick out your specific brand from the rest in order to build brand salience.
Customers see a lot of slick, expensive marketing every day. To stand out and stick in your customers’ minds, your branding needs to be authentic as well. Being real with your customers shows confidence and even courage - and that’s memorable.
Authenticity can be demonstrated in the customer stories you share in your email campaigns, the behind-the-scenes peeks on your Instagram stories, or the language you use at in-person events being casual instead of formal. At heart, it’s committing to what makes your company different and sharing that with the world.
To be authentic, show customers what drives your company. Demonstrating your authenticity builds trust and connection with your customers - they’re a savvy bunch, and can tell when your words don’t match your company’s actions.
There’s a lot of competition out there these days, and many businesses are fighting over the same small pool of customers. Instead of joining that battle, you should also be trying to find ways to reach new customers.
You should make this attempt both digitally and in person. It’s helpful to go back and revisit channels that didn’t work for you in the past, and see if things have changed or a new strategy could make a difference. It’s also good to check in with new channels, especially on social media platforms. Who knows - maybe TikTok can help your brand find potential buyers you weren’t reaching before.
Sometimes it requires a bold risk to get noticed and remembered, especially for new companies in a crowded market. Don’t be afraid to try something new and create a signal that cuts through all the noise of your competitors.
Controversy for the sake of controversy can always backfire, but taking smart risks to innovate can pay off big time. These risks can be small - perhaps you devote time to creating highly polished videos as brand assets, or start a podcast on the state of your industry, or invest in your social media presence. Innovation needs to start somewhere, after all.
Those memory structures mentioned above are strengthened every time a customer sees or hears something from your brand - but only if that visual or tone is consistent. Otherwise, you’re diluting that message and potentially confusing your customers.
Each time your brand is in front of customers, the design assets should look the same and the tone should be the same as well. Creating a brand feel that is unmistakably yours helps increase brand awareness faster. Think of Coca-Cola and those red letters in script - they instantly bring the drink to mind. That’s what your brand needs to do, and you’ll do it by maintaining consistency.
Brand salience is an ever-evolving game, and you can’t rest on your laurels once you’ve achieved it. Think of Polaroid, which was once so ubiquitous its name came to mean taking a picture, and is no longer a market force.
Testing often is the key to keeping your brand salience high even as the market and competitors change. You need to be testing every angle of your marketing and promotions regularly, because your competition certainly is.
Testing allows you to see what’s working and what isn’t in real-time, so you can make adjustments before it becomes a problem. Continuing to survey customers and conduct focus groups at regular intervals will allow you to gauge your salience and track your progress over time.
Having high brand salience makes your company’s growth faster and more profitable - you’ll win customers over more easily and with less marketing spend. But getting to that point isn’t easy. You need to know what your current and potential customers think about your brand, your products, and your competitors as well.
With SurveyMonkey Audience, you can set up and send a brand salience survey to exactly the right people. You can assess where your brand currently stands and track your progress over time to ensure you’re improving and staying relevant. Check out our solutions today and get started right away.
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