Do You Need To Rethink Your Competitive Edge?

In recent years a better understanding of how the mind, and in particular the memory, works has enabled marketing science to evolve considerably, particularly in understanding why people choose one brand over another or one business over another.

For the last several decades business management thinking, business texts and many academics have centered on developing a sustainable competitive advantage, a point of difference from the competition for your business that is sustainable.

Although this strategy has been pivotal to success for many businesses in the past, with the ever increasing rate of change businesses face in the present business climate, and the ever increasing number of businesses (and therefore brands) the question must be asked “is this still the case today?”

Can business growth or simply maintenance of market share still be achieved through the development of a sustainable competitive advantage? The answer is a resounding NO!

There is no doubt that most businesses have a point of difference from their competitors, but it is usually not sustainable, and not significant enough to be persuasive in the buying decision. In today’s market consumers see brands and businesses as “look-a-likes”. The reality is that in today’s world there is absolutely nothing, except your brand, that a competitor cannot copy sooner or later, including staff, who they will simply poach if they have to.

To consumers in your market, every brand is simply a look alike because consumers see very little difference in brands (businesses) that are in the same product or service category, be it fast moving consumer goods such as coffee, soap powder, spring water, canned foods etc., durable goods such as cars or audiovisual equipment, or services such as real estate agents, trade contractors, hairdressers, insurance companies or accountants.

This of course begs the question “how can my brand (my businesses’ name) be used to gain a competitive edge?”

It’s all to do with what is happening in the long-term memory of the consumer during the buying decision. If your brand comes to mind first during the buying decision then chances are that the consumer will buy your brand.

Ah yes, I hear you say, this is simply the old “top of mind brand awareness”, and to a point it is, but brand salience is much more than this. But let’s focus on top of mind brand awareness for a moment.

Let’s say I’m in the market to purchase a new car and the most important “attribute” (feature if you like) to me in the buying decision is safety. What brand of car do you think would most likely come to mind straight away? Volvo of course.

But whilst excellent safety features is an important attribute that I want in my new car, it is not the only one that I will consider in the buying decision, and besides, aren’t all cars now built to minimum safety requirements? I know the new Mitsubishi Lancer for example has eight air bags and other excellent safety features that compare very favourably with Volvo.

Further to this, the proportion of the market who would consider just one attribute such as safety features is very small (say 5%), so focusing marketing tactics on just one attribute means that the brand is essentially only remembered (in the buying decision) by 5% of the market. Volvo has, of course, now realised this and their advertising promotes several attributes over the cyclical period of their promotional activities.

So most people, like me, will consider other attributes of a new car during the buying decision along with safety (and many will not consider safety is important at all). These might include nice styling, a good sound system, good fuel economy, engine size, handling characteristics, a GPS system as standard, rear DVD screens etc.

As I consider all of the attributes that are important to me, only one or two brands will dominate my thoughts and they will be the ones that have been relentlessly promoting these attributes (that are important to me) over a period of time prior to my purchasing decision. So chances are it will be one of these brands that I will ultimately purchase.

So, this being the case how can you ensure that your brand is one of those that I will think of during the buying decision? Simply by developing a higher “brand salience” than the competition.

The tendency of a brand to be thought of in a buying situation is known as “brand salience”. Brand salience is “the propensity for a brand to be noticed and/or thought of in buying situations” and the higher the brand salience the higher it’s market penetration and therefore its market share. Salience refers not to what consumers think about brands but to which ones they think about.

Brands which come to mind on an unaided basis are likely to be the brands in a consumer’s consideration set and thus have a higher probability of being purchased. Advertising weight and brand salience are cues to consumers indicating which brands are popular, and consumers have a tendency to buy popular brands. Also, an increase in the salience of one brand can actually inhibit recall of other brands, including brands that otherwise would be candidates for purchase.

It is widely acknowledged that buyer’s do not see their brand as being any different from other brands that are available. They buy a particular brand because they are more aware of it, not because it is more distinctive, or has a point of difference. We now know that all decisions made by humans involve memory processes to a greater or lesser extent. Incoming information from the external environment travels by the sensory memory into the short-term (or working) memory (STM) but if it is not acted upon in a very short time the brain simply discards it.

But salient information that is important and received on a regular basis through different channels is passed to the long-term memory (LTM) where it can be stored for many years. Memories are stored or filed via connections between new and existing memories in the different parts of the memory. They are laid down in a framework making some memories easier to access than others. Recall is the process by which an individual reconstructs the stimulus itself from memory, removed from the physicality’s of that reality.

Hence, cues such as product attributes aid in the recall of brands stored within it. Ever been listening to the radio and a favourite song you haven’t heard for years comes on taking you back to a different place and time? I bet you heard it many times over at that time. Same thing, its lodged in your long term memory!!

The more attributes your brand has in the mind of the consumer the greater the number of brand recall triggers there are and the more likely it is that your brand will be thought of in the buying decision. But how do you know what attributes are important to your target market, and once you know this how do you develop the right marketing mix to ensure the maximum number of recall triggers in the collective minds of the target market?

It’s simple, you use a “Customer Value Survey” to discover these attributes, and then design a marketing mix to build your brand salience within your target market. This is cutting edge marketing science that will get you more clients and keep your business flourishing, it is innovative marketing for innovative businesses.

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