What Is Mental Availability And Why Does It Matter?

by Jacqui Wallis Illuma

In 2010, Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science at the University of South Australia published a book titled How Brands Grow. The advice he gave to readers?

“Make your brand easier to access in consumer memory in more buying situations and for more consumers.”

Today, almost a decade later, this strategy – known as mental availability – is perhaps more important than ever.

Today’s consumers are faced with more choice than ever. For example, a search on a leading online grocery store for “toothpaste” yields 95 products from 17 brands!

Furthermore, there is little differentiation between these products. A quick poll of some of my friends revealed that, on average, they could name five toothpaste brands – this is brand awareness, not mental availability.

So What’s The Difference?

Mental availability extends beyond brand awareness – it depends on the quality and quantity of a consumers mental picture of your brand. It boils down to: are customers thinking about your brand and can they access it either physically or online. When a brand is mentally available it’s easier for consumers to engage and for them to find you in more situations. This is known as physical availability.

Physical availability is the breadth and depth of your distribution in time and space or – in online terms – the ability to find your brand across multiple devices and channels 24/7, as easily as possible.

How To Increase Mental Availability

In order to implement a strategic approach to improving mental availability brands need to think about how their prospects and customers shop.

Typically, consumers will go through three phases: research, refine, and select. Either despite or as a result of this emphasis on research, consumers today will often settle for good enough rather than perfect. This means you have more opportunities to sell your product compared to if you had to rely on always being a perfect match for any given consumers’ choice.

This is where brand loyalty comes in. Your products don’t have to be perfect but if a consumer can remember and access your brand, they will become repeat customers.

There are five things you can do to increase mental availability:

  1. Create distinctive assets
  2. Get noticed
  3. Continually reach potential buyers
  4. Refresh brand-linked memories
  5. Be consistent

This should be part of an ongoing marketing strategy and will need refining. Keep in mind that today’s consumers are fickle and they want what they want, when they want it. Therefore, it is important to keep making new memories to maintain consumers’ mental availability to access your brand – otherwise, someone else will take your place.

What Next?

As is the case with most concepts within digital marketing, nothing works within a vacuum or is the be-all-or-end-all to fix your marketing strategy. Each concept, tip, or trick has to be implemented in conjunction with a fully-formed strategy or other approaches that fit conceptually with what you are trying to achieve.

In order to reduce reliance on compiling and retaining consumer data in order to reach those likely to affiliate with your brand, optimising your brand’s mental availability alongside targeting audience mindset adds a new dimension to your marketing.

We covered the benefits of audience mindset in a previous article. But in essence, it’s a no-brainer that reaching a person when they are in the right frame of mind to engage with your brand is, arguably, the best way to cut through the digital noise that bombards consumers every day. Combined with an optimised mental and physical availability, you are sure to foster a level of brand awareness and loyalty that will win and retain customers.