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How brands can grab more Headspace with consumers and become stickier in the years ahead

By Nick Ward | Head of Planning



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January 26, 2017 | 5 min read

Choices bombard us every day. Which coffee to drink? Which film to watch? Which recipe to cook tonight? So, when it comes to brands, wherever possible we shop on autopilot, avoiding the effort of conscious thought to make our lives as easy as possible. This tends to mean that becoming stickier in people’s minds is increasingly difficult for brands.

Consumers usually shop intuitively to address a specific need or situation, e.g. the tea brands that spring to mind for a health-conscious friend’s visit could be quite different to the teas you would buy to impress the in-laws. We don’t need to generate a long list in our minds; we just jump straight to what we know is relevant, sometimes well in advance of actually making a purchase. Trying to be the default choice against every occasion and need is almost impossible. However, there are ways to pilot the autopilot.

The IPA has proven that brands should aim for fame in their advertising, combining stand-out creativity, emotional resonance and salient branding. However, recent thinking from Professors Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk explores some of the more deep-rooted, underlying ways that brands get stuck in people’s heads. Their popular concept of ‘mental availability’ suggests that if you can identify the right memory structures for your brand, and then build them with your audience, your brand should come to mind more easily – it becomes ‘stickier’.


Betfair has successfully used Cubo's Headspace approach make its brand stickier

To better understand this, the team at Cubo recently pioneered Headspace – a research tool that applies the latest marketing science to capture a complete picture of how brands reside in the mind. Surveying 2000 consumers across four categories, we discovered which mental cues brands should tap into to steal headspace. Focusing purely on tracking brand attributes (e.g. being seen as ‘fresh’, ‘trusted’ or ‘modern’) is less useful than many marketers believe, as it misrepresents how our minds evaluate brand options. Instead, we use Headspace to more broadly explore all of the situations and needs that bring a category to mind in the first place, as these cues can potentially be used to evoke brands.

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Marketers are unlikely to be surprised by the reasons why the average consumer uses their category. For instance, in the black tea sector, people drink for a range of functional reasons, such as wanting something to drink with breakfast, or to warm themselves up. And then there are also more emotionally-involved reasons, like relaxing for some ‘me-time’, making visitors feel welcome, or rewarding yourself after a task. Across all of the sectors that Headspace surveyed, what did surprise us was just how poorly linked most brands were with these kinds of very predictable reasons. This highlighted a major opportunity for marketing teams that are prepared to apply this theory creatively.

Once brands understand their most relevant cues in people’s minds, they can begin to harness them through consistent communications, to grow more effectively. Headspace provides a new way of benchmarking current performance, but also a framework to make better informed decisions about the creative direction of future campaigns. All brands, including the leaders, could be using their marketing to better influence brand engagement and get stickier in peoples’ minds.

To grow their Headspace, brands should deliver big creative campaign ideas that chase fame while strategically targeting the right mental cues. Ask yourself:

• Why does the average buyer need/use your category?

• What are the common cues that buyers use to think of it and retrieve brands?

• Which of these cues have your campaigns refreshed recently?

• How can you weave your chosen cues into an advertising idea so it is conveyed clearly, without affecting the potential for fame or creativity?

• Does the benchmarking of your brand direct your advertising creative strategies?

Brands now have the tools to identify where the opportunities for greater stickiness lie. The challenge will be whether marketers are brave enough to adjust their creative to target the right cue for their brand, for long enough to resonate with consumers.

Nick Ward is head of planning at creative agency Cubo and works with brands that include Absolut, Bio-Oil, Chivas, De Montfort University, Brompton and The English Provender Company among others.

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