Why TOM Awareness is NOT Absolutely Pointless Measure

Why TOM Awareness is NOT Absolutely Pointless Measure

The article is written by

S M Didarul Hasan

Deputy General Manager, Marketing at Ispahani Tea Limited & an MBA graduate from University of Exeter, United Kingdom.

Being passionate about marketing and a big fan of brand marketing theories, I continuously read and update my knowledge in this domain. Whatever new and nouveau is there in the marketing world, I actively look for those. And when there is an opportunity, I utilize those theories in real-life practice; I experiment and learn. While building brands, I believe in the theories that advocate for managing brand salience and building brand awareness as the key point. Brand salience is something that works with or the degree to which a brand is thought about or noticed while consumers/shoppers are in a buying situation. Can the consumers relate or recollect any brand identity cues in the moment of truths? In the FMCG or consumer packaged-goods market, there is a high usage of this along with TOM awareness. Top-Of-Mind (TOM) awareness is not the same as brand salience. TOM is what comes to our mind when we recall something in a product category. For example, thinking of ‘ATM’ we think of Dutch-Bangla Bank; when we think of ‘SME loan’ that prompts BRAC BANK; and when we think of ‘motorcycle’ it is HONDA.

Similarly, brand associations are formed over the period, and consumers can promptly relate and recall without any aid, which is known as brand ‘positioning’. However, while TOM is an important measure, the brand salience is more important because if shoppers cannot recall or link any memory structure in the ‘moment of buying truth’ the brand will miss the ‘sales’. Who does dare to disregard that ‘sales’ is the single most important factor in the short-run as well as in the long-run?

As I said earlier, TOM is significantly important. Like many eminent marketing scholars, Professor Byron Sharp and Emma MacDonald study (2003) advocated the role of brand awareness while Rossiter and Percy (1987) also argued that brand awareness has two roles: brand recognition and brand recall. To readers who do not know Professor Byron Sharp, Professor Byron is a pioneer in evidence-based marketing, and he is also mostly talked about marketing thinkers now who consecutively challenged hundreds of American marketing books, researchers, and universities for spreading wrong assumptions and old knowledge. However, to validate, I can talk about a few reasons why brand awareness measures are valuable.

One reason is, the consumer-packaged-goods market all over Bangladesh or in the world is competitive. Hundreds of international, multinational, or local brands wait for any left-over opportunities, niche spots, and any amount of scopes. Companies are vigilant to spot ‘blank’ spots, need-solutions gap, value-action gaps, and to fill up those with the right offerings. The other reason is, some of the commodities like salt, sugar, tea, powder milk, biscuits, rice markets are bigger; at the same time, similar offerings are aplenty. So, companies try to be on top of awareness, try to trigger need-based moments of consumption. As these products are mostly generic, brands try to sell the value of ‘positively good’ aspects of their products which was also suggested by David Ogilvy in his classic book ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’. To add a few more examples, brands that fight in the home care, beauty care, or personal care categories compete wildly to be on the top.

Because being top on the top echelon of consumers mind is not only essential but also advantageous to manage brands holistically. Companies like P&G, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser understand those, and they developed a focused and specialized system of managing brands, maintaining all those measures with due importance. No surprise that human beings are careful and meticulous about their personal grooming and/or home care. So, brands are to sell benefits and add value to them, and the communications help to convey these values that brands are adding up to their life. Now, when it comes to taking the top spots, the smarter brands always try to take the TOM awareness spot. If it is not possible, they try to be in the second or third position. Else, they act smart and try to create a sub-category, a niche or selective specialization to attract attention, consideration, and subsequent sales. So, to conclude here, it can be argued that awareness generation through mass communications has got its merit in the consumer-packaged goods sector while other correlated factors like wider distribution, effective trade marketing, and product development are in no way unimportant or negligible. Rather, those are equally important or significant as well. A combination of short-run sales activations and brand building helps long-run sales growth (Binet and Field, 2013) which I shall write in another article later. However, my intention is to write something more here. I had an intelligent debate with a world-renowned marketer on LinkedIn a few months back. Let me share it.

The reason why I am writing this piece is that one of my LinkedIn networks and who I am a big fan of, #Joah_Santos (the founder of Nylon and who also led Dove’s POV ideation and campaigns for years, now is the CMO of BERA brand management software, a New York-based predictive brandtech which uses artificial intelligence to track, measure and maximize brand performance) had written his points of view on TOM awareness measuring. I disagreed, and we had an intelligent argument over it. Here are his opinions and the rest was my reply.

“Joah Santos: Still measuring Top-Of-Mind, it is not how humans make decisions. Over and over, I see TOM (Top of Mind), Brand Fame, Notoriety, or whatever you like to call it as a key measure of success. It is not how we make buying decisions.

People make decisions based on needs.

I’m looking for a luxury sedan. If I have children and I am worried about their safety, maybe Volvo is what is top of mind for me. Volvo Cars have invested a lot in making us believe they are the safest cars. I’m sure many of you think Safe Car = Volvo. (next video I’ll show why you believe this, even if they are not in the top 30 safest cars for 2019) If I am looking to show off a bit and gain statues, maybe Mercedes is what comes to mind. If you ask 10000 people to name a Luxury Sedan brand, a majority will say Mercedes-Benz USA. MB is Top of Mind, but that does not correlate with their intent to purchase a Mercedes.

It is an absolutely pointless measure.

Measure the top of mind (brand fame) of a specific need state instead; example: What luxury sedan represents safety (Volvo), which gives you the most statues (Jaguar), which makes you feel accomplished (Mercedes). All of you might have different answers but the point is, people care about fulfilling their needs, not TOM.”

Then I wrote, “Disagree Sir!” I did not expect Mr. Joah to reply promptly. He had written back, “Example in your business. I want tea to relax or tea as a treat… They might not be the same brand that are TOM for that need state. If they are the same brand then typically it is because it has a huge heritage that no one has been able to supersede yet or a cultural thing, like everyone drinks tea to relax, as a social ritual of that culture. If you still disagree, I’d love to hear why. “

Then I had decided to write back what I really believe in, what I experienced in the other sectors and industries. Here is copied from there:

I disagree with your statement of “It is an absolutely pointless measure.” TOM awareness is not absolutely pointless. Reasons are aplenty. Let me explain a few:

When a consumer considers buying something, he/she is automatically in need of something. Any state of felt deprivation is needed; this is the fundamental assumption. You are mentioning tea here, for example. If the consumer goes to a retail chain, e.g., Tesco. He/she will be exposed to 10 other tea brands; the same for coffee and CPGs. Now, what will he/she buy? Based on their needs, they will consider a brand only if they have a ‘predisposition’ or liking for a particular brand. Otherwise, they will end up buying an unsought good/commodity. Which I assume that you also think is not the ideal case nowadays. Consumers will buy brands only if it is in their considerations set.

Moving on with the same examples. These mentioned products are a low-involvement category of products where consumers do not think or spend much time. They usually go and pick their intended (TOM or considered) brands. If products are from a high-involvement category like a car, they won’t go and buy in a minute. The buying decisions are entirely complex and slow. They will check back their needs (these are typically higher-order needs), specific benefits (against their wants) and they will consider price against status/safety/accomplishment. Even in this case, they will not go for unknown (Chinese cars/Indian Cars) brands even if that particular brand offers the best feature/benefits against their needs. They must consider the known brands from TOM or Considerations set (the basic frame of mind the consumers’ follow-through is: Awareness>Interest>Considerations>Purchase). Consumers’ purchases must be shaped by the awareness, brand fame, price, offers, and/or any other indispensable attributes they value most. So, for car examples, TOM may not work but awareness must work. That is maybe the essence of TOM measures so that consumers are at least aware of a brand and considers purchasing. If consumers do take the name but do ‘not’ purchase the brand that is not the problem with TOM, rather marketers need to find out what consumers are valuing most? Status/Performance? That is needed to fix.

TOM is not the ‘only’ measure of success. The way you put it here, it sounds like marketers measure success or brand performance by TOM only. In FMCG, marketing managers look at Share Among Handlers (SAH) measures as well to understand how retailers (modern/fragmented) are considering/interested in keeping the brand in their stores. TOM will help to serve both purposes for consumers and retailers. If the consumers look for a brand and retailers do not keep it on shelves, the possibility is there that the retailer will lose a consumer to his competitor who is keeping that brand!

About how humans make decisions. You are promoting POV. So, you know better than all that human minds are wired to emotions/emotional attachments/appeals. Car performance or status must fulfil their emotional needs; not physiological ones. There is no conflict with TOM with needs fulfilment. Even having/keeping the emotional appeals, you can keep buzzing for intended TOM awareness which may be the ideal thing to do — reminding the consumer that a brand is there to meet his ‘expected’ needs.

People make choices based on needs. That’s a fact! How brands shape the needs into wants, that is the call of brand management, ad campaigns, and similar interventions. TOM has no conflict with this either. TOM is about creating and ensuring continuous and consistent noise so that consumers keep this in mind and consider purchasing. If one does not buy any matter, the other two consumers will. TOM awareness is not about performance/conformance/quality/status. This is absolutely a different proposition!

What you are trying to say; Volvo = Safety, MB = Accomplished, Status = Jaguar, these are their brand associations; the law of singularity or their positioning, or their focus or their single-mindedness. This does not have any clash with TOM awareness.

And finally, TOM awareness and market share have a positive correlation. If a brand’s TOM is high, there is evidence that market share is high. In media terms, TOM is converted as Share of Voice (SOV). If the TOM is higher and the market share does not commensurate with the TOM, then excess SOV (Share of Voice) will give certain benefits to brands for sure. A Nielsen study shows when the share of voice exceeds the share of the market; the brands get ‘excess share of voice (ESOV)’. They found an excess share of voice 10 points produces an average of 0.50% extra market share growth. It means that a brand with a market share of 21.50% with an ESOV of 10 points would grow to 22% market share over a year, in an ideal case.

The article is written by S M Didarul Hasan, Deputy General Manager, Marketing at Ispahani Tea Limited and an MBA graduate from University of Exeter, United Kingdom.

Leave a Reply