This article explores practical ways that brand owners can increase marketing share and win more sales by increasing brand visibility when people are actively engaging in a market.

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The power of showing up.

We all hate losing. Loss aversion – the cognitive bias that describes why we prefer not to lose than to win – is a potent motivator. With this in mind, perhaps it is surprising that brand owners happily sit by as sale after sale is lost.

How do we let this happen? The answer is mainly down to the oblivious nature of our loss. We simply don’t realise it’s happening because we don’t track it. And yet the statement is true for many brands, products and businesses.

How can we state that assertion with any degree of certainty? It is free and relatively easy to measure how often a brand is visible when people think about the category it plays in. Google is now the barometer for the market, and with brand after brand, using its tools, we see the extent of the opportunity going missing.

Let’s take car insurance as an easy example. When someone wants to get a quote for car insurance, chances are they will start with a Google search. The results dictate which brands have an opportunity to quote. Car insurance brands not found at that moment, miss out.

This analogy is played out daily across products, brands and sectors. As Google’s Messy Middle study has highlighted (here’s our overview of its critical insights), merely being present in moments of deliberation can be enough to win or retain sales.

Most brands are accustomed to using Adwords and SEO (search optimisation) tools, yet there remains a gap between relevant search volumes and brand presence for many. Bridging that gap represents an essential opportunity.

So as brand owners, what can we learn about this, and how can we use the information smartly to take advantage of existing demand?

Share of Search as a proxy for Market Share

Les Binet, head of effectiveness for Adam&EveDDB, has demonstrated a correlation between market share and ‘share of search’ online (see his presentation to the IPA).

Share of search (SOS) represents the number of times a brand is searched for as a percentage of all the brands’ total searches in that category.

Using SOS, marketers can easily benchmark share of market. Indeed, in Mark Ritson’s view “SOS would appear to be a far more universal assessment tool than the amount spent on advertising.” SOS is especially valuable for those in sectors that can’t easily access data on share of voice (SOV) or for whom SOV is no longer relevant (SOV is based on advertising spend in traditional media, which does not include digital advertising or search).

Binet’s work also showed the predictive nature of share of search. In his studies on the automotive, energy, and mobile phone sectors, SOS changes proved to be a lead indicator to changes in market share. “We believe share of search is a useful indicator of latent demand for a brand, perhaps akin to conventional metrics like awareness or consideration. But it gives faster feedback and is free.” He goes on to state that SOS may therefore be a useful metric for evaluating brand-building activity.

This is excellent stuff of course, especially for direct marketers like me. It is also winding up some in the industry who would prefer us to stick with the ‘tried and true’ traditional measures – like Share of Voice.

However, we believe there is an opportunity to take SOS one step beyond, and actively use it to drive increases in sales (and therefore brand share).

For the moment, for want of a better name, we’re calling this Brand Visibility.

Brand Visibility: Being seen when it counts

Visibility is defined as the state of being able to see or to be seen. It follows that Brand Visibility (VB) is about how often a brand can be seen when someone searches on any brand in the category or any relevant keyword phrase that indicates a purchase intent.

So what? What does this add?

The crucial insight here, once again, is in the Messy Middle study. Even an unknown brand can win sales, just by showing up – being visible – when people are considering a purchase. What’s more, an unknown brand powered up to meet our behavioural preferences will win an unfair share of those sales – we’ll return to this one in a later article on brand influence. For now, suffice to say, ‘being there’ is critical to being considered when someone searches – and BV is the measure of performance against this.

Increases in Brand Visibility as a predictor of sales growth

Marketers have used Excess Share of Voice (ESOV) to estimate the required media budget needed to increase market share over the mid-term. It works like this. You currently spend $1m to buy a 10% SOV. Your market share is 5%. By increasing your spend to X, you will lift your SOV to Y. Over the next few years, expect to see an increase in market share of Z.

Mark Ritson points out that this concept will have paid dividends for those who took advantage of competitors pulling spend back in Covid-19 lockdowns. Just sustaining spend will have increased relative SOV. But we digress, back to our story.

Les Binet’s studies demonstrated that in a similar way to ESOV, Excess SOS (ESOS) is a lead indicator for growing market share (sales). In each scenario Binet reviewed, by undertaking brand building activity, SOS increased, followed after a lag by market share growth (the actual time lag was different for each sector).

In the same way that Les Binet’s work has shown a correlation between ESOS and growth in market share, we hypothesise that Excess Brand Visibility (EBV) will work the same way.

The difference is, ESOS requires indirect action through brand-building work. Marketers can directly influence EBV.

The roll for Brand Visibility vs SOS

Brand visibility includes SOS as a measure but is different from SOS, and the role it plays is also different.

SOS is a measure of brand preference. It correlates with market share and is a lead predictor of changes in market share. By investing in your brand, you hope to see SOS increase.

On the other hand, BV is a straightforward measure of how visible a brand is within its category. In this case, the total category search is a proxy for existing demand in the market – people actively searching for brands and products in a category are at or near the top of the purchase funnel.

Demand generation work is about getting more people into the funnel and influences brand SOS. The measurement and use of BV is concerned with demand conversion.

By understanding current BV, brands can set targets and budget for the desired level of growth based on the existing latent demand that sits within the category.

The beauty of using BV in demand conversion is that it takes full advantage of all demand generation activity – including that created by competitors.

Brand Visibility foundations: Practical application

Bigger brains than mine have written extensively on the challenges of defining a category and competitor set for any brand. Mark Ritson’s recent article is a case in point. We are advocating keeping it necessarily simple at the outset.

We use several tools to index BV, including Google Trends, Google’s Keyword Planner, and SEO tools that provide estimates for both paid and organic search volumes, share and click-through rates. Here is the process:

  1. Start with SOS for the relevant geographic location(s). Doing so forces the selection of a competitor set and provides relative market share.
  2. Identify keyword phrases that relate to purchase intent. This is hard, but again, we suggest keeping it simple. Use the main intent-oriented keywords and phrases that define the category.
  3. Based on 1 and 2, summarise the market opportunity in terms of total search.
  4. Index BV against total search volumes at the macro level, plus against individual competitors and search terms at the micro level.
  5. Armed with a BV index score, you will see how much existing demand opportunity you are leaving on the table.
  6. Assess the potential, the cost and the likely returns of increasing BV in these areas.

It will likely cost you much less to convert existing demand in a market than it will to generate new demand.

Clearly, conversion is about many factors beyond visibility – positioning, presentation, product benefits, price and availability to name but a few. But if you are not visible when people interested in the category go looking, you’ve lost already.

Brand Visibility in summary

  • BV provides a measure of how visible a brand is when someone undertakes a purchase intent-oriented search for any brand or product in the category.
  • The total search volume used to inform BV represents the total latent demand in the category.
  • The gap between BV and total search volume represents missed opportunities for demand conversion.
  • We hypothesise that increasing BV by creating EBV will increase sales (and therefore market share).
  • BV has the potential to be directly influenced by the intelligent allocation of budget and resources. This is different from SOS, which is indirectly affected by marketing activity.
  • BV is a demand conversion strategy that benefits from all demand generation in the market – your competitor activity as well as your own.

Don’t leave demand on the table

BV presents a way of thinking that looks at the latent demand across all brands and products. It is thus influenced by all demand generation spend.

Demand conversion, as a strategy informed by BV, needs to sit alongside demand generation. You are missing out if you over-focus on the latter while leaving opportunities on the table in the former. We should do both.

Without demand conversion, significant opportunities go begging. Don’t lose sales unwittingly. Use intent and be visible where you can when it counts.

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Brand Visibility – Part of the P2i Framework

Twenty CX has developed a strategic framework – the P2i Framework (Power-to-influence) – which seeks to de-risk marketing investments to intelligently influence sales and marketing outcomes.

The Framework looks at four strategic imperatives: Visibility Influence (which uses BV as an input); Digital Experience; Brand Influence and Customer Experience. Each plays a vital role in influencing the success of an organisation.

To find out more about Brand Visibility (BV), or to enquire about how other aspects of the P2i Framework can add value to your organisation, please email hello@twenty.co.nz or get in touch.

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Supporting notes and observations

These are a few of the internal questions we have raised as we have developed the thinking covered here. We welcome other observations and comments and will add to the list below as we go.

Does Brand Visibility work for all categories?

Probably not. It won’t work for everyday purchases and convenience stuff – FMCG, fuel for example. It also won’t be relevant to new product launches in new categories, since there is no latent demand. However, beyond that, for any purchase that involves some degree of consideration, for things we don’t buy often, it is likely to pay dividends.

Isn’t this just Adwords?

No. It uses adwords and we already use share of impressions and clicks to inform keyword targeting, but that is only one part of the picture. BV takes account of all search visibility, not just advertising. Its metrics combine paid search, organic search and potential click-rates based on position. The application of the strategy is about owned, earned and paid activity. By recognising that not being visible is akin to missing out on a sales opportunity, we change the way we think about the cost of being present. We start thinking about how much we can afford to invest according to conversion potential and the Customer Lifetime Value of an acquired customer.

What about inaccuracies in the data?

The tools we use to estimate BV are not accurate. Google Trends data does not cover all subjects and other keyword planning and traffic estimation tools use machine learning algorithms and sourced datasets to estimate what is going through the 3.5 billion or so reported searches conducted every day on Google. However, these same tools are already widely used for targeting, monitoring and activity planning. Until Google releases the actual data, we believe we are dealing with the best resolution picture of the market we can get, accepting it is not pixel-perfect.

Defining a category and isolating purchase intent is difficult and imperfect!

Yes it is. Both of those things. We are forced to make assumptions about competitive sets and purchase intent to isolate the terms for use in brand visibility indexing. Intent is very hard to define, so for this reason we are only going after ‘core’ purchase intent keywords and phrases.

What’s more, even with SOS, noise in the market can make a huge difference. Les Binet has made it clear that when the emissions scandal hit the automotive sector, market share and SOS correlations completely broke down.

However, just because it is hard and it may not always be accurate, that does not diminish the value in the exercise (in our opinion).

What about Amazon searches or other market places online?

Yep, this is an imperfect view. According to Wunderman Thompson Commerce Future Shopper Report 2020, 48% of shoppers mention starting on search engines, 63% on Amazon and 25% on other market places. However, Google dominates share of search at over 90% globally. If there are gaps in brand visibility based on Google alone, it seems reasonably prudent to start tackling those first.

What if everyone started using this?

Yep, that would cause problems. In the meantime, brands that take advantage might be able to get a jump start on the market. I quite like the idea of doing that.