Invest in Mental Real Estate

In advertising, the objective of storytelling is to cement a mental picture of your brand in the consumer brain. We use words like “awareness,” “relevance” and “preference” to describe the degree of cognitive impact we’ve made on our consumers. This is how we measure the effectiveness of our stories, however, there are some storytelling tricks that can short circuit the consumer brain and acquire more mental real estate than any other form of storytelling.

The physical presence and visibility of your brand in the real world is the most relevant form of your story to your consumer. More storymaking than storytelling, it’s a battle for real estate in the community where our consumers live.

If you work in franchising, you’ve heard it before: “location, location, location.” The three rules of real estate are also the three rules of retail chain marketing. Despite the movement toward online engagement and e-commerce, much of the game continues to be played in the field. A physical field, that is.

Let’s not get carried away with digital and allow ourselves to forget to execute the basics of our industry. Year after year, our studies show that brands get more than half of their total store traffic from people who “drove by and saw a sign.” This holds true today. And these numbers are not much different among various franchise locations, including QSR, banking and health system chains.

In fact, with all of the ATM and online banking access we have available today, we see that the number one influence on the total quantity of regional bank deposit accounts is still squarely aligned with the physical bank branch footprint. It’s almost a direct correlation. Even focus groups of customers who never walk into a bank tell us they are looking for branches in their neighborhood above all else. As a bank marketing director and I joked behind the glass wall of one consumer focus group, “A bank branch is just a $2 million billboard.” But it’s the most important billboard a bank can own.

From these studies, we can view “Share of Branches” as the primary market share factor for a bank’s success. This phenomenon is not confined to banking. By simply improving the design of a retail sign, we have created an average increase in sales between 20% and 30% per location. Let’s take a pizza chain for example. Although pizza chains are moving toward mostly online ordering for delivery with very few physical visits, a physical signage update has been shown to significantly increase the number of online orders. How does that happen?

Think about your own behavior. When you drive through a new neighborhood, you probably notice all of the pizza-franchise locations in town. Your brain stores those physical images to be recalled later. When somebody says, “Let’s get pizza,” your brain reverts to that image of a pizza store just down the street. You may never need to visit that store if you call or click in your order. Functioning as a visual metaphor in your brain, the storefront and signage simply act as a billboard for your online experience.

To maintain visibility, we must compete in the mounds of content. This is a hard sell within most marketing departments because we have already spent the marketing dollars on TV commercials and outbound media buys. CMOs will say, “There was barely enough budget to be on TV last year.” So how can we cut budget from our outbound media that has been proven to work, so we can fund experimental inbound social campaigns in the future? It’s a matter of priority and balance.

Of course, we won’t be able to produce quarter-million-dollar film productions for every social video post. The need for quantity must be the driving force to balance our desire for quality, but we need to make sure it’s exciting enough to leverage consumer sharing. We can’t simply throw quantities of weak content at the consumer, just to see what sticks. Not only will your content never get shared, your brand could become permanently unfriended. This is a precise balancing act, but a worthy investment.

– Excerpt from: Surfing The Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age