The human mind is an amazing device. Beyond the immediate recall of our everyday memory lies a vast network of memories, impressions, and yes, even brand preferences. In the same way that you can summon up the name of a favorite teacher, typical consumers can recall impressions about a brand they haven’t thought of for years. One name for this is brand latency; a term to describe the residual power of good branding that remains stored in the memory banks of consumers. Marketers with long sales cycles, such as automobile manufacturers, appliance makers, or furniture companies,depend on brand latency to a large extent. Sure, most will use the immediacy of advertising and retail promotions to move you to a buying decision, but all are also hoping you remember that Ford trucks are tough, the Maytag repairman is lonely, or that Thomasville furniture is elegant. Haveyou everresearched a purchase in an unfamiliar category and realized you know one or more of the brands? And maybe have positive impressions of at least one? That’s brand latency.
The value of advertising and other brand-related communications is often questioned. By now you’ve likely heard various estimates of the number of ads we see in a day–anywhere from 1000-3000 is commonly cited. It would seem unlikely that we could remember very many of them. Maybe it’s somewhere in that 90% of our brain we supposedly don’t use, but clearly our minds do retain more information than we are consciously aware of. And some of that information is brand impressions. A number of companies now exist solely to take advantage of the residual brand equity in discontinued brands by buying their intellectual property rights (brand names, logos, formulations) and re-launching them. Remember Brim decaffeinated coffee? A survey by River West Brands found 92% aided awareness among adults over the age of 25. They bought the rights to Brim and are inprocess of re-launching it along with Eagle snacks and Underalls hosiery. (Do you stillremember the Brim slogan? See below for the answer.)
You don’t even have to use the product or be involved in the category to have strong impressions of the brand. When was the last time you saw a Marlboro ad?It’s probably been some time, but it’s likely you could tell us all about the brand concept, couldn’t you? Even though most of us don’t smoke Marlboro cigarettes (or any cigarette) we know their brand identity and have at least an intuitive sense of the brand promise (e.g.: makes you macho).
Of course, brand latency can work in the negative as well. A company that has withdrawn from a marketplace because of poor performance may be remembered for that for many years to come. Re-entering may be harder for them than for a brand with no previous exposure. The European car company Zastava is not a household name in this country, but it’s a rock solid bet that their car brand,Yugo, will never be seen here again. (The car is still available in Europe, if you simply must have one.) The next time you hear someone say “I never pay attention to advertising and it has no effect on me,” ask them which brand of coffee is mountain grown, which brand of English muffins has nooks and crannies, or which microprocessor is most often found inside computers. Chances are they’ll know the answers to one or more of the questions. (Unless they pretend not to, just to prove their point.) All of this goes to show that brands can live on indefinitely in our minds and have far more residual power than superficial review might suggest. The many hundreds of exposures that a consumer has to your messages really can add up to brand equity that has tremendous staying power. Although brand latency alone is rarely enough to sustain a product, it can be a key measure of its future ability to perform well in the marketplace with traditional components of advertising and promotion.
Answer to the Brim slogan question: “Fill it to the rim with Brim!”