Ever stood in a supermarket aisle, overwhelmed by choices, only to end up selecting a brand you know?

Cognitive psychology reveals we all experience a ‘familiarity bias’ also known as ‘Mere Exposure Effect,’ meaning we naturally gravitate towards what’s familiar. In the context of brands, this means we often prefer and purchase brands that we are familiar with.

Think about the last time you were in the supermarket, surrounded by a myriad of choices. Chances are, you reached for a familiar product. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s the result of consistent, targeted advertising. By ensuring that a brand consistently occupies mental space, it’s more likely to become a familiar brand and the go-to choice.

Brand familiarity goes beyond brand awareness. Brand awareness is binary — you either know the brand or you don’t — whereas familiarity is more nuanced. Brand familiarity means someone has enough knowledge to have an opinion about a brand. People must first be familiar with a brand, in order to appreciate the value of that brand.

One of the most effective ways to increase brand familiarity is through reaching large groups of people with campaigns and activations that people find interesting, enjoyable, relevant, and useful. These efforts ensure your brand is easy to think of, accessible to purchase, and associated with positive feelings, and aim to increase sales by increasing the chances that people will choose your brand.

The commercial benefits of familiarity

The most effective brand marketing drives tangible outcomes — increased sales, market share, and shifts in consumer behaviour or perception. Effective strategies become a compounding investment that, over time, also mitigates decreases in profit margins.

How?

Every campaign serves two main purposes. Firstly, to remind people the brand exists. Secondly, to drive specific behavioural or emotional responses, whether it’s a change in perception, positioning the brand in a new way, or driving an increase in purchases.

Commercially effective campaigns have these three things in common:

  • Strong creative work which ensures the brand reaches people, stands out, and is memorable.

  • Solid strategy that makes people think, feel, or do something differently.

  • Appropriate media targeting leading to people buying, buying more, or spending more.

What happens when brands stop driving familiarity?

According to the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, a research institute specialising in marketing science;

  • Brands that stop advertising experience a significant drop in sales, with an average decrease of 16% after one year and 25% after two years.

  • The rate of sales decline is stronger for brands that were already declining before the advertising stops.

  • Smaller brands tend to suffer greater declines than larger brands.

  • Larger growing brands tend to continue to grow after advertising stops for one to two years, whereas the sales trend quickly reverses for small growing brands.

Brand familiarity is an important driver of growth. It’s not just about brand awareness of recognition, but the knowledge and positive associations people have with a brand. This ensures that when people are looking for a product or service, they can readily remember yours.

To assess brand familiarity, we can do these things:

  1. Review your current branding and advertising strategy. Are you effectively leveraging familiarity bias? If not, it might be time to invest in more broad-reach activity.

  2. Monitor and measure the effectiveness of your campaigns, ensuring they remind consumers of your brand’s presence and build the desired associations. Familiarity isn’t just advantageous — it’s a core principle of brand growth.