Conventional wisdom states that brands, to be successful, need to differentiate themselves from a competing brand by being better on some attributes or benefits. Volvo accomplished this by being known as the safest cars on the road and owned this space for several years. But what about commoditized products and spaces such as the toothpaste? Is Colgate really all that different from Crest?

In many markets, it is tough to differentiate a brand by being perceived as better than other brands on some attributes. Empirical research has found the effect of differentiation to be minimal. Sometimes brand researchers claim that instead of differentiation, marketers should try to make their brand distinctive, so it visually stands out either via the logo or the colors or other physical features (packaging). However, that turns out the be very difficult too.

Walk past the toothpaste aisle, nothing appealing stands out unless it is something new like a natural toothpaste or packaging that screams new and improved. Instead of using loud colors and quirky packaging, marketers should try to grow mental availability. We created a new metric for that called Brand Density.

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Simply stated, the more associations come to mind when a consumer thinks of a brand or a category, and the more these associations are connected, the bigger the mental footprint and the more likely your brand will be picked. What makes this method interesting is the fact that it can be tested with one open-ended question, as opposed to asking several brands and attribute-based Likert scale questions.