In this blog, we’re talking about TOMA.
No, we don’t mean the nickname for the scenic central Wisconsin town of Wautoma – we’re talking about “top of mind awareness.”
TOMA, as it’s otherwise abbreviated, is a crucial concept in modern marketing. It means your brand is essentially synonymous with a product or service in the minds of customers, and it can be a powerful advantage.
What Is Top-of-Mind Awareness?
Let’s play a little game of word association. If we say “smartphone,” you might instantly think “Apple.”
Music streaming? Spotify.
Cloud-based CRM? Salesforce.
This exercise helps demonstrate what top-of-mind awareness (TOMA) is in the marketing world: an automatic link made in the customer’s mind between one brand and a particular product or service.
True top of mind is when that customer thinks about a specific brand when asked a general or unprompted question about that market niche. For example, if we were to ask our readers about their preferred ways to talk with colleagues, we might get answers such as Slack, Google Hangouts or even a project management solution like Wrike or Trello.
TOMA is so important because it can correlate directly with sales and marketing metrics like market share, customer loyalty, brand equity and many other KPIs. And it can also be a contributory factor to winning repeat business, generating positive public relations and dominating a product category in your niche.
To understand how a brand can become top of mind, let’s dig a bit deeper into the pillars of TOMA.
1. Brand Recognition
To be top of mind, your brand first needs to be recognized. Brand recognition and brand awareness go hand in hand. In order to become recognized, you must build awareness of what your brand represents, what your values are and how you serve customers.
Recognition not only comes from visual marketing efforts with logos and advertising but also outreach, customer service and a reputation for quality.
2. Brand Recall
Being recognized isn’t enough for brands, however. It’s akin to an acquaintance remembering your face but not your name. The ideal is to achieve brand recall in association with particular prompts or stimuli. For instance, McDonald’s is synonymous with the nonsense musical phrase “ba-da-ba-ba-bah.”
Achieving brand recall means investing in and building up your brand relentlessly and creatively. Viral content can plant the seed of recall with potential customers.
3. Superior Customer Experience
The brands that are remembered and recalled are those that deliver a superior customer experience in addition to a quality product or service. Some reasons that customers may immediately think of your brand in a given situation include an easy purchasing decision or simplified buying process. Satisfied customers breed loyalty and can become referral sources.
Where’s the Value in Being Top of Mind?
The benefit of being the first brand that comes to customers’ minds is clear in and of itself. However, at a more granular level, top-of-mind awareness can help your brand:
- Build trust: All things being equal, consumers go with what they trust. If your brand value has made a trustworthy impression through service, quality or experience, you’ve already got a leg up on the competition. TOMA builds trust in an organic way.
- Heighten brand awareness: There is no ceiling to brand awareness. Becoming top of mind can support your plans to expand into new markets, territories or verticals.
- Generate loyal customers: When you become a top-of-mind brand with a customer, you’ve basically cultivated a customer for life. Unless an adverse event affects their perception of your brand, that customer will place your business above others.
How You Can Create TOMA With Marketing
We’ve spent a good deal talking about the virtues of top-of-mind awareness, but the question remains: “How exactly do brands create TOMA?”
There is no one action that will launch your brand to the front of customers’ minds. Rather it is the sum of your marketing efforts that cumulatively build brand awareness, recall, trust and loyalty. Some of the best ways to driving TOMA include:
Content marketing is a useful passive conduit for creating TOMA. Blog posts, case studies, white papers, eBooks, customer testimonials, video and other content types are all valuable assets in building TOMA. For instance, if a bank has a helpful homebuying 101 guide, customers may return to them after reading the content in order to start the mortgage process.
Your business needs to understand its target audience thoroughly. You need to know the needs, wants, preferences and purchasing-decision drivers of your customers like the back of your hand. When you have this intelligence, you can refine your marketing efforts in ways that resonate with this target audience.
A brand is not simply a logo. Branding also encompasses creating a set of values, a brand identity, a tagline, a color scheme and a unified marketing presence, among other responsibilities. However, when all the pieces fit together, your brand can become a powerful tool for driving increased brand awareness and top-of-mind associations.
Social Media Advertising
Social media is a fertile ground for building up awareness. This is for a couple of reasons: For one, images and other visual content thrive on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which is conducive to branding efforts. Also, virtual social media content can create TOMA in one fell swoop.
However, this can be for better or worse, so think through your social media marketing strategy — e.g., Quizno’s will forever be TOMA when a consumer thinks of disfigured, sub-loving singing rat-hamsters(?).
Social media is only one channel you should be active on. Various other marketing campaigns you’re running should also ultimately orient toward creating top-of-mind awareness, including email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, TV advertising campaigns and inbound marketing campaigns.
How Do I Know When I’ve Become Top of Mind?
Currently, businesses don’t have the benefit of a metric that can peer directly into customers’ minds and read their thoughts. However, there are a few widely used metrics that may be able to signal if you’re successfully creating awareness and when you become top of mind. These can include:
- Referral sources: As mentioned, customer loyalty is a desired outcome of awareness. The more loyal customers you foster, the greater their word-of-mouth marketing potential. If you start seeing an increase in either the number and/or variety of referral sources, your TOMA efforts might be working.
- Market share: Any uptick in market share is cause for celebration. That means your marketing is working and you’re beating competitors. A higher market share also translates directly to a greater ability to sway potential customers – not just your target audience.
- Search: TOMA might be a result of more customers searching for your brand in conjunction with a particular product or service. An increase in branded organic search queries may be especially illustrative of successful brand awareness efforts.
TOMA is not just for the biggest and the best brands out there. Each business has its own niche market or target audience. Even local small businesses can build top-of-mind awareness.
Do you have any thoughts on TOMA or effective ways for driving recall and awareness? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: Updated June 2022.