Triggering Brand Growth

What Are Your Brand’s ‘triggers’ and How Do You Intend to Deploy Them?

Global BrandZ™ Research Director
Kantar Millward Brown

How do you stand out from the crowd? What defines your appearance? Maybe you’re blessed with a striking inherited feature, such as being tall, or perhaps you choose to have a unique hairstyle or fashion sense? People seek attention to various extents and choose to stand out or blend in as they see fit.

In the world of brands however, the protagonists do not have the advantage of inheritance—they must work hard against the competition to truly stand apart and be noticed, while ideally conveying why they are the right choice at that moment. So, how best to do that? How can brands gain an advantage and maximize their mental availability— their ability to come readily to mind at the point at which a purchasing decision is being made?

One way is to provide consumers with simple mental shortcuts to cue the brand and activate associated memories that relate to the brand experience. These unique shortcuts or “triggers” can achieve this in various ways, including but not limited to the use of slogans, colors, logos, fonts, physical cues (packaging, shape of product), characters, celebrity associations, and other imagery.

Kantar Millward Brown has developed a methodology and framework for quantifying the strength of these triggers, to help us understand which are most associated with a particular brand and how they compare to competitors. After an extensive and ground-breaking BrandZ™ program of research, this capability has been further enhanced to establish a clear link between the strength of a brand’s triggers and its equity in the mind of consumers (and therefore its likelihood to grow in value in the future). The study comprised a total of 4,265 consumer interviews across 15 categories in the US and UK, covering 110 brands and 681 de-branded triggers in the process. The approach deployed a unique neuroscience-based methodology to gather data on trigger performance and collect equity data in parallel, in line with BrandZ’s long-established and proven framework.

A key result is a one-number summary of the overall strength of each brand’s battery of triggers: the Brand Trigger Index (BTI), which shows a clear relationship with brand equity. The stronger a brand’s BTI, the stronger its Brand Power score; brands with a high BTI had on average a 76 percent higher Brand Power score than those with a low BTI.

Strong Triggers Boost Power, Salience, and Advertising Strength

Brand Power score measures a brand’s current strength of demand and links to brand value growth. Brands with a high score grow at almost two and a half times the rate of brands with a low score.

But how is a brand’s equity boosted by strong brand triggers? In addition to meaningful difference, BrandZ’s equity framework isolates a third key element for successful brand building— Salience. Strong brand triggers exert a clear influence on Salience, amplifying a brand’s meaningful difference and likelihood to grow. Brands with a high BTI have on average a 52 percent higher salience score.

One mechanism for this impact on Salience is through a boost to the strength of a brand’s advertising. Brands with a high BTI more than double their advertising strength versus those with a low score. Kantar Millward Brown Link™ data proves that the single best predictor of an ad’s in-market sales effect is branding—a highly engaging creative with poor branding will not boost the ease with which a brand comes to mind and will not improve consumer motivation enough to deliver value growth.

Consumers will often only partially engage with a TV or digital narrative, meaning that there is a clear need to display the brand before disengagement occurs. Easily recognizable brand triggers, which require little or no effort to register with consumers, offer an incredibly powerful and effective way to do this.

However, this salience boost is not limited to advertising impact alone; rather, those brands able to build a varied suite of triggers through their advertising, packaging, and brand experience will be best placed to activate them at various touchpoints as part of a virtuous circle of increased salience.


The strength of a typical brand’s triggers showed wide variation by category. Generally speaking, categories associated with short-term decision making were more likely to contain brands with stronger triggers than those involving longer-term decisions. Brands investing consistently and in a variety of assets are more likely to feel the benefits. Notably, soft drinks and fast food were by far the top performers, with cars, luxury cars, and banks towards the other end of the spectrum.



There was also a clear pattern with regards to the efficacy of the types of triggers tested. Typically, logos and packaging cues were much more effective at evoking a brand than slogans, celebrity endorsements, or sponsorships.

A brand’s founder proved to be a very strong cue in several cases. Sir Richard Branson scored 125 for Virgin Media in the United Kingdom, Colonel Sanders 124 for KFC in the United States, and Steve Jobs 117 for Apple, also in the United States.

This suggests that a commitment to consistency is a critical element in building a strong trigger, with more transient relationships with celebrities, sponsorships, and campaign-specific slogans likely to be much harder to own as intuitive branding devices, at least without persistent repetition and investment.

Logos and Packaging/Product Are the Most Triggers


The results also provide scores for each individual trigger, with an average brand and an average trigger each scoring 100.

The United States brands with the strongest groups of triggers came mostly from the world of soft drinks and fast food, with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Starbucks the top performers. The one exception within the Top 10 was Facebook, ranking 6th overall.

Logos proved the strongest triggers for each of the top five most valuable United States brands (Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook), though only Google and Apple made the list of top 10 strongest individual US brand triggers, which was also dominated by logos. Only the incredibly distinctive Coca-Cola bottle (ranked #1 asset overall) and McDonald’s’ Ronald McDonald were non-logo related members of the Top 10.

In summary, instantly standing out from the crowd and catching the mind of the consumer is more important than ever.

What are your brand’s triggers, and how do you intend to deploy them?