Better Brand Health with Jenni Romaniuk

Jenni Romaniuk is the International Associate Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia. In the first of two episodes discussing her new book, Better Brand Health: Measures And Metrics For A ‘How Brands Grow’ World, Jenni shares insights about how brands grow, why small brands should adjust expectations when assessing brand metrics, and the ways that advertising can most effectively create category buyer memories.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Jenni Romaniuk: If you are a small brand, you shouldn’t expect the loyalty of a big brand. You should be able to calibrate your metrics according to your size so that you can get an assessment of, “Am I performing better than I should for a brand of my size?” And that’s something that’s missing in a lot of brand performance metrics analysis, but also in a lot of brand health analysis as well. 

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. If you’ve ever commissioned a brand tracker or designed, fielded, or analyzed the results of one, today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS is definitely for you. We’re going to discuss an approach to measuring brand health that’s based on empirical data from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, the world’s largest center for research into marketing. Since its formation in 2005, the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s team of researchers has been committed to supporting marketing practitioners around the world through its publication of academic papers, books, and an industry-supported R&D program. The Institute’s Associate Director is Jenni Romaniuk, who is also a Research Professor. Her research focuses on building and measuring brand memories, and Jenni is a pioneer in developing measures and metrics for distinctive brand assets, category entry points, and mental availability. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these terms, hopefully, this podcast episode will be both informative and inspiring since Jenni’s latest book, Better Brand Health: Measures and Metrics for a ‘How Brands Grow’ World, has recently been published by Oxford University Press. To talk about her work at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, and how it’s reflected in this book, I’m delighted that Jenni is joining us today from Adelaide, Australia. Jenni, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Jenni Romaniuk: Thank you. It’s great to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: Jenni, what prompted you to write a book focusing on brand health?

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, this came about from a number of different, factors that came together. So, one of them was the fact that I, in my frivolous youth, actually have managed brand health trackers. So I’ve been responsible for designing the questionnaires, analyzing, reporting back to clients, and trying to make sense of all of this. And when I did that, it made me realize so much I didn’t know. And being lucky enough to also be an academic, I started to plug those knowledge gaps with, fundamental R&D that we were doing at the institute. And I kind of got distracted for a while because, that then spurred on the research we’re doing in mental availability, category entry points, and other areas that I’ve been involved in and in distinctive assets, for that matter. but then, when I’ve been talking to people about how they feel about their brand health tractors, it’s one of those things people spend a lot of money about but don’t really feel very good about doing so. and some people were getting disillusioned and thinking about giving it up, and so I thought it was a time to pull together all of the different bits of knowledge that we had that were scattered around, update it as needed and put it together in one sort of resource that people could draw on who wanted to learn more about this thing called brand health tracking and how to do it well. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, your book’s full title is Better Brand Health: Measures and Metrics for A How Brands Grow World. Now, for any listeners who haven’t read the books, How Brands Grow, Parts One or Two, let’s start by exploring the three evidence-based laws that inform the approach to measuring brand health that you describe in your book. The first of these is that brand growth occurs primarily through penetration, increasing the number of buyers rather than the frequency of purchases from so-called brand loyalists. Jenni, could you unpack this for us? 

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, so I mean, decades of R&D have shown us that while there might be many ways to grow a brand, there is really only one way that brands sustainably grow, and that is they grow by expanding their customer base, which means more of all types of buyers roughly in the proportion that you have. And so when you document how brands grow over time, you see that much more change happens in the number of buyers they have than the weight of purchase or the loyalty of those buyers. I mean, that does actually go up a bit as well, but it’s nowhere near as much as the change in penetration, which is why it’s often referred to as a penetration-led strategy. 

Adrian Tennant: What does this law mean for large versus small brands?

Jenni Romaniuk: Well, it means that not everything is equal. So the law of double jeopardy converts this to say that small brands basically suffer twice. They have many fewer buyers, and those buyers are slightly less loyal. And the reason for this is not because small brands are worse than big brands, it’s actually about the nature of their customer base. Small brands tend to attract heavy category buyers who tend to split their loyalties amongst lots of different brands, whereas bigger brands tend to monopolize light category buyers who don’t buy a lot and so don’t have a lot of loyalty to split. And so when you compare them, it looks like the customer base of a big brand is more loyal than the customer base of a small brand is. And that means that if you are a small brand, your benchmarks for what to expect are different. You shouldn’t expect the loyalty of a big brand. you should be able to calibrate your metrics according to your size so that you can get an assessment of, “Am I performing better than I should for a brand of my size?” And that’s something that’s missing in a lot of brand performance metrics analysis, but also in a lot of brand health analysis as well. This idea that not every brand should score exactly the same on every metric. 

Adrian Tennant: Does this rule hold true for categories outside of CPGs?

Jenni Romaniuk: Yes. Because how you measure buying weight, varies by category I’ve got two chapters in there one’s on category buying and one’s on brand buying. And these are two really important chapters in the book because often these sections of the questionnaires are designed without much thought or consideration. I mean, I’ve had so many people show me their questionnaires, and I’ve looked at the brand usage section, and they’ve gone, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we collect that, but no one pays any attention to it, so we just don’t believe it.” I’m like, “Okay. Why are you collecting this if, really, no one’s putting any credible store in it?” And it’s partly because those questions are really poorly designed, but yet they’re really important. But how you do that varies by category. So, for example, if you’re talking about banking or insurance, you might have number of products as your loyalty measure. If you are talking about, a durable category, you might have repeat purchasing of the same brand as your loyalty measure. You know, how many people who previously had a Ford car buy another Ford car, next time they buy a car. So all of those things, the metrics vary, but the patterns don’t. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, the second of the empirical laws in a How Brands Grow world is that buyer profiles differ much less than one might expect across competitive brands within a given category. Jenni, could you give us an overview of what your data shows? 

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, well, it’s not just my data. When it first came out, when Andrew Ehrenberg did his first work on this, it won an award from the Market Research Society for the research that told us the most about how advertising works, which was funny because there’s nothing about advertising in the research! It’s actually about just documenting if you look at the profiles of competing brands, they hardly differ. And yeah, this speaks to a whole range of different areas where we assume that, you know, by virtue of your gender, your age, your income bracket, things like that, there are all these differences in your brand buying. But actually, when we look at competing brands and do a proper apples-with-apples comparison, you just don’t see that much variation. And even importantly, when you do see some variation, It’s usually not a good thing for the brand. So when a brand, for example, skews to be more female than male, the question isn’t, “Why did it get more females?” The question is, “Why aren’t more males buying it? Why is that so different from every other brand in the category that maybe has 50/50 of females than males?” And so when you take that perspective, it leads you to have a look at differences between competing brands from a very different point of view. It’s no longer a mark of success, but more a problem to be solved. 

Adrian Tennant: So, do we currently worry too much about segmentation? 

Jenni Romaniuk: Yes. There’s a whole series of rationales that underpin my, “Yes,” there – many more than we can go through in a single podcast. But it is about understanding that, brands compete for a reason and trying to do things that mitigate that competition, that distance you from other brands in the category just doesn’t seem to work. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, the third empirical law is that a brand’s main competitors are almost always the biggest in the category. Have you ever seen exceptions to the rule?

Jenni Romaniuk: I mean, there are what we call exceptions that are partitions, which are when brands share more with other brands than they should for their size and they’ll separate those out from saying, you know, “How does the duplication of purchase law not hold?” Well, that we don’t see. The only time it breaks down a bit is when you put things that are obviously not in the same market and then you notice that there is an oddity either in a submarket breaking off to be its own market or just one brand that just acts really weirdly with everything else. So that, to a certain extent, makes the duplication of purchase analysis a good way of understanding what belongs in your category and what doesn’t in the behavior of consumers. But yeah, they’re called partitions. I think it’s a useful analogy because if you think of an office, you can have walls that really separate you so that you can’t see what’s going on. Or you can have a partition where it separates you a bit, but you can still stand up and see over into someone else’s cubicle. And that’s what partitions in the data are like. They show when brands share slightly more than they should with each other, but they still even despite that partition, compete normally in the wider market as well. 

Adrian Tennant: two key factors that contribute to brand growth are mental and physical availability. Jenni, can you explain briefly what these are and how they work together?

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, well, mental availability is about being easily thought of in buying situations, while physical availability is about being easy to find and buy. So I usually like the analogy of the Olympics. So, you know, we’ve got Paris coming up. If you want to compete in the one hundred meters in Paris, no matter how fast you are, you just can’t turn up on the day and go, “Hey, put me in. I’m here. I’m quick.” No, they don’t let you do that. You have to go through qualifying that shows that you are capable of doing it. You have to be selected for a country. You have to get basically a ticket to Paris to compete at Paris. Well, mental availability is like getting that ticket. It gets you in the race. Now, physical availability is your performance on the day, because, obviously, you get there on the day, but maybe you had a too-rich croissant for breakfast, and so your stomach’s feeling a bit funny or your shoes don’t fit right, or, you know, just competitors are better than you on the day and so you don’t win, you don’t get chosen. So think of physical availability being easy to find and buy as your performance in the environment on that day of purchase. And so those two come together to help us map out what we need to do in terms of how to grow brands. 

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Bigeye is an advertising agency, so I have to ask you, what is the role of advertising in this context? 

Jenni Romaniuk: Advertising is about getting people to think about brands when they really don’t want to. I like to go out to dinner. So I think about restaurant brands. But I’m not thinking about that right now because it’s nine o’clock in the morning here. I’ve just had breakfast,  enjoyed my coffee and talking to you. If I suddenly started, you know, pondering different restaurant options and thinking about where we’re going to go for the next, time I’m catching up with people, you would think it was weird because I’ve got other things to do. But there will come a time when I need to do that. But if I on my way to work here, you know, I’m listening to a podcast and suddenly there’s an advertisement for a restaurant, I would think about restaurants and think about that brand on my way to work when I really wasn’t thinking of doing that. Or I might see it on a billboard, or on a shelter, cause I take a tram into work, so I might see it on a bus shelter or a tram shelter. So that’s where advertising allows us to do is to get the brain ready so that next time I’m in a buying situation, you’ve given my brand a slightly better chance than it should, you know, just up the odds, nudged it a little bit higher, such that then, you know, maybe the wings will swing in its favor next time I am, you know, selecting restaurants to go out to dinner with my family.

Adrian Tennant: So definitely not persuasive, which I think is how advertising is often viewed by folks. This is more nudging.

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, really, quite frankly, the way we pay attention to advertising, it’s not … have you ever tried to have an argument with someone who rarely pays attention to you and was busy doing other things? It’s very hard to convince them on your side. No. But persuasion is something that, you know, sales teams do and things like that. But to be honest, as a species, humans are awfully bad at persuading other people, about something. it was one of the realizations I had about my job is it’s not about persuasion, it’s about publicity. If you genuinely don’t believe, the evidence of how brands grow, nothing I say is going to change your mind. I can only reach the people who either don’t know or are unsure and let them know about it. And I think we need to approach all of our knowledge and memory-building in that way. Persuasion, first of all, it requires that people have a strong opinion to be persuaded about. And the evidence of how people feel about brands doesn’t, it suggests most people have mildly positive feelings about the brands they have, which is not really conducive for needing to persuade. and then the capacity, if we did need to persuade of advertising as being the route to do that, will it, it’s like that would be like taking a wrench and trying to, bang a nail in with it. It’s the wrong tool for that task.

Adrian Tennant: In addition to your work on the two How Brands Grow books, you wrote the definitive guide to Building Distinctive Brand Assets. Now, while that book could easily provide topics for a whole series of podcasts, Jenni, could you explain briefly the role that distinctive brand assets play in creating category buyer memories?

Jenni Romaniuk: Thank you. It’s very lovely for you to say. Distinctive brand assets are basically alternative representations of the brand in memory. A brand name is a word. Words get stored in what’s called our semantic memory, which is our memory for words and their meaning. So when I say to you, “This is a chair,” you have an understanding of what a chair is. You know, it’s, you have a visual representation of likely chairs, you know, that a chair is something that you sit on, you know, you know what a chair means, that comes from your semantic memory. However, we have lots of other aspects of our memory, the processes, colors and sounds, and, faces, and things. And so when we represent the brand in different ways, we tap into different parts of memory and that can allow us to get more attention for the brand. in environments where the brand is often competing against, non-word-based and much more, attention-grabbing stimuli. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage! to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Jenni Romaniuk, Research Professor and International Associate Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia. We’ve covered a lot of ground already, but I’d like to turn our attention now to some of the ideas in your new book, Better Brand Health: Measures and Metrics for a How Brands Grow World. One of the first things that the readers who’ve worked with brand trackers in the past will probably notice is that you don’t call the research instrument a brand awareness survey, but rather a category buyer memory tracker or CBM for short. Why this name?

Jenni Romaniuk: Because it reminds us what we’re actually doing with this. When I first started engaging with brand health trackers, one of the things I noticed is, and this particularly resonated in the attribute list, so that’s the list of different qualities that, brands are assessed about, is that they’re all about brands. So, you know, is this a trustworthy brand, a reliable brand, a friendly brand, you know, all of these things. And I thought, wait a sec, but how is that relevant to the buyer and haven’t we missed the point that people buy brands to do stuff with? so you don’t buy the most trustworthy brand. You might not buy a brand if you have doubts about its trust levels. You know, if you’re not sure it will do the job. But you don’t, go out and go, oh, when’s the last time you thought to yourself, “Gee whiz, I feel like some ice cream. I really want the most trustworthy ice cream out there” yeah. so this is where I went. we need to rethink these things because they’re too brand centric. And of course then that influences the design because you then design it for your brand. Now you ask it questions based on what you are building for your brand. and the consumers, the category buyers kind of lost in all of that. So I wanted to reorientate it and go, we should be starting with a category buyer first, and the group of them that we are trying to get sales from because that’s our core reason for being.

Adrian Tennant: Could you talk a little about how the spreading activation model has informed your methodology?

Jenni Romaniuk: Yeah, so there are some theories of how memory works, and I do think it’s something we need to do more in our marketing curriculum generally. I’m amazed at how many people who’ve done any form of education in marketing haven’t learned the basics of how we build memories and how we use memories, given that much of our marketing activity is about building memories that we hope buyers will use. It just seems like a very big glaring omission, that, you know, often I go in and have to explain to marketers what this is about. And I, the rest of the institute were very big proponents of this. So the associative network theory of memory, which is a model of how memory is structured. So this idea that it’s associative networks where different items are connected together, spreading activation theory is a model of how we access things from memory. And it’s underpinned by this idea that to get into our memory, we first of all need a door or a cue as it’s called in memory literature, to go into. So, you know, you’ve got this mess of associations in your head. you know, if you ask someone can you remember something for me? You’ll often get a really puzzled look because they don’t have a cue to go into their brain. But if you say, can you remember something from your primary school days? Then that is a cue that they can go, “oh yeah, I can remember when we did this and when we did that,” and sort of stuff. And memories become easy because you’ve given them a door. But because everything’s all linked together, there is a danger if there’s not like a stopping mechanism, you can just go on forever and ever and ever. And indeed the first person who came up with, associate network theory, at least is attributed to, was Aristotle, who did it by asking people questions and asking them to just verbalize what was going through their minds as they were trying to find the answer. And so he’s the first one who said, “Oh, it looks like people jump from idea to idea to ideas. So maybe these are all somehow linked together.” So spreading activation says there’s only a limited amount of energy that you’re going to put into any one retrieval search. And so what happens is when you use that cue, imagine everything linked to that cue is like a pipe and spreading activation is water being poured down that pipe. So the more pipes you have, the more that water gets spread across many different items, the harder it is for anything to be retrieved. Things that have shorter pipes that are stronger, are more likely to be retrieved. and all of that influences whether or not something’s likely to be retrieved.  an interesting factoid for those of you who might be aging amongst you is this is one of the ideas of why as we get older, it’s harder to retrieve information. It’s not because we are forgetting, but it’s just because we’ve got denser networks. And so that makes it harder for anything to be retrieved. We are just so wise that it’s harder to retrieve any bit of information, and I personally find that quite reassuring.

Adrian Tennant: Well, another important difference in your approach to measuring brand health is a focus on category entry points or CEPs for short, which is a concept that you pioneered. Now, could you talk about what CEPs are and how brand marketers can use them?

Jenni Romaniuk: So it’s a nice follow-on from the previous question because CEPs are basically, those sorts of cues or doorways that buyers use when they’re about to buy from a category. Going back to my restaurant analogy, as I said, I go out to dinner, I like going out to dinner, so I am a restaurant buyer, but I’m not right now because, well, it’s morning, so I’m not going out to dinner right now, but come six, seven o’clock tonight, I might be like, “oh, let’s go out tonight.” And then start to think of things to have and based on a whole heap of factors, it might be and they can be how I’m feeling, the people I’m with, what the weather’s like. I’ll have different thoughts that sort of go into, define what sorts of restaurants are going to suit at this moment. and the thing about it is my brain does that for me. I don’t even have to ask it to, it will just pop into my mind given the sort of criteria, sensors, the ones that are most likely to suit it because our brains don’t like working too much. So if it can shortcut things for us, it will. 

Adrian Tennant: Okay. How do brands identify their CEPs?

Jenni Romaniuk: Well, there are different ways to, I mean, you can do it internally if you are experienced in a category. And I’ve developed a framework of the Ws to help people overcome their own internal biases. Because the thing about category entry points is they’re not deep, dark secrets and they’re not, if you are familiar with a category, you’ll recognize most of them, but there might be things you don’t often think about. For example, if you think about, you know, what is the most common category entry point for people who buy shampoo? Well, it’s because their hair’s dirty and they just want it to be clean. But have a think about when’s the last time you saw an ad that actually just reminded people that was a common reason why they buy a shampoo. You know, so often as marketers, we kind of forget the everyday and go for the unusual and the special. And that’s counter to what category entry points are about. They’re about the everyday, normal reasons why people come into a category. So that means often you have to go to category buyers and ask them, but ask them in a way that reveals that every day. Another analogy or metaphor I like to use is that category entry points are like highways. You usually choose a highway because it’s the quickest way to get to where you want to go. And when you’re on the highway, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, you just drive, you get there. So when we do category entry point research, we try to get people to remember that highway journey. You know, was there a McDonald’s on the side? Did you see a rest stop, you know, by this, what was happening at this exit? Was there this store here? And just getting people to relive that experience so that we can understand the cues and thoughts they had to get to whatever destination they were. 

Adrian Tennant: Jenni, what are the Ws in your framework?

Jenni Romaniuk: So the Ws, it was actually adapted,  unconsciously, ’cause I didn’t realize this as someone pointed out, from a basic philosophy. But they go through the different areas that can influence your buying. So we have when, which is timing. So that can be time of day, time of week, time of month, time of year. It could also be if something needs to be done quickly or taking time. We have while, which is other activities that you are doing at the same time. So it might be I’m eating dinner and watching tv. There is the with what, which is other products or services you might be consuming at the same time. So I might be eating dinner, watching tv, having a glass of wine. There’s the with whom, with the for whom, and that’s the influence of other people. So I might be, in front of the tv, eating my dinner, having a glass of wine with a good friend. There’s the where, which is the location. So in this case it would be in my house, or it might be at a friend’s house. Then we have the why, which is the benefits and motivations that come through. And finally, we have the how feeling, which is the emotions that you might have before, during, or after interacting with the category. 

Adrian Tennant: That’s all we have time for on today’s episode, but we have plenty more to discuss about brand health and how we can apply the learnings from this approach to develop effective advertising creative. So we’ll be continuing the conversation in next week’s episode. Jenni, if folks would like to learn more about the work you’re doing at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, or contribute data for your studies, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Jenni Romaniuk: LinkedIn or email. my email’s pretty well available. I work for a university –  we don’t tend to hide our contact details, but also LinkedIn. That’s the platform I’m most active on. 

Adrian Tennant: For now, thanks for joining us on, IN CLEAR FOCUS, Jenni. 

Jenni Romaniuk: It was a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Jenni Romaniuk from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, and the author of Better Brand Health: Measures and Metrics for a ‘How Brands Grow’ World. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. Thanks again for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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