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There’s a well-known principle in business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing: Brands that have a higher “share of voice” than their “share of market” will grow. This is called the “excess share of voice” (ESOV) rule.

While market share is a widely known metric, share of voice (SOV) isn’t as clear. It’s defined a number of ways depending on the source, but it essentially means the number of conversations about a brand divided by the number of conversations about a topic, industry or niche (i.e., whatever “market” is being measured).

Every time a brand is mentioned in the media, authors an article, posts on social media or runs a series of ads, a conversation is happening. The conversation is amplified when the audience engages by sharing the article, commenting on the social media post or clicking on the ads. All of this activity results in a certain share of voice.

Companies achieve an excess share of voice—or ESOV—when they punch above their weight in a particular market. Let’s say a brand has a 20% market share, but captures 30% share of voice, it has an ESOV of +10. In nearly every recorded case, a brand with a positive ESOV will gradually grow its market share to match its share of voice.

What the ESOV rule means for AEC firms

What does this mean for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms? Recent research by LinkedIn and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising shows that the ESOV rule is even more relevant for B2B professional services firms than for B2C brands.

In particular, the data shows that in professional services, ESOV converts at a faster rate to additional market share compared to other sectors. This is called “ESOV efficiency”—a measure of how fast a brand grows per unit of investment above “equilibrium” share of voice (when share of voice equals share of market).

As the chart below shows, for professional services firms, a 10% extra share of voice leads to a rise in market share by 1.8% per year, all else being equal.

Source: The LinkedIn B2B Institute

AEC firms can be reluctant to carve out large chunks from their budget—and a hefty time commitment—to go toward marketing initiatives. However, the ESOV rule provides empirical evidence that investment in activities such as thought leadership through writing and speaking, public relations, content marketing and more lead directly to market share growth.

For “challenger brands”—such as small or newer firms or more established firms entering new markets—the ESOV rule still works, even with very small budgets. For example, let’s say a firm has only 1% of its target market. In this case, the firm is likely to grow with only 2% of its market’s share of voice. Buoyed by that growth, the firm can invest increasingly bigger budgets and resources into marketing to accelerate the trend.

How to measure a firm’s share of voice

Share of voice can be measured in a variety of ways, depending on the company’s goals. As illustrated above, companies must measure how many times their brand is mentioned in conversations about a given topic (or market, geography, etc.) compared to the total number of conversations about that topic.

For example, perhaps the firm would like to develop more work in a particular sector. Working with a PR firm or using tracking software, it could run reports of:

  • Media mentions in relevant trade outlets compared to the total number of articles in those publications;
  • Mentions on social media paired with relevant industry terms, compared to the total number of mentions on social media about that industry; and
  • Google search results that include the brand and industry terms compared to the total number of searches about the industry sector.

Likewise, if you’re looking to gain market share in a certain geography, you could limit your media mentions search to media covering a particular geographic area, as well as Google searches of targeted terms within that geographic area.

ESOV: the justification needed to invest in lead generation and brand awareness

In the era of digital marketing, lead generation tactics are rising in favor. However, the ESOV rule provides evidence that brand awareness—often seen as a nebulous and sometimes “nice to have” factor—leads directly to growth.

How do brand awareness (which is achieved through share of voice) and lead generation differ? Broadly speaking, brand awareness activities cast a wide net with the goal of creating recognition that the firm exists and developing a reputation for certain qualities (expertise in a given sector, for example). It also informs prospective clients that the company solves real problems they might not even know it has.

Lead generation, in contrast, aims to turn prospects (who are now aware of the firm and its reputation) into paying clients. The two are complementary: It’s very hard to sell to prospects who aren’t aware of the firm and its capabilities or reputation.

The beauty of lead generation is the ability to directly measure return on investment. If a lead fills out an online form to download a piece of content, then contacts the firm for more information and becomes a client, that is lead generation at its best: highly targeted and measurable.

However, what about an architect or project manager being quoted in media articles about a particular topic? Or publishing online and engaging on LinkedIn regularly? For a firm with a laser focus on ROI, these brand awareness activities may, at first glance and in the short term, appear not worth the investment.

However, the ESOV rule provides the justification needed to do both—invest in valuable content and an intuitive website to conduct lead generation campaigns, while also leveraging thought leadership and PR activities to build brand awareness. Companies can’t have one without the other and expect sustained growth.

Share of voice maximizes "mental availability," leading to better business results

In the same LinkedIn B2B Institute report, The 5 Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing: Empirical Observations on B2B Effectiveness, the research found that share of voice leads to a concept called “mental availability.”

Another well-known concept in B2C marketing circles, mental availability speaks to human beings’ tendency to use mental shortcuts when making decisions, which behavioral economists call “heuristics.” When given a choice between several options, people tend to go with the one that comes to mind most easily.

The assumption in B2B and professional services is that prospective clients with their business hats on are making much more rational decisions than they would as consumers, and thus aren’t relying as heavily on mental heuristics.

However, the data shows that mental availability still matters in B2B decision-making. While buyers of AEC services are engaging in more rational decision-making than when they buy a consumer product, they still rely on mental heuristics. Thus, marketing activities that aim to increase a firm’s share of voice—and as a result make it better known and top of mind—achieve better business results.


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