‘Brain Engine Optimization’ is the new search engine optimization

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“The most important search engine is always the one we have in mind.”

This quote – from Jon Bradshaw, founder of consultancy Brand Traction – is the most profound insight we’ve heard in a long time.

What does that mean exactly?

Well imagine you are a tourist in Dublin.

You are inside Mulligans, a legendary 168 year old pub on Poolbeg Street.

A cheerful Irish bartender arrives.

“What are you going to drink?” ” he asks.

So how do you decide what to order? Do you pull out your iPhone and type “What drink should I have in a pub in Dublin?” in the search field?

Of course not.

You don’t Google, you search your brain.

And since humans are “cognitive misers”, you default to simple, quick searches like “drink, pub, Dublin”. Your brain retrieves a short list of options from its memory banks. And then, to save time and energy, your brain usually chooses the most obvious choice.


Today, marketers invest billions of dollars in search engine optimization. We want our brands to come easily to mind when buyers enter the market. We have the right objective, but we are optimizing for the wrong search engine. The right search engine is the one in your head.

This is why the real focus of marketers should be brain engine optimization (BEO).

It’s true – BEO is the new SEO.

But how do you optimize search results in a buyer’s brain?

We’re not smart enough to answer that question, but we know someone who is: Professor Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, one of the greatest marketing thinkers of our time.

Our team at the B2B Institute has released a new study from Romaniuk that we believe could revolutionize the way B2B marketing works. The document explains how B2B marketers can grow their business through brain engine optimization.

Category entry points are the real keywords

BEO is not that different from SEO.

The goal is always to tie your brand to a keyword – a mental keyword. Or what Romaniuk calls a “category entry point” (CEP).

What exactly are CEPs?

To quote the professor: “CEPs are the cues buyers use to access their memories when faced with a buying situation and can include all internal cues (e.g. motives, emotions) and external cues (e.g. location, time of day) that affect any purchase situation.”

And why exactly are CEPs so important?

Because in a buying situation: “a category buyer first draws on existing memories to identify potential brands to buy. These brands generated in memory are the starting point of the purchase process. Other sources and search engines (eg Google, colleagues) are usually only consulted if the options generated in memory are insufficient. And, even when consulting, buyers still show a bias towards the brands they already know.

Ehrenberg-Bass: Linking brand messages to purchase situations wins “mind and market”

That’s why you haven’t pulled out your phone to decide which drink to order at Mulligans. Decades of advertising and marketing have made Guinness the obvious choice in this buying situation.

It also explains how most marketing actions work to increase sales: by linking the brand to CEPs long before the customer needs to buy. In his latest research, Romaniuk shows that B2B brands with more links to more CEPs are more likely to be purchased. Just as pages with more backlinks rank higher in Google search, brands with more CEP links rank higher in brain search.

And CEPs don’t just help with customer acquisition. CEPs also contribute to customer loyalty. According to research, each additional CEP link reduces the chances of defection by 5%. If you care about acquisition or retention, then you should care about CEPs.

The relationship between CEPs and customer defection. Source: LinkedIn

How to Optimize Category Entry Points

Just as marketers use digital data to optimize Google search, marketers can use market research to optimize brain search. Brain motor optimization is a four-step process.

Step 1: Identify relevant CEPs for your category

Start by surveying buyers to understand the signals that trigger a buying situation. In B2B, you want to understand both the business needs and the business needs of the buyer.

Why does the buyer need automation software? There are probably several CEPs for this, such as facilitating a tedious application (a corporate CEP) or seeking promotion (a professional CEP). CEPs will be very different for a beer buying situation, ranging from “when I’m in an Irish pub” to “if I’ve had a terrible day at the office”.

Step 2: Prioritize the right CEPs for your brand

With SEO, you try to choose the most valuable keywords. With BEO, you try to choose the most valuable CEPs. There could be 50 different CEPs for the cloud computing category, but not all are equally attractive to IBM.

You can quantify the business value of a CEP by analyzing the “three Cs”: banality, credibility and competitiveness. In other words, prioritize CEPs that occur frequently, are easy to associate with your brand, and aren’t already associated with competitors.

Priority CEPs are pathways to profit

Step 3: Create (and actualize) connections between your brand and CEPs

Now that you’ve identified the most potentially profitable CEPs, it’s time to start investing. Focus on no more than three to five CEPs to start with (the smaller the mark, the smaller the list should be).

Find creative ways to feature CEPs in your marketing and advertising, and co-feature them alongside your signature assets (Guinness harp, Oracle red, Intel chime).

Align with your salespeople to make sure you’re all talking about the same CEPs (which are really just your customers’ top needs).

Put CEPs on your website and in your Powerpoint presentations.

Here’s a great example from Microsoft, using “co-presentation” to link the brand (Teams) to CEPs relevant to a buying situation (online education).

Step 4: Measure the effectiveness of your CEP creation efforts

If you do your job well, over time you should see an increase in shoppers who associate key CEPs with your brand.

Most of us are busy trying to tie brand to a bunch of fluffy perceptual attributes that marketers consider important, like “innovation” and “reliability.” Instead, link to CEPs that your customers find important. It’s a more profitable approach and much easier to explain to sales and finance, who are notoriously skeptical of brand marketing.

Memory generation is the best form of lead generation

Most B2B marketers are obsessed with generating leads, but the best B2B marketers are obsessed with generating memory.

If your brand isn’t remembered in a buy situation, it’s unlikely to be bought — period. People mainly buy what they remember easily, and brain engine optimization is how you increase your chances of being easily remembered. And because brain engine optimization drives most sales, it should be the number one priority for every B2B (and B2C) marketing department.

SEO is overrated.

BEO is undervalued.

If you win the spirit, you win the market.

Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo are the heads of research and development at the B2B Institute, a LinkedIn think tank that studies the laws of B2B growth. You can follow Peter and Jon on LinkedIn.


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