5 Jul 2011

How Brands Grow - Byron Sharp

So, I finally got round to reading Byron Sharps provocative book 'How Brands Grow'. Based on decades of empirical data across multiple categories the book sets out a number of 'laws' of marketing, some of which may surprise you (and many of which won't). The laws proposed in the book lead to some perhaps quite surprising conclusions:

1. Market Share growth is driven mostly by increasing penetration amongst all types of buyers, most of whom are light consumers who only buy your brand occasionally. The book suggests that the way segmentation is often used in combination with loyalty schemes is based on false assumptions about the importance of heavy buyers.

2. Brands compete as if they were near enough identical. Most people, even 'loyal' buyers of a brand don't view it as significantly different from other brands in the cateogry. It is their popularity which defines their market share, not how well they are differentiated from their competitive set. The book suggests that it is more important for marketers to concentrate on avoinding giving potential reasons not to buy than to spend too much time worrying about how to differentiate.

3. Building market based assets - physical and mental availability - should be the key focus for any marketer. Brands that are more memorable, and in greater physical distribution, have more market share. This means marketers should concentrate on making their brand stand out (branding) and ensuring that their advertising refreshes positive memories about the brand amongst large audiences of light buyers.

The book then concludes by giving some simple guidelines:
  • You need to reach all (or as many as you can afford to) of the potential buyers of your category, both through distribution and by how you communicate (Pareto is nearer 60:40 than 80:20)
  • Make your brand easy to buy. i.e. understand what is important to the category consumer and clearly communicate that your brand delivers this.
  • Make sure your communication is noticed. People are really good at screening out advertisements. The IPA Databank work suggests that clever, likable ads with an emotional focus work better than rational, product feature driven ads (most brands in the category are seen as near identical).
  • Refresh and build memmories. Consistency and clear branding in your advertisements are key to this. The key challenge for brand managers and their agencies is how to say the same thing, repeatedly, in different and engagine ways.
  • Make sure your brand assets are distinctive (as opposed to differentiating). Most ads aren't processed deeply, if at all, so you need to make sure people know whose ad they are seeing if you don't want to waste a lot of money.
A lot of these won't come as any big surprise to anyone who's been working in marketing for a long time. What lends them some weight is that, for the first time, they are backed up by some solid empirical evidence.

Recommended read.