How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp

It seems like every book available on marketing today promises a bunch, vows to be different & useful, but then delivers little in the way of truly unique & applicable advice.

Most marketing books are tactical in nature, focusing on segments, specific channels, drilling into smaller and smaller arenas of activity, until the expertise acquired from the book is only applicable under the tightest environmental conditions….. I am now an expert in demand generation from specialized microsite SnapChat retargeting campaigns for 30-34 year old art school graduates concerned about credit liquidity, living in/around Baltimore with cat allergies.

While we are awash in advice on tactics, marketers are SUPER THIRSTY for strategic advice on how to properly employ such activities.

That’s why Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow” kicks every other marketing book in the shins.

Let’s jump right in with this graphic, I’ll explain Byron’s Old/New World vision as far as I can, but in the end, you have to read this book to feel it’s healing waters quench your parched marketing soul.

The book starts off like a goddamn birthday party for a creative like me – “Marketing is a creative profession and one of the main jobs is to get noticed!” — That sounds like my entire schooling history and explains why I was in trouble a lot as a kid!

Supported by mountains of evidence from the work of Ehrenberg-Bass and the IPA, Sharp details the benefits of marketing from a “new world” perspective, that is juxtaposed against an “old world,” Kotlerian (Philip Kotler) view of the profession.

The “old world” view of marketing, which many hold up as the current paragon of the profession, emphasizes segmentation, brand loyalty, and persuasion as the hallmarks of good marketing & advertising. No qualms there, right?

Zero in on loyal brand audiences who are viewing your ads in a rational capacity, teach them the messages, convince them of the uniqueness, and show them you are different and create conversations and then they will crave your marketing!

Adding technology to this only makes sense; digital ads and the concomitant surveilling opportunities, social ad stacks, A thru G intention testing capabilities, dashboards aplenty – find the exact people, at the exact location, at the exact moment, serve them the quantum slice of advertising that fits their unique persona, funnel them in, measure it all…now we’re marketing!

Sharp sees things a little differently in the “new world”….

You advertise in a crowded world and very few people pay attention to messaging, indeed, the large portion of a consumer’s purchase decision is actively ignoring a vast majority of labels to find a small set of recognizable and salient brands to make a choice from.

So the good news here – no one truly gives a shit about your UVP, USP, merits and benefits – not because these things aren’t there or meaningful to you, but because consumers just don’t even know your brand exists in the first place!

The goal of advertising is to first get noticed and then build and refresh memory structures through relevant associations, not convince an emotional and distracted audience of the rational/unique merits of a product.

Marketers build brands with advertising by getting noticed, and not just to brand loyalists, but to everyone in the category because, there is no such thing as 100% brand love.

100% loyalty is a dumb thing to quest for in marketing because consumers are brand agnostic, and metrics-wise, focusing on a smaller slice of any market segment, no matter how loyal, caps your potential for actual growth. (This is so painfully eloquent it hurts)

Huge successful brands like Coke & Dove – the majority of their buyers are not Brand Loyalists that hoard these precious brands in their underground bunkers.

No, the goal in big brand ad campaigns is to rope in Ultra-Light buyers, because that is the overwhelming majority of the brand buyers.

Meaning, 50% of all people who buy Coke, in one year, buy it once or twice.

A whopping 87% of all Dove buyers bought the brand only a few times…in five years. Take a look from this chart from “Eat Your Greens” –

That 20+ bump on the far right are the “loyal purchasers,” the Valhalla for most modern marketing strategies. And the huge bars to the left are brand buyers who bought Dove once, and the shaded bar is people who knew the brand, but did not buy it.

Look at the potential for growth here – where could it possibly come from?

Does brand growth mean getting more & more of that small bump on the right, or, does it happen by capturing a few of the category buyers with distinct, branded, salient and broad reaching marketing campaigns?

What else?

  • Pareto’s Law is bullshit, for the most part….
  • Your customers are not unique, they are your competitor’s customers.
  • Segmentation isn’t reflected in buyer behavior
  • Branding lasts – differentiation doesn’t

I could keep going but at some point you’re gonna have to cough up the money and BUY THIS BOOK!

This book is amazing for several reasons, but the most profound to me is this seemingly old school advertising advice somehow feels new.

As marketing interfaces with digital culture, we’ve become so entranced by behaviors, segments, and finding ways to hack into psychological consumer models, that we’ve left the heavy, brand lifting activity behind us in favor of whisper-thin bullshit tech fixes that have zero (or negative) consequences for the companies we work for. And so, the average lifespan for a CMO is dwindling down because from them upwards, no one has a firm grasp on what the marketing department ACTUALLY DOES IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Any other profession would see people up in arms, taking to the streets, demanding that we save our industry and jobs, hitting the books and finding answers – but in marketing & advertising today, the highest-rewarded minds are working on CTRs, crowd-sourcing taglines for personas, making apps that are more addictive than the last; all focused on creating smaller and smaller pools of loyalty in an ever-expanding desert of consumer interest.

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