Byron Sharp bites back

08 September 2015

LONDON: Many marketers have misinterpreted the message of 'How Brands Grow', one of the most influential books for the industry of recent years, according to its author Professor Byron Sharp.

Talking at Unlearning, an event organised by UK agency trade body the IPA, Sharp said the reaction to the book, launched in 2010 with "no marketing plan whatsoever," had taken him by surprise. (Warc subscribers can read a full report from Sharp's presentation here: Byron Sharp on How Brands Grow, five years on.

'How Brands Grow' aimed to apply scientific rigour to marketing effectiveness, and bring standards in the sector closer to other evidence-based disciplines.

Among its key findings, based on decades of datasets, is that brand growth is largely about building physical and mental availability – and that brand loyalty is less exclusive or deeply-felt than many marketers think.

But Sharp suggested that some of the book's conclusions have been misinterpreted. "I didn't say there was no such thing as loyalty, I said that loyalty is everywhere," he told the audience. "But it's not the sort of loyalty that we thought."

Loyalty rates, according to the book, do not change much across brands in the same category – brands are not much differentiated in consumers' minds. "We are loyal switchers," Sharp added. "We don't feel disloyal to Kellogg's if we buy another cereal."

Since publication, there has been also some reaction to 'How Brands Grow' from market research firms. Among these was Millward Brown, which, Sharp said, was "a little bit hostile" to the book.

Following the book's publication, Millward Brown released a report based on its BrandZ database, of 6,000 brands tracked over 10 years, finding that "among those that consider a brand acceptable, an average of 18% agreed that it was different from others."

This might suggest that brands are indeed differentiated in shoppers' minds. But, Sharp said, "that means that 82% of these heavier users of the brand… didn't [agree it was different from others]! I think that's a replication. I think that's what we said in the book."

Sharp also argued, that, above all, 'How Brands Grow' has a hopeful message for marketers. Evidence, for practitioners, should be a good thing.

"It focuses the mind," he added. "And that's good for strategy."

Data sourced from Warc