Sorry, Professor Sharp, that is simply not true

by Nigel Hollis | October 07, 2015

In a recent WARC story titled, ‘Byron Sharp Bites Back’, Professor Sharp is reported as suggesting Millward Brown was "a little bit hostile" to his book, How Brands Grow. Sorry, Professor Sharp, that is simply not true. We love your book. After all, it validates so much of what Millward Brown has advocated for decades.

Judge for yourself whether the following introductory statement from my Point of View sounds hostile.

“The book How Brands Grow by Professor Byron Sharp and the researchers of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute makes an important contribution to the science and practice of marketing. We find ourselves in agreement with the authors on many of their key points.”


What I failed to do with that tribute was to state the points on which we do agree. So, let me call out three of them here:

  1. How Brands Grow is correct in its identification of the importance of mental and physical availability to brand success. Millward Brown’s implementation of needs-based salience on a global basis since 2012 is recognition of the importance of mental availability. We find needs-based salience to be a better predictor of purchase than traditional unaided awareness, and have now measured the salience of thousands of brands worldwide.
  2. How Brands Grow is correct in stating that brands must build brand-linked memory structures and work with existing memory structures, not against them. Measurement of whether advertising created strong, brand-linked memorability has been central to Millward Brown’s pre-testing and brand tracking methodologies for decades.
  3. Leading on from that point, How Brands Grow is correct in stating that brands need to be consistent yet stay fresh, and in advising brands not to reposition unless forced to do so. Millward Brown has championed the importance of consistency, particularly with regard to advertising campaigns, and recognized the need to find fresh ways of communicating the same message for many years.

However, decision makers also need to think about the role of marketing in justifying the price premium that many leading brands depend upon. Commercial success after all, is measured in terms of profitability, and books like The 1% Windfall spell out the enormous positive financial consequences of being able to generate more money without any increase in the amount of stuff being produced. Companies collect this windfall by ensuring that their brands are perceived as meaningfully different from their competition, and then making that difference as salient as possible. So in that regard How Brands Grow provides some strong foundations without providing the final answer.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts.