| January 25, 2017
Recently, Mark Ritson wrote a piece in Marketing Week titled, “We should thank Byron Sharp, not attack him.” And I think Ritson is right, we do need to thank Professor Sharp. We do not have to agree on everything, but in laying out some fundamental truths about how marketing works Sharp is laying the ground for real progress in how marketing is practiced.
One of the fundamental problems with the practice of marketing is that too much of it is done on the basis of gut feel and hearsay, and not enough on proven and well-established learning. This is particularly true of advertising where practitioners seem to believe that ‘creativity’ lies outside the scope of any generalization. So, if Professor Sharp has been instrumental in convincing marketers that there are consistent and replicable ways in which marketing works to build sales, good on him.
If you think this is a complete 180 on my behalf then you have not been paying attention to previous posts (this one for instance). My main frustration with Professor Sharp’s laws is that they do not cover more ground. His generalizations tend to focus on the creation of volume market share, and are not concerned with the value those sales create. Brands exist to make profit, not just sell more stuff; and one of the main ways they do so is by commanding a price premium.
Let’s quickly review three of Sharp’s basic tenets:
- Brands should “continuously reach all buyers of the category”. Agreed. I doubt there are many brands in the world that could not benefit from increased penetration through targeting light and non-buyers.
- Brands should create and maintain distinctive brand assets. Agreed. If you want your brand to get noticed on a crowded shelf or web page it had better stand out from the crowd.
- Brands need to be salient in relation to specific needs, occasions and contexts. Agreed. Mental availability (coupled with physical availability) is the key growth driver for most brands.
Any marketer who works toward achieving these goals will likely grow their volume market share. However, I do think that the mental and physical availability model is too limited. All the data I see finds that a brand cannot command a price premium without being perceived as different from the alternatives by potential buyers. Neither book really addresses the issue of how brands command a price premium. And yet there is ample evidence to suggest that this is how brands really make money. Not by selling more stuff to more people, but by selling it at a better margin. A good example is found in the 2016 IPA Awards where Guinness aimed to reduce price elasticity and reversed its value market share decline.
Last and probably least is the whole issue of brand liking or affinity (please, not love). If a brand evokes an instinctive, positive response then it is more likely to be chosen than one that does not. This is response may in large part be guided by experience but marketing can help boost that response. Creating engaging and likeable content is one way of doing so. The IPA Awards 2016 Grand Prix winning campaign from John Lewis aimed to increase brand salience (John Lewis equals Christmas gift giving) but also had the objective of deepening brand affection. It succeeded on both counts and John Lewis sales outpaced both retail and online sales between 2012 and 2015.
So do I agree with Professor Sharp? Yes I do. Do I believe his viewpoint on what makes effective marketing is limited? Yes I do. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.