Why we need to examine relative brand strengths

by Nigel Hollis | April 30, 2018

To really understand the attitudinal power of brands we need to look beyond the absolute scores and instead examine relative strengths and weaknesses. If more people say good things about a brand than claim to use it then that difference represents an opportunity to grow, provided that association has a positive relationship with business outcomes.

In his book ‘How Brands Grow’ Professor Byron Sharp explains that in the same way that he loves his mum because she is his mum, consumers love the brands they use because they use them. He says that brand attitudes among users are broadly the same across brands, attitudes follow usage they do not anticipate it.

My colleague Josh Samuel has rebutted this argument, demonstrating that positive brand attitudes do vary widely between brands and can help brands grow faster and command a price premium. He suggests,

“Professor Sharp is right—part of the reason I love my mum is simply because she’s my mum, but I also love her because she has loved and cared for me for years. Unfortunately, brands don’t have a maternal instinct to care for their consumers. As a result, some brands do a far better job than others at caring or giving the impression that they care for their consumers. Consumers feel that and respond accordingly.”


The fact that brand users are more likely to say good things about the brands they buy is indisputable. A quick look at BrandZ finds that there is a strong correlation between the proportion of people who claim to have bought a brand last and brand affinity or the perception that the brand meets someone’s needs but that does not mean these attributes are unimportant. They are intrinsic to usage. Would you buy a brand that you thought would not meet your needs?

If you want to get beyond the finding that big brands have more users then you need to look at relative strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if a brand has “excess perceptions of differentiation”, i. more than is justified by usage alone, then it is more likely to grow over time provided it is marketed appropriately. If a brand is has “excess perceptions of good design” it is more likely to command a price premium. Even when you look at measures like affinity and relevance the relationship between usage and brand endorsement is far from perfect, there is substantial variation between brands. We find that brand which have “excess affinity” are more likely to be thought of as worth the price.

So why do people not pay more attention to the relative differences between brands? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Graham Staplehurst, Kantar, May 02, 2018

    I love the analogy with Mums because it leads to several corollaries:

    1) I love my Mum too, but if I had to choose a Mum every day I'd probably care a lot less.

    2) I never liked doing what my Mum told me - and I feel the same about brands, so they should stop trying to tell us what to do

    3) Even if I love *my* Mum, there are a lot of people that are less bothered about theirs.  And for some, a parent can be a time-consuming burden, unfortunately.  No brand should demand time or attention from its buyers.

    On your more substantial point about pay attention to the relative differences between brands, I think it's about balance.  Some marketers pay too much attention to miniscule differences - for example, thinking that a refresh of their pack design is a big deal that will overcome their lack of advertising budget this year.  But small differences can be significant, and do add up to create behavioural nudges, more penetration and brand growth.  As a brand, you need to have an idea, to use it consistently, and to spread it as wide as possible.

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