How Brands Grow – What marketers don’t know by Byron Sharp (Summarised by Paul Arnold – Facilitator, Trainer and Strategic Planner)

how brands grow

THE BOOK IN A NUTSHELL

The book challenges conventional ‘wisdom’, replacing it with empirical facts. Its key conclusions are:

  1. Growth primarily comes from gaining new users (penetration) rather than driving increased loyalty. Most of a brand’s users will be light users.
  2. Brands need to build physical availability (distribution) and mental availability (saliency).
  3. Even though brands differentiate themselves, in reality consumers still react (and buy) within a repertoire (as if there were no differences). Indeed, distinctivity is more important than differentiation – as it helps drive saliency.
  4. Advertising works by refreshing (and occasionally building) past memory structures.

The book rejects the concepts of brand loyalty, differentiation, segmentation, Lovemarks, and targeted (i.e low reach) media.

THE BOOK

The key principles and laws that help reshape marketing

Double Jeopardy Law – Brands with higher market share have more buyers than brands with lower market share. They also have buyers who are slightly more loyal.

Retention Double Jeopardy Law – All brands lose customers in rough proportion to their brand size (i.e. brands with higher market share lose more buyers than brands with lower market share). That said even though the percentage of its total brand universe is smaller, the sheer size of the brand mean the actual number of lost customers for a larger brand is bigger.

Pareto Law (60/20) – c60% of a brand’s sales come from just 20% of their buyer base.

Buyer Moderation Law – Buying tends to regress back toward the mean – i.e. high volume purchasers in one cycle tend to buy less in the next cycle, and low volume purchasers tend to buy more in the next cycle. Likewise some non-buyers become buyers (and some buyers become non-buyers).

Natural Monopoly Law – Brands with higher market share have a greater proportion of light users than brands with lower market share.

Brand user bases seldom vary – Competitor brands sell to the same customer profiles inspite the efforts to segment and differentiate (i.e. there is less brand differentiation and segmentation of user bases than we think).

Attitudes and brand beliefs reflect behavioural loyalty – Consumers like and know more about the brands they buy more regularly (and know very little about brands they do not buy). Because larger brands have more regular users, they always score higher in brand attitude surveys than other brands.

Usage drives attitude (or ‘I love my mum and you love yours’) – The attitudes and perceptions for a brand amongst its users are very similar, irrespective what brand it is – because we all like the brands we choose to use.

Law of Prototypicality – Image attributes of a brand that are more closely tied to the category always score higher than attributes less associated with the category.

Duplication of Purchase Law – A brand shares most of its customers with the largest brand and the least number of its customers with the smaller brands – e.g. If 30% of a brand’s buyers also bought brand A in a period, then 30% of every rival brand’s customers also bought brand A.

NBD-Dirichlet Model – A mathematical model that explains many of the above principles of how often buyers purchase from a category and which brands they buy.

Evidence based marketing

In reviewing nine leading marketing text books, they found it full of unproven ‘advice’. All the texts reinforce and support each other in suggesting a set ‘way’ of doing marketing. Many things we have been led to believe are important have now been shown to be less important. Examples including changing packaging, running advertising that jettisons its past, over-investing in loyalty programmes, promoting with deep discounts to recruit new users and spending on low reach media.

Through empirical analysis, we can now separate facts from myth:

From (old myths)

To (the facts)

Positioning

Saliency

Differentiation

Distinction

Message comprehension

Getting noticed; Emotional response

Unique selling proposition

Relevant associations

Persuasion

Refreshing & building memory structures

Teaching

Reaching

Rational involved viewers

Emotionally distracted viewers

Attitudes drive behaviour

Behaviour drives attitude

Brand switchers

Loyal switchers

Involvement

Heuristics (i.e. short cuts to meaning)

Growth through driving loyalty

Growth through driving penetration (of light users)

Price promotions win customers

Price promotion rewards existing users

Target marketing/segmentation

Sophisticated mass marketing

We compete on positioning

We compete with all brands in the category

Message comprehension

Getting noticed, emotional response

Unique selling proposition

Relevant associations

Teaching

Reaching

Campaign bursts

Continual presence

 

How brands grow

There are now over one million brands that obey some basic principles:

  1. The larger the brand share, the greater the number of customers – Whilst in theory you could have two brands of the same size – one with a few buyers who buy frequently and an other with a lot of buyers who buy infrequently, the reality reveals that all brands obey the same rules – they all have lots of buyers who buy the brand infrequently.
  2. Loyalty varies in line with brand share – Loyalty does not vary as much as brand shares but it does reflect brand share in that big brands have slightly higher loyalty levels than small size brands).

Washing powder brands (UK)

Market share (2005)

Annual penetration (2005)

Average purchase frequency (2005)

Persil

22%

41%

3.9x

Ariel

14%

26%

3.9x

Bold

10%

19%

3.8x

Daz

9%

17%

3.7x

Surf

8%

17%

3.4x

Even when you have highly differentiated brands in a category (such as Head and Shoulders and Vosene) still follow the Double Jeopardy Law. H&S had a brand share of 11% (Vs 2% for Vosene) in 2005, an annual penetration of 13% (vs 3% for Vosene) and average purchase frequency of 2.3x (vs 1.7x for Vosene). In other words, the larger the brand, the more buyers (and the average frequency of purchase is also higher).

Net, the way to boost the loyalty level is not through a loyalty campaign but by increasing the user base.

3. Brands primarily grow by increasing its number of users – Ehrenberg studied the success of 157 brands and found the factor most closely linked to their growth of decline was increase (or decrease) in its user base. The IPA advertising effectiveness awards found in 82% of the 880 papers entered reported growth from penetration (and just 2% from loyalty).

Penetration strategy

Loyalty strategy

Gold winners

21 papers

2 papers

Silver winners

20 papers

6 papers

Bronze winners

18 papers

3 papers

No medal awarded

41 papers

89 papers

Source: Binet & Field 2007

Niche brands – The core principle of niche brands is they have fewer, but more loyal customers. The reality is there are very few true niche brands. Most still have a wide number of buyers who buy them infrequently.

Cross-selling – Multiple products under a brand is also a common strategy for growth. But cross selling is just another form of loyalty and thus follows the Law of Double Jeopardy – i.e. the greater the size of the brand, the higher the level of cross selling.

How to grow your customer base

The marketing facts of life are that brands will always lose buyers each year. Indeed they follow the Law of Jeopardy – i.e. the larger the brand size, the more customers they lose (even growing brands). The larger the brand the higher its loyalty. The smaller the brands the slightly larger its defection rate.

Defection rates Car brands in UK & France (1986-1989)

Penetration %

Defection %

Ford

27

31

Nissan

6

45

VW/Audi

5

46

Peugeot

5

57

Renault

4

52

Citroen

2

48

Toyota

2

50

Honda

1

53

Source: Colombo, Ehrenberg & Sabavala, 2000

A study by Riebe (2003) showed that in the pharmaceutical category, brands that were in decline shared the same level of defection as successful brands. The issue for their decline was primarily to do with their inability to gain new users. She also replicated the study in France for shampoos and chocolate bars which supported her findings – that loyalty declines with market share.

Financial Institutions in Australia

Market share %

Defection %

CBA

32.0

3.4

Westpac

13.0

4.3

Bank SA

1.4

5.0

Adelaide Bank

0.8

7.0

Ave Defection rate

4.8

Source: Roy Morgan Research

Net: It is essential for a brand to develop an acquisition strategy if it wants to grow.

Which customers matter the most?

All marketing books propose targeted marketing as opposed to mass, blanket marketing. Today the trend is for targeting ‘influencers’ through ‘new’ media. Yet forming deep relationships with a substantial number of users in unlikely. All brands have many lighter users, and these lighter users contribute significantly to sales volume. Even for a brand like Coca Cola, light users dominate. And this is also the same for smaller brands. Marketers often forget how infrequent their average buyer buys (For example 30% of Coca Cola buyers do not even buy once a year. For Pepsi, it’s 50%). At the other end, just 4% of Coca Cola’s total buyers deliver almost 25% of total sales. These people are easy to market to (because they are often in your aisle, and are more likely to notice your advertising). You can argue that it’s not the best use of marketing funds to aim at these people as they are already committed buyers. It’s the infrequent buyers who are the majority of your user base. Pareto’s Law for Marketing is not 20/80 but more like 20/60 (ie 20% of buyers accounts for 60% of sales).

Furthermore, we misunderstand what light users are. Approximately 14% sales in a year come from people who had not bought the brand the year before (these are light users yet would be classified as ‘non users’). Likewise, the heavier buyers tend to buy less than they did the previous year – i.e. lighter buyers get heavier and heavier buyers get lighter (= a regression to the norm for all buyers):

% brand sales year 1

% brand sales year 2

Non buyers
(i.e. 0 purchase year 1)

0

14

Light buyers
(i.e. 1 purchase in year 1)

14

16

Medium buyers
(i.e. 2-4 purchases in year 1)

43

36

Heavy buyers
(i.e. 5+ purchases in year 1)

43

34

Source: Anscheutz 2002

Brand numbers may appear fairly static over time but in reality there is a lot of individual fluctuations within those numbers. People do ‘jump’ category – it’s not the same people who remain in one category all the time. Thus a brand does need to reach a wide range of users as they all change. Marketing aimed at the vast number of light users and/or non-buyers has been shown to be more effective – thus broad reach, mass marketing is the way to build a brand.

Our buyers are different

All brands assume their brand is clearly differentiated from the other brands in the category, appealing to a discrete and distinctive target group. Sadly this is not the case. The profile of the typical buyer is the same for all the key brands.

A historic piece of research compared the personality profile of buyers of Ford and Chevrolet and found they were essentially identical. More recent studies (mainly by Ehrenberg & Kennedy) have profiled hundreds of brands from dozens of categories (from cigarettes to mortgages) over time. The studies examined hundreds of variables (demographics, psychographics, values etc).

The key discovery was that competing brands sell to the same sort of people.

Perception, attitudes and intentions do not differ much across the different brand’s customer base – for example the ‘I love my mum – and you love your mum’ syndrome: Consequently buyers of Brand A think as well of their brand as buyers of Brand B think of their brand. People who regularly hire a Hertz find them to be clean and have attractive rents – as do people who hire Avis etc.

An associated (but different) piece of research (by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute) shows how everyone has the same reasons for choosing their last holiday destination – irrespective of which place they went to.

New variants – Marketers often launch new variants in the hope that it will reach different people. But the reality is they rarely differ. The reality is the customer bases of brands in a category are very similar (the key difference is just the sheer numbers) – Versace sells to the same people who buy Gucci!

Who do you really compete with?

Marketing has moved from mass marketing to target marketing through segmentation. The facts suggest that people buy across a category and are rarely solus brand users.

Buyers of Brand….

%age of buyers who also bought regular Coke

Diet Coke

65

Fanta

70

Lilt

67

Pepsi

72

Source: TNS

Buyers of brand…

Carte D’Or

Walls

Ben & Jerry’s

Haagen Dazs

Nestle

Mars

Carte D’Or

15

8

8

9

4

Walls

34

7

8

9

3

Ben & Jerry’s

38

14

26

13

8

Haagen Dazs

37

17

26

8

8

Nestle

39

17

12

7

9

Mars

41

12

18

17

22

AVERAGE

38

15

14

13

13

7

Source: TNS

Likewise, research by Ehrenberg has shown that customer gains for BMW in France come more from large non-premium brands like Peugeot and Citroen than from other premium brands like Mercedes and Audi.

Thus, it is unlikely than any brand owns a discrete segment of buyers. Most brands share (and hence fish) from the same pool of buyers (and in line with the size of the brand). The Law of Duplication of Purchase predicts that a brand will lose more customers to the largest brand within a category (and conversely, will also gain the most number of users from them). This again suggests a move back to mass market media (especially TV) to reach as many of the category purchasers as possible. The individual messages helps draw attention to a brands (minute) differences that may ‘nudge’ people on a temporary basis to choose that brand (but we know they will also buy other brands later on).

Research suggests that one of the biggest drivers of segmented buying of brands is distribution. If people can buy all the brands in the same place, then sales will spread across all those available. Collage for examples sells all its toothpastes in one place. If a brand has a unique route to market, then its more likely to have a differentiated user base.

Passionate consumer commitment

We know that familiarity breeds liking – i.e. prior experience of a brand makes a person more favourable to it (so a Coca Cola user will like the taste of Coke versus Pepsi and vice versa). We also know that brand cues can influence their perception (e.g. McDonald’s French fries taste better when you know they are from McDonald’s than when left unbranded).

Whilst brand loyalty is not perfect, a brand that has a greater emotional closeness is more likely to get greater than fair share purchase from an individual (they will still buy other brands as well). Brand loyalty helps us save time and effort in reviewing all options.

There are very few people who are solus buyers (and no brand is made up of solus buyers) – the average number of solus buyers for a brands is about 13% (i.e. 87% are multi brand buyers). We also know from the Double Jeopardy Law that larger brands will have more sold buyers and smaller brands will have less.

Category

Annual Category purchase rate

Brand

Brand share

100% loyal buyers

Analgesics

5.1

Tesco

22%

37%

Neurofen

8%

27%

Deodorants

5.6

Lynx

17%

21%

Dove

7%

17%

Breakfast cereals

21.5

Kellogg’s

29%

7%

Weetabix

9%

2%

Yoghurts

29.7

Muller

24%

7%

Danone

3%

2%

Source: TNS

Larger brands tend to have a higher proportion of light users due to the statistical nature of larger numbers (also known as the Natural Monopoly Law). For example, if you were to just buy one can of Cola a year, it is more than likely it would be Coca Cola.

Likewise, heavy category buyers are more likely to buy more brands. Thus, smaller brands are more likely to also be bought by the heavy category buyers (who will by definition be the most common buyers of the larger brands as well). Hence buyers of the smaller brands tend to be bought by people who are heavier category buyers. To illustrate, Cross & Blackwell sauce buyers on average buy tomato sauce 8 times a year (i.e. twice as much as the average purchase rate) – even though they only buy C&B 1.2 times a year.

Tomato Ketchup brands

Market share%

Penetration %

Frequency of buying this brand each year

Frequency of buying any tomato sauce each year

Heinz

5.3

50

2.9

4

Daddies

4

5

2

6

Cross & Blackwell

1

2

1.2

8

Source: TNS

Buyers tend to restrict their repertoire to a smaller range within a category. For example, a household with a choice of 80 channels, tend to switch between only 12 channels (effectively ignoring 85% of channels). Interestingly, when the choice increases to 200 channels, people still tend to stick to just 12 channels.

Lovemarks – Many marketing texts talk about creating value, delivering customer satisfaction, building relationships and creating engagement. This makes us ‘see’ their behaviour through such lenses i.e. the reason why a person buys a brand is due to this emotional connection the brand has created with the individual. Yet these theories (especially as proposed by Kevin Robert’s Lovemarks) are largely untested assumptions. We do not ‘identify’ with most brands in the same way we do with our sports team. Consumers are busy people and do not have the time to reassess decision-making every time they walk into a store. Furthermore, the risk of a bad decision over a tin of soup is so low to mean there is no seriously bad choice. In reality, most brand choices are routine, passionless* and often unconscious – thus brand loyalty is not an active choice but a passive one.

(*Research by neuroscientists reveal there is only very slight emotional responses to brands).

When we see a consistent image score (e.g. ‘Hertz rents attractive cars’) we assume then people constantly think that. But when you dig into the individual data lines, you find individuals shift their attitudes on brands – some go up and some go down – so under the seeming static-ness of the number actually lies a lot of fluidity. This does not mean that consumers are permanently shifting their attitudes towards or away from the brand, but it appears consumers are often in flux (and hence their response can depend on what’s going on at that moment for them). Thus one time they may fancy Hertz, and another time Avis. At this point, minutiae of influences can nudge a person one way or the other (and not all of these influences are brand driven).

Australian

Financial Services Brands

%Initial agreement to statement ‘Would value me as a whole person not just a transaction’ % of the first score that repeated their agreement with the statement. Respondents who agreed in both surveys
ANZ 11 53 .53 x 11 = 6%
St. George 11 35 .35 x 11 = 4%
Colonial 6 33 .33 x 6 = 2%

Source: Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Net what we think about a brand is not absolute nor is it static. In reality, most people rarely think deeply about most of the brands they use.

Brand fanatics – there are obviously some people who are 100% loyal to a brand. Some are loyal because they are such infrequent buyers (e.g. once a year) whilst others are regular, solus buyers. This may be due to rational decisions (e.g. availability) and in some cases it’s because they are fanatical about the brand. Curiously any brand can have a few fanatical loyalists (including 7-Eleven!). Apple and Harley Davidson are the poster boys of emotion driven brand loyalty.

The facts are that buyers of these two brands also buy other brands in their category (Buyers of Harley Davidson buy other brands twice as often as they buy a Harley). Apple’s repeat buyer level in 2002/3 (i.e. loyalty) was only slightly higher than average (and significantly less than Dell). Nike is no more loyal than other brands bearing in mind its market size. This is not to say these brands do not have fanatical followers, but they are a small percentage of their total buyer base and hence revenue (and may not be any larger than many other brands). Sadly these brands do not get a good advocacy kick via social media (as evidence suggests people only talk about new things they are doing or buying, not established patterns).

Net – we like what we buy (and may well find post rationalised excuses for what we did not buy). Most buyers think and care little about the brands they buy – and even less about the brands they don’t buy.

Differentiation versus distinctiveness

Rather than aiming for meaningful differentiation, seek instead for distinctiveness (that may be free from meaning). We need to quickly establish a brand within consumers mind – and being distinctive helps make a brand salient.

There is little empirical evidence offered in text books that a differentiation strategy actually leads to brand growth (yet there is evidence that most brands in a category have similar rivals). Most people buy within a category for the generic benefits of that category – which everyone offers. Thus for many brands the areas of differentiation are marginal (and temporary) and thus have limited influence on purchase patterns.Often any differences are quite functional (e.g. American brands are perceived as American, and expensive brands perceived as expensive.

Likewise brand personality. The reality is users of different brands see them in the same way. It could be argued that brand personality is a misguided concept as few people imbue brands with human-like qualities (for example, only 3% of British consumers think their condiment is ‘charming’).

Brand

‘Trusted’

‘Efficient’

‘Rapport’

‘Relevant’

‘Solution’

‘Innovative’

‘Essential’

FedEx

95

94

84

79

69

60

39

Brand ‘A’

96

95

85

81

72

63

37

Nokia

96

83

75

67

65

89

22

Brand ‘B’

97

87

82

76

75

47

32

Brand ‘C’

94

78

72

70

75

54

46

Oracle

93

83

73

53

60

85

19

Brand ‘D’

94

90

85

58

81

66

23

AVERAGE

94

87

79

69

71

66

31

Source: Collins 2002

Marketers strive to create unique imagery for their brands. But a study of 130 brands in 13 product areas shows that people rarely (i.e. 3%) see a brand as exclusively owning a particular image or attribute. The more successful brands do not appear to have unique associations. The reality is they will all own the core attributes of that category.

Differentiation does exist. Every category will have brands that differ on the fundamentals of price and quality. But how important is differentiation? The fact that loyalty does not vary significantly between brands suggests it is not as important. Furthermore, if important, then surely we should see a matching with different consumer segment types (who may favour that point of differentiation)? But again we have found competing brands sell to very similar customer bases. Brands that are very differentiated should be selling to more discrete audiences – but this is not the case (as heavy category buyers in particular often buy a wide number of competitive brands).

The NBD-Dirichlet mathematical model assumes that brands compete as undifferentiated options – and this has been validated across many different studies on many different categories in many different countries. Net, brands are much more similar than we like to think. Differentiation as a concept is more important at a category level than a brand level (For example, KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut all have minor differences from their respective main competitors (like Burger King, Dominoes etc), but are differentiated from each other in the competing fast food category). Differentiation is a concept that lives in theory but dies in practice. It’s not how the real world works.

So how do people really chose between branded options? Studies reveal that most people (i.e. average 89%) do not see their brand as being very different from its competitors. Even brands like Apple. 77% of its user base say they do not see it as different or unique from other brands. We may talk about Apple’s design, its user interface and different operating system, but for most people it still helps them look at things on the internet, send emails store photos, and write documents – like every other computer does. Thus, if they do not see these brands as being different, then it can’t play a big part in influencing their purchase.

In reality, most people do not need a point of differentiation to buy a brand (or keep on buying it). In many cases, brand choice can be a trivial decision, with little thought and gentle influence. People by and large do not spend a long time ‘comparing’ across brands. Hence many people do not really know the differences between brands (they know a little about the brands they use, and near nothing about the brands they do not use). This threatens many theoretical models on information processing (such as Alpert ’71, Fishbein & Ajzen ’75 etc.). Thus it is not essential for marketers to convince buyers that their product is different for them to buy it.

Category

Current users who perceive their brand as being DIFFERENT %

Current users who perceive their brand as being UNIQUE %

Spirits

20

27

Supermarkets

25

21

Skincare products

17

21

Ice-cream

14

11

Fast food

16

13

Banking

13

10

Soft drinks

11

9

Condiments

10

9

Ready sauces

9

7

IT

9

10

Soups

8

5

Yoghurt

8

5

Cars

9

6

Water

6

6

Electronics

4

6

AVERAGE

11

10

Source: Romaniuk, Sharp & Ehrenberg

Distinctiveness – an alternate perspective

Distinctiveness helps make a brand ‘stand out’ in our mind and memory. Of interest, there need not be any meaningful purpose of the point of distinction (as its role is merely to drive saliency).

Some elements that drive distinctiveness include colours (e.g. Vodafone red), Logos (e.g. McDonald’s arches), Shapes (e.g. Toblerone), Tag lines (e.g. Nike – Just do it), Symbols/ Characters (e.g. Micky Mouse’s ears), Celebrities (e.g. Tiger Woods for Nike), and advertising styles (e.g. Priceless campaign by Mastercard). When you have a distinctive feature it should be regularly featured in all communication material to install into long term memory. This also helps build a sense of familiarity, which creates an emotional reassurance of the brand (and this in turn helps nudge purchase). Since most brands have a long tail of irregular buyers, distinctivity helps bring the brand to mind, encouraging re- purchase. When a brand drifts into the deep recesses of the mind, the opportunity to be considered when the consumer buys into that category is diminished.

These points of distinction need to be learned by the consumer and this takes time (and consistent exposure). For example, Nike first introduced its ‘swoosh’ in the 1970’s.

How advertising really works

Fact: advertising works. If it didn’t then why would very smart organisations around the world spend 2% of the world’s GDP on it? 40 years of single source data (i.e data trains linked to individuals) from a wide range of categories has provided solid empirical evidence that advertising drives sales amongst those exposed to it. The reality is not every ad sells. – some copy is more effective than others (and it’s not necessary for that copy to be rational to be persuasive).

The increasing knowledge we have has helped us redefine some of the key principles of advertising:

From (old myths)

To (the facts)

Rational OR Emotional

Emotional AND Rational

Message comprehension

Getting noticed; Emotional response

Unique selling proposition

Relevant associations

Persuasion

Refreshing & building memory structures

Positioning

Saliency

Teaching

Reaching

Primarily, advertising works by creating and refreshing memory. Most decision- making is heavily influenced by emotions. Du Plessis states that emotional content in advertising helps gain attention. ‘Emotion’ also lifts the liking of ads (which in turn leads to greater attention (and increased branding) and from there, greater influence and sales).

Brand advertising affects the buying behaviour of consumers. It’s impact is long term, more subtle yet more effective than short term promotional driven advertising. That is because of two things:
1) The advertising effect is laid down thinly over a long period of time (especially for large brands as their ad spend is relatively small versus all the other ‘impacts’ the brand has due to its size). The effect is like the decent path of a plane – the higher it climbs, the longer its influence.

2) Most advertising just maintains market share (as few advertisers invest big enough to really shift the needle).

Most brands have a long tail of light users. The committed heavy users is so ingrained in their behaviour, that the advertising will have little impact. However, the advertising reminds those light users of the brand and so ‘nudges’ their behaviour (do not under-estimate the impact of a slight nudge on millions of potential customers). If a brand does not remind these light users, then the brand fades from memory (and is further pushed back by the advertising of other brands) and so is less likely to be used again. The bigger the brand, the more light users it has and hence the more money it needs to spend to reach them all (and so needs to use broad reach media rather than discrete channels).

Advertising needs to be processed (ideally consciously but can also be unconsciously) to build memory structures. The trouble with so much vying for attention, advertising’s first role is to cut through (hence the use of creativity). Emotion is the primary source of human motivation so engaging and evoking emotions is often critical in advertising.

The key way advertising works is by building (and occasionally refreshing) memory structures. This helps people more readily recall the brand, making it more top of mind (salience). Continual presence is more effective than short bursts of advertising as it stops these memory structures from fading away.

Rational advertising that tries to convince through providing some meaningful new information to persuade can work (but are often dry and so fail to cut-through). Rational messaging is better absorbed if wrapped in emotion (e.g. ‘Goodyear tyres reduce braking ability’ Vs ‘Keeps your loved ones safe’).

Net, use broad reach media, with emotional elements and aim for continuous exposure to build a brand.

What price promotions really do

Price promotions have an immediate and dramatic effect on short term sales. It is the easiest to change. But in most cases it is artificial and short lasting. Price promotion primarily rewards current users. They have not been shown to bring new users permanently into the brand.

Each brand has a ‘normal’ (expected price) to pay and most categories have pricing tiers – ranging from economy up to premium.The belief is some people are premium brand buyers and others want to buy as cost efficiently as possible. Research however suggests people buy across the pricing range, even within a category:

Buyers of…

%age buying cheapest instant coffee

%age buying regular priced instant coffee

%age buying premium priced instant coffee

%age buying most expensive instant coffee

Cheapest instant coffee

100

64

57

36

Regular priced instant coffee

69

100

51

30

Premium priced instant coffee

66

55

100

39

Most expensive instant coffee

78

61

73

100

Source TNS

For some brands, more than half its sales come from discounted prices (which raises the question, what is the real price of the brand?)

For retailers and many brands, promotions have become ingrained into their plans without any real thought to their impact. So why do brands run price promotions? The two most common reasons cited are to drive sales/profit and attract new users. Sadly neither of these are supported by empirical evidence.

Ehrenberg, Hammond and Goodhardt (1994) found that almost everyone who bought a brand during its promotional period had bought the brand previously (and so marketers have given away profit (because they would have bought it at the full price).

Furthermore, promotions tend to pull sales forward (so you get a dip in sales post promotion).

But does it bring back infrequent buyers? Price promotions do bring in a lot of infrequent buyers, but these buyers then drop back out afterwards.

Do they bring in new users? Promotions do jolt short term purchase but it does not change their overall buying profile.

So what is the average volume a brand can expect? Studies have found a fairly consistent level of price elasticity (i.e. the %age change in volume for a 1% change in price). Danaher & Brodie (2000) found a -2.3% across 26 categories – i.e. a 23% increase in sales from a 10% drop in price. Scriven and Ehrenberg (2004) found -2.6%, and Bijmolt, Van Heerde & Pieters (2005) -2.5%. These results can be exceeded if there is a relatively big price drop versus the competition, if the promotion is heavily promoted, or if the brand has a low share.

But does price promotions increase profitability? Even with large volume rises, it often does not contribute to extra profit. That is because by cutting the price, you cut the profit margin. For example, if a brand (with a margin of 50%), drops its price by 10% this will reduce its margin to 30%. A 25% drop in price would wipe out all profit on those extra sales. Clearly these breakeven levels depend on the brands margin:

For a brand with a 30% profit contribution margin

For a brand with a 40% profit contribution margin

For a brand with a 50% profit contribution margin

Price reduction %

Increase in sales needed to match the current contribution (%)

Increase in sales needed to match the current contribution (%)

Increase in sales needed to match the current contribution (%)

1

3

2

2

5

20

10

11

10

50

33

25

20

200

100

66

Source: Sharp 2010

One of the problems with regular promotions is the re-education of the consumer base into the ‘new reality’ of the price of the brand (making them actively reject the brand when not on promotion). Regular high visibility promotions then becomes another learned memory of the brand, encouraging some people to only buy when on offer.

Net, price promotion is costly. It does not bring in permanent new users and erodes (potentially forever) the brands margins. The only real benefit is for the retailer. The recommendation is to reduce the funding of price promotion to the minimum viable and move the funds instead into longer term brand building activities such as advertising.

Why loyalty programs do not work

The marketing ‘theory’ is if a brand can develop a closer, more empathetic relationship with its consumers and offering reward points for purchase then they will become more loyal to the brand.

However this basic premise may well be misguided as empirical evidence suggests it’s not working. Indeed, some companies are now winding down their investment in their loyalty programs.

The Ehrenberg-Bass institute studied loyalty programs in Australia and observed only a weak effect. In the study there were able to predict the likely level of loyalty a brand of each size would expect with no special activity. The results show only marginal differences versus no activity:

PREDICTED Penetration of a brand this size (with no activity)

ACTUAL Penetration (through loyalty program)

PREDICTED Average Purchase frequency of a brand this size (with no activity)

ACTUAL Average Purchase frequency (through loyalty program)

PREDICTED Sole buyers of a brand this size (with no activity)

ACTUAL Sole buyers (through loyalty program)

DEPARTMENT STORES (AUSTRALIA)

Kmart

52

48

3.4

3.7

7

10

Target

42

43

3.0

2.9

6

5

Myer

34

35

2.8

2.8

5

5

SUPERMARK ETS (AUSTRALIA)

Coles

64

61

9.4

9.8

3

5

Bio

60

58

8.9

9.1

3

3

PETROL RETAIL (AUSTRALIA)

Shell

51

46

5.8

6.3

10

11

BANK CREDIT CARDS (AUSTRALIA)

NAB

25

20

7.2

9.6

63

79

BNZ

28

27

7.9

8.1

80

79

PHONE CALLS

Telecom

85

86

24

24

87

88

AVERAGE

50

48

8.0

8.4

28

31

Source: Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Loyalty programs fall into the same trap as price promotions do. Primarily it’s the regular users who see the benefit of it and sign up, whilst infrequent buyers are less likely to engage. And of course non-users rarely even know about it.

Category

Average Purchase Frequency of consumers who joined the loyalty program

Average Purchase Frequency of consumers who DID NOT join the loyalty program

Supermarkets

27

28

Petrol Retail

13

14

Department stores

10

9

Credit Cards

10

9

Telecoms

26

26

Average

15

15

Source: Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Net, loyalty programs produce very slight loyalty effects and do little to drive actual growth. When you take into account the cost of running such programs, in most cases there will be a negative impact on profit. Probably their most productive role is in building a database for further analysis of buying habits.

Mental and Physical availability

One of the key principles in Marketing is to make a brand easy to buy. This requires not just mental availability (i.e. saliency) but also physical availability (i.e. distribution).

Mental Availability – Brands are a very small part of people’s lives. Furthermore, it’s a very cluttered world, with lots of ‘impacts’ from TV, digital, etc vying of your attention (c300 ads a day). The typical supermarket stocks over 30,000 products. We simply do not have the time nor capacity to assess every option, so our brains tend to ‘satisfice’ – i.e. find a brand ‘that will do’ rather than necessarily be ‘the best’. The greater the range of choice the more likely we will satisfice (as brand choice becomes increasingly difficult). Thus a lot of brand loyalty is passive not active. Instead buyers are active rejectors of other brands (as too complex/difficult to assess so chose not to consider them as their current choice is satisfactory). Our brains naturally screen out a lot of information that impinges on our senses. Therefore a brand has to do something spectacular to be noticed.

Academia assumes we make conscious decisions in our brand choice (based on brand features and brand image) from a wide array of possible options. Yet we know in practice this overstates the role of features and brand image. Buyers do not consistently recall the same things about a brand. Many other factors affect what we remember. Furthermore consumers do not survey all options on the market. Finally many other factors outside the brand features and image will influence decision- making. Sometimes a customer is feeling extravagant, sometimes frugal, sometimes patriotic. Thus there is less predicability in decision making than the academics and research companies suggest.

So why are some brands more popular than others? It’s to do with the fact that certain brands are recalled more easily than others. Since the biggest growth opportunity comes from light users and non users the key is to get these two groups to think of your brand more often.

In the brain there are nodes of information associated with the brand (e.g. McDonald’s will have hamburgers, the golden arches etc). These links keep being refreshed through experiences such as restaurant visibility, visiting, consuming, advertising etc. The more extensive and fresher the network of memory association about a brand, the greater the brand’s saliency. The more these memories can be triggered in everyday situations, the more likely the brand will be recalled. The more distinctive these brand assets, the greater the chance to stand out and be recalled.

Physical availability – Physical availability means making a brand easy to buy. Even if you recall it, if it is not on sale in the store (or out of stock) that potential sale is lost. It also includes hours of availability and ease of purchase (such as finance). The bigger the brand, the greater the likelihood it will be available everywhere.

Research has shown the key ways to help build mental and physical availability are: Broadening distribution, Gaining a new distribution channel, Consistent use of the brand’s distinctive assets, Broad reach media, Gaining shelf space, Broad range of product varieties, pack formats and sizes.

Coupons, price promotions, pack changes and loyalty programs are unlikely to build mental and physical availability.

Unknown or risky strategies include advertising that contains new information, competitions, temporary product variants and suspense advertising (where the brand name is hidden)

SUMMARY

The seven simple rules for marketing:

  1. Reach – Continuously reach ALL buyers of your category with both broad reach comms and physical distribution.
  2. Make it easy – Ensure the brand is made as easy to buy as possible – be it availability, delivery, parking, pack sizes, ease of finance etc.
  3. Get noticed – Be salient. Be distinctive. Use emotions.
  4. Build brand memory assets – We ignore things that do not fit our ‘map of reality’. When we try to re-position a brand, it takes a lot of investment to cut against the inertia of the past memory structures. Therefore it’s often more effective to work with what you already have. If you are launching new things, it is best to link it back to existing known concepts.
  5. Create and use distinctive brand assets – Brands helps us ‘short-circuit’ the laborious task of decision-making. But the brand must first be recalled. Distinctive brand assets (such as ‘The Jolly Green Giant’, The PG Tips Chimps, L’Oreal’s, ‘Because you’re worth it’ etc. all help provide memorable hooks that make the brand stand out and hence be recalled easier. If your brand does not have one, then it needs to create one (and then invest long-term behind it).
  6. Be consistent yet fresh – Remain faithful to the existing memory structures/ distinctive brand assets – and keep them fresh. You need to keep telling the old story time and time again – but in new and engaging ways. Likewise, avoid the common marketing temptation to change things.
  7. Stay competitive – don’t give a reason NOT to buy – A large part of selection is the process of de-selection (i.e. what you will not consider). A brand is easier to buy the more times it has been bought (and the more a brand gets rejected, the less likely it is to get bought). So be careful you do not start to create barriers to purchase (be it physical or mental availability or some features). A brand spends so much time focusing on why people should buy it, they forget to focus on what puts people off buying it.

CRITIQUE

This for me is one of the most important marketing books of the past decade. Clearly, its principles need to be validated for your brands and category.

One of the big areas I struggle with is the statistics – Mediums and averages always disguise the truth. For all brands there will be loyalist and advocates at one end and dismissers at the other. Thus we must be careful not to paint a picture of all brands and all consumers being the same merely because the way numbers work, will push everything back to the average.

If this was a ‘scientific’ paper I think there would be a cry for more evidence to really support his claim (and likely the need to ‘disprove’ any counter evidence). Thus I feel he has certainly opened up the debate about the need for more empirical evidence and challenged a large number of myths.

That said, I do notice I find it hard to accept some of the principles he challenges (maybe because I am so committed to those and so have convinced myself of their veracity). For example, the view about segmentation, and insights I find it hard to completely buy (and so challenge the maths to disprove his theory – because I do not want to believe it!). Likewise I notice there are some things I believe in (such as the greater power of TV versus social media) and so easily drift over the data without challenging it.

I therefore think we need to be ‘open’ to many of these challenges but also set up testing programmes to check some of these hypotheses for our own brands.

Brain for hire copy

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About slooowdown

Consultant in the fields of Relationships and Change
This entry was posted in Advertising, Brands, Business strategy, Marketing. Bookmark the permalink.

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