• Heleena Webber

Book Review: How Brands Grow

I started this trip thinking I would be reading a lot. In fact, I downloaded about 10 books, and brought along 3 hard copies, one of them already being half-read from back home. I'm two weeks in and I've just gotten through that half book, leading me to think that the likelihood of getting through all of them will be low.


The book I have managed to finish is How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp. While I found myself nodding in agreement as I read it, it did go against many things that you'd expect as a marketer - especially if you play in an ultra-targeted digital space.


“In some sense our ability to open the future will depend not on how well we learn anymore but on how well we are able to unlearn.” – Alan Kay (the father of mobile computing)

I'll start with an ad from a recent Nike campaign that nearly everyone has seen (unless you've been living under a rock the last few months).



What made this ad so successful? (As it did indeed increase sales, by a lot.) Was it the celeb endorsement? The motivational message? The political undertone? The fact it's from Nike? The sheer reach with over 27 million views?


The answer (as you might have guessed), is yes to all of those things. But why?


The most important thing in marketing is reach. Both with physical availability and marketing. I've heard in countless meetings and conferences that "TV/print/radio" are dying and marketers need to shift budgets to ultra-targeted digital methods - segmenting audiences and serving them dozens of unique messages, trying to move them down the funnel with customized emails and loyalty tactics. And while I'm not saying don't be targeted, I'm saying don't give up on mass awareness and sacrifice reach - both in your marketing and physical distribution plans. Nike is one of the top brands in the sports category because they market everywhere, and you can buy them everywhere.


The larger the brand, the more loyal the customers are. This is because of the Double Jeopardy law. Much to our dismay as marketers, people aren't thinking about our brands day and night. In fact, they are barely paying attention at all. People have other things on their minds and want purchases to be easy. They crave the familiar to save mental time. That's why people typically purchase, and re-purchase these larger brands. If you're a small player relying on small-scale targeted efforts or loyalty programs in hopes of getting and retaining customers, you're going to be out of luck. They might try you, but they probably aren't going to stick with you.


But true loyalty doesn't exist, even for the big guys. The 80/20 rule (80% of sales come from 20% of your top customers) is actually more like 50/50. People usually flip between top brands. It's like how I love Nike and consider them my preferred athletic brand, but also I buy Under Amour, lululemon and Adidas depending on where I am, what I see, and the kind of mood I'm in at that given moment. That's another reason why standing out in your category, especially with your light shoppers, is super-important. Which leads me to...


Be distinctive, it matters more than being different. A lot of brands feel the need to list what makes them unique vs. the competition, trying to define their buyers within a category. Then, we create ads filled with USPs on what makes our special brand so different in order to reach these seemingly different segments. But guess what? Customers usually don't take note or care. And within a category, buyers really aren't that different. So just stand out. With people consuming hundreds of advertising messages per day, they're more likely to remember the ones that are distinctive. These are the ads that usually draw on emotions - like humour, unexpectedness or touching on deep human truths. This is why (I believe) purpose-based marketing is so successful. And it's what made the Nike/Kaepernick ad so successful - it tapped into strong emotions by making a political statement and having an inspiring, purpose-driven message.


Brands need to be consistent with, and put prominence on, brand elements. You know what also makes a brand distinctive? Visual assets - like logos, fonts and colours (ideally very different from their competitors). When you see two golden arches what do you think of? How a red soda pop can? Or a checkmark swoosh? When you see brand elements displayed the same way all the time, you build those mental associations, helping people think less (about advertising). Changing up a brand or packaging just to "be fresh and get noticed" may seem like the right (or fun) thing to do, but it makes it harder for people to recognize your brand at a glance. Logos, colours, sounds, even the end slate of commercials should look/feel the same. Every time. Just do it.


Use existing memory patterns. Distinctiveness and consistency also helps people build stronger associations with a brand. Memory is built through quantity (number of interactions) and quality (strength of the association and its relevance). Buyers rely on these associations when there is a need, whether it's a regular purchase, infrequent one, or based on an event or occasion. The easier you make it for people to quickly draw these connections to your brand, the better. For example, Nike does a great job of this with their fitness-based apps. Since I turn on their running app a few times a week when I run, I associate them with running and guess what? Most times I'm sporting Nike kicks.


Those higher production budgets really do make a difference. Being noticeable increases salience, but so does being seen as important. That's why celebrity endorsements (like Kaepernick) and professional-looking spots, brochures, websites, etc. really do work. People naturally trust them more. Creatives rejoice because that stellar design and copy really does work!


While I'd probably need a post for each section to truly do this book justice, the chart below sums up the two different ways of looking at marketing.



The takeaways? Make sure you have the reach. Not just with marketing, but with making it easy to find and buy what you're selling. Purpose and emotional connections can help a brand stay memorable, but make sure it’s super consistent. Just like that Nike ad. That controversy was top of mind for people. People were emotionally connected to it. It fit Nike’s purpose and consistent way of branding. And it had massive reach.


As our roles as marketers continues to grow, unlearning and finding different ways of doing things will be vital. Not just with the latest tool or platform, but with new ways of looking at things that might go against what we've previously thought or done. And with that in mind, stay fresh friends.


Want to get geeky? This book used cold, hard, scientific data based on the NBD Dirichlet model of brand choice and purchase rates. If you want to learn more, you can check out the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute here.

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