Prairie Dog

What if I Told You …

One of my favorite books is Adam Grant’s “Think Again.” I like it so much because it is a reminder of this important truth: We don’t know what we don’t know. As Grant says, “We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.”

We’re all guilty. It’s only human.

However, the secret to growth is a curious mind. To be skeptical of what you know. To be open to new thinking. And to be willing to change your thinking.

Thinking again is never easy. It requires admitting beliefs you’ve held to for years just might not be right. You could say it takes a bit of courage. But then again, wouldn’t you rather benefit from new thinking than continue propagating old theories and rules of thumb?

Absolutely, yes.

Enter the works of Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science’s Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk, along with the IPA’s Les Binet and Peter Field.

Sharp’s “How Brands Grow,” Romaniuk’s “Building Distinctive Brand Assets” and Binet and Field’s “The Long and Short of It” have caused me to rethink a lot of long-held marketing beliefs. And confirmed a few things I’ve always questioned.

Each time I get an opportunity to speak at a conference, I ask if anyone is familiar with these marketers and their work. Rarely do hands go up. One of the reasons few are aware of Sharp, Romaniuk, Binet and Field is they all herald from Australia and the U.K.

Their work has been slow to migrate to the United States from the U.K. but has caused CEOs and CMOs at Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Airbnb and others to make major shifts in their marketing strategies, with significant results. Here are a few reviews of “How Brands Grow” and “The Long and Short of It” at the time they debuted:

“A myth-busting book in the tradition of classic scientific discoveries. It is based on real-world data — empirical data, not arm-chair theorizing.” – Ad Age 

“Les and Peter have made a huge contribution to our understanding of how marketing drives growth and profit for brands. Marketers everywhere should pay close attention.” –  Keith Weed, former Chief Marketing Officer, Unilever

“Science has revolutionized every discipline it has touched. Now it is marketing’s turn. All marketers need to move beyond the psychobabble and read this book … or be left hopelessly behind.” – Joseph Tripodi, former Chief Marketing Officer, The Coca-Cola Company

There’s so much to explain about the methodology, findings and implications of these important marketing works. Far too much to cover here. So, let me give you a taste to whet your appetite.

What if I told you…

  • Everything we learned about brand loyalty is extremely iffy. And brand love is largely a myth. Growth, not retention, should be marketers’ primary focus.
  • Brand-building campaigns, not performance marketing efforts, are the main drivers of growth.
  • If you have to choose between brand-building and performance campaigns, brand-building is the way to go, but a brand build and performance mix is best. On average, Binet and Field’s work suggests a 60:40 mix as a rule-of-thumb, with categories like health care heavier on brand build.
  • Last click attribution often leads marketers to the wrong conclusions. Take it from Adidas.
  • ROI is a dangerous metric that can lead you down the wrong path. Limit it to measure efficiency of short-term tactics.
  • Avoid the old practice of flighting campaigns. Memory erodes. Each flight is like starting over. An always-on approach maintains mental availability, which is essential to consideration.
  • Targeting is overrated. Growth is primarily driven by continuously reaching all potential buyers in your market. For example, if Coca-Cola focused its advertising only on heavy buyers or those with a high propensity to buy their product, they would be missing out on more than half of their annual sales.
  • The vast majority of consumers are not in the market for what you’re selling at any given moment — even less so in health care than many categories. Always-on brand-building increases the probability your brand comes to mind when the consumer becomes a buyer.
  • TV is not dead. Reach and time spent are the biggest drivers of effectiveness, and TV (video) delivers better than any other medium. Think all that is TV these days — broadcast, cable, streaming and YouTube.
  • Differentiation is rare, and many times not available. Distinction is essential to creating mental availability for your brand.
  • Consumers don’t “turn away” when you sprinkle brand assets throughout your ads as some creatives would argue. Rather, brand recall increases while audience-skipping behavior is not affected. You are not building brand if they don’t know it’s you. During the recent Super Bowl, Dunkin’ Donuts and State Farm did it right. BMW did not.

Got your attention? Hope so. Skeptical? I was, too.

All I ask is that you consider “How Brands Grow,” “Building Distinctive Brand Assets” and “The Long and Short of It” and see if anything causes you to think again. They are all available on Amazon and a quick Google search will turn up PDFs of the latter (plus subsequent works). Enjoy.


Jerry Hobbs

Jerry Hobbs is a marketing strategist and the president of Prairie Dog, a national health care marketing group headquartered in Kansas City.