How Brands Grow – Blowing Up Marketing Shibboleths

January 3, 2014

How Brands Grow by Dr. Byron Sharp

If you’ve never read it, you should. Dr. Sharp, from the Ehrenberg Institute of Marketing Science, takes aim at many well established marketing beliefs and systematically demonstrates with data that they are often much overblown hype. If you’re a real Marketer, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

I particularly like his concepts of “mental and physical availability” as the most important drivers of brand growth. Advertising’s role is to create greater mental availability, and this is why real world “breakthrough” and memorability are such crucial gatekeeper metrics to advertising success.

I wrote a blog post book review on How Brands Grow some months back, but I recommend you read the book.

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Brand InEquity – Making Brand Equity Work

August 3, 2010

I recently came across an interesting Q&A with Professor Byron Sharp from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Byron was commenting on the validity, or lack thereof, of various brand equity measurement approaches: 

Professor Byron Sharp Talks Brand Equity

Interviewer:
But you don’t like these brand tracking services ? 

Byron:
There is an industry that provides special scores on brands, based on surveying customers.  These services mostly claim to be measures of things like brand loyalty or brand equity.  They usually have exotic names like commitment model, brand esteem, brand voltage, brand asset evaluator….Essentially they claim to be able to predict whether the brand is about to gain or lose market share. 

I think any claims made for these proprietary products should be subject to independent examination.  It’s the job of academics to do this testing. Some of the claims are so extraordinary, and so important that they deserve to be checked out.  If they turn out to be true that would be fabulous. 

Interviewer:
And do these proprietary brand health surveys, these metrics, work? 

Byron:
Well that’s just the thing.  No-one knows… 

This is pretty strong stuff. It’s an article of faith for almost all well-trained Marketers that building your brand’s equity is one of the most important things that you can do. But, the question is: is brand equity really important and if so, how are we doing at measuring it? 

How Are Marketers Measuring Brand Equity?

Brand Equity — Important or Not ?

I have to admit, it’s hard to summon any kind of rational argument that Marketers shouldn’t care about brand equity. Fundamentally, Marketing is about understanding consumer needs–articulated or not–and then delivering and communicating products and services that meet these needs better than competitors. 

If this is the core of Marketing, then it’s self-evident that brands will want to stand for the equities associated with the consumer need and how their brand addresses it better than competition. Can anyone seriously argue this point? I think not. Rather, I think Professor Sharpe’s point is not that brand equity is unimportant, but that people are just not very good at measuring it. 

Brand Measurement: Linking Equity & Consumer Need

What’s Wrong With Equity Measurement

As Professor Sharp points out, there are many different approaches to measuring brand equity or brand health. But, I have two fundamental issues with virtually all of them: 

  1. How Advertising & Media Exposure Impacts Brand Equity — On the front end, Marketers develop advertising and other communications programs to convince consumers that their brand is better than competitors. Hence, they need to understand whether and how these programs are working. Only by understanding this can they optimize advertising and media plans to improve equity impact. Currently, equity surveys generally tell us whether equity scores went up, down or were flat. But, as for what caused the changes, who knows? There’s no easy way today to see the cause and effect relationship between advertising and media exposure and changes in brand equity.
  2. How Brand Equity Impacts Business Results — On the back end, wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s  actually a relationship between brand equity and business results? It’s just assumed by most CMO’s that higher equity scores are better. I too assume they are, but then where’s the evidence? What’s needed is a more direct cause and effect quantification of how changes in brand equity actually cause changes in sales or market share. This would go a long way toward helping inform the debate that CMO’s often have with their CEO’s and CFO’s as to the value of “brand” marketing. And today, this is sorely lacking.

Brand Equity & Market Share

What’s Needed: An End-to-End System

In talking to many senior level Marketers, I hear over and over again that people are looking for an end-to-end system that links key communication and business metrics together. They want to: 

  • Link copy testing scores to real-time in-market tracking of advertising and media effectiveness
  • Connect in-market tracking results to brand equity scores
  • Have brand equity metrics that connect to revenue and share outcomes

CMO's: Chartering The Path From Brand Equity to Business Results

End-to-End Communications — Just a Dream ?

Is this kind of system possible ? Time will tell, but I think it’s within sight. The advent of single source panels which connect what people watch and what people buy at the household level offer tantalizing possibilities.

Until then, Marketers should continue to focus on building brand equity, but keep in mind that higher equity scores are not an end in and of themselves. They ultimately need to drive better business results–otherwise who really cares about brand building? 

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Why “Easier” is Better for Your Brand

April 19, 2010

Is “easier” better for your brand? Consider this excerpt from the article “Easy = True” by Drake Bennett

Imagine that your stockbroker…who’s always giving you stock tips–called and told you that he had come up with a new investment strategy. Price-to earnings ratios, debt levels, management, competition, what the company makes, and how well it makes it, all those considerations go out the window. 

The new strategy is this: Invest in companies with names that are very easy to pronounce. This would probably not strike you as a great idea. But, if recent research is to be believed, it might just be brilliant.”

If making it easier to pronounce the name of a company can influence stock market performance for the better, can making your marketing “easier” for consumers build your brand and Marketing ROI? 

Cognitive Fluency

A relatively new topic of research in the world of psychology these days is “cognitive fluency.” It’s the study of how the ease or difficulty in thinking about and understanding a topic influences our attitudes and preferences toward it. As a research topic, psychologists are learning that cognitive fluency affects our thinking in subtle, yet important ways. Many of which are very relevant for communicating with consumers. 

Apple Advertising — “Easier” in Action

Let’s take a real world example: the Apple iPhone. With the iPhone, Apple had a tough task: communicate the incredible multiplicity of apps so that consumers would immediately understand the ease and simplicity of accessing them to solve basic everyday problems.

iPhone TV Advertising - Simple & Effective

Now think of the Apple iPhone TV advertising. What I think of is simple, easy and wow. Showing the ease of using the iPhone, tapping cool new apps, and solving practical problems brings their value to life in a way that makes complicated and complex-well, easy. 

The Broader Advertising Landscape

In my experience, simple and easy to understand ads tend to be more effective. The impact of making something easy to understand has been show in research to influence consumer preference and choice. For example, Novemsky et al. demonstrated that even something as simple as fonts can make a difference; fonts which were easier to read doubled purchase intent versus more difficult to read fonts. 

Cognitive fluency suggests that making your Marketing easier to understand results in making it easier for consumers to do what you want them to do — consider and buy your brand. There are multiple angles you can take for making your brand easier. Or, just by making it your Marketing centerpiece as Staples has with their “Easy Button.” 

Staples Easy Button - Marketing & Cognitive Fluency

5 Areas to Make Your Marketing “Easy”

1.  Brand Equities – Every brand should have both strategic and executional equities.  Strategic equities include brand benefits and reasons to believe, while executional equities are the distinctive executional assets the brand wants to own (e.g. McDonald’s and the yellow arches; Bounty and the Quicker Picker Upper, etc). 

Once defined, brands should work to build strategic and executional equities into distinctive assets that distinguish the brand from competition through repetition and variation.  Repetition is important because it makes your brand more familiar and, as cognitive fluency learning shows, more familiar equals easier. 

McDonald's Yellow Arches: A Distinctive Brand Equity

2. Visual and Auditory Cues — Another smart way to build brand familiarity and make it easier for consumers to identify your brand is through visual and auditory cues. A great example of a visual cue is the Pantene “hair flip” that communicates “shiny hair,” which has been part of virtually every Pantene ad for the past decade. 

Auditory cues are also important, as I wrote in a previous blog post “Why Your Brand Needs an Acoustic Identity.” Can you imagine the Olympics without the Olympic theme music, or a United Airlines ad without “Rhapsody in Blue?” Of course, when done well, visual and auditory cues can also become executional equities. 

3.  Congruent Context – Ease of understanding is also related to context. The more congruent a brand’s ad with the program content it sits within, the easier it is to relate to the ad. A Slim-Fast ad in the The Biggest Loser is easier to understand and remember than a Slim-Fast ad in another TV program about a different topic, even when the demographic make-up of the audience is the same. Why? The Biggest Loser viewers are thinking about weight loss, and so, it’s easier for them to digest the Slim-Fast ad message. 

4.  Packaging – Even packaging can make consumers’ lives easier. Ease of finding a package in store is a key metric many CPG companies use to evaluate packaging impact. The easier it is for consumers to find your package, the more likely it is that they’ll actually consider and buy it. 

Packaging - Critical to the In-Store Experience

5.  Pricing – Many companies have moved to “value pricing” with low everyday prices and modest merchandising discounts. Making it easy for consumers to understand your true value includes pricing strategies that don’t distort the real value. 

Easier is Better

Of course, the list above is only a starting point–almost any part of your Marketing Mix and customer experience can be made easier. Most CMO’s and Marketers would agree that easier is better. Yet there’s an awful lot of Marketing that isn’t simple, transparent, or easy. 

Why? My guess is that Marketers, like anyone else, need to think that what they’re doing is challenging and difficult. And the truth of the matter is that it is–great Marketing is hard. And one of the reasons it’s hard is that so few Marketers focus on making it “easy.” 

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Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets

March 15, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Jenni Romaniuk is an Associate Research Professor of Brand Equity, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia.

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This post is a summary of an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute corporate member report written in conjunction with Nicole Hartnett, Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Distinctive assets are non brand-name elements that are able to evoke the brand in the memory of consumers.   Some of the most famous examples include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Aflac duck and Mastercard’s priceless advertising.  All of these elements are able to represent their brand name without needing any other prompting.

Aflac Duck - Distinctive Brand Asset

Many creative elements have the potential to become distinctive assets including: logos, slogans, colors, shapes, typefaces or fonts, characters, celebrities, jingles and/or music, sounds, advertising style, tastes, textures and scents.

However merely using one of the elements described above as part of your brand identity does not necessarily mean it is an ‘asset’ for your brand. For an element to be an asset, it needs to meet two criteria:

Uniqueness To what degree is your brand only linked to the element? When consumers link multiple brands to an element, brand confusion ensues. Ideally, marketers want to develop brand assets that are unique in their category.

PrevalenceHow many consumers link your brand to the distinctive element? The more consumers that are able to identify your brand based on the asset, the stronger and more valuable the distinctive asset becomes.

The Nike Swoosh Is Prevalent and Unique

Simply put, distinctive assets are more creative alternatives to directly showing a brand name, and they help create a larger brand footprint when elements are used in conjunction with the brand. Marketers can use non-word elements such as color, visual images, and sound to provide a multi-layered process for entry into consumer memory. On the consumer end, brand assets simplify brand identification outside of the advertising context, for example on-shelf or as a retail outlet.

How does an element become a distinctive asset?

To develop a distinctive asset, marketers need to make a commitment to consistent co-presentation of the element and the brand name across all consumer touch-points. Then, consumers must learn to associate the element with the brand.

Whether a brand has already developed distinctive assets or is embarking on creating elements, the main question marketers need to answer is: “Do consumers recognize my brand?” Throughout this process, keep in mind that for an element to be a distinctive asset it must evoke the brand, without prompting, for close to 100% of consumers. Only then can the distinctive asset be considered strong enough as a unique brand identifier. Ultimately, distinctive assets can replace the brand name in marketing initiatives.

I have created the Distinctive Asset Grid to enable marketers to classify their brand’s distinctive elements.  The grid is divided into four broad quadrants, which each represent the current state and future potential of a distinctive element.

If an element falls in the quadrant labeled …

Use: It is a strong distinctive element that evokes the brand from memory for the vast majority of consumers. Distinctive assets that fall in the “Use” quadrant are highly differentiated from those of competitive brands. Therefore, assets in this quadrant can be used to replace the brand name in advertising.

Invest: The element has unharnessed potential: it meets the most important criteria and it is highly unique to the brand.  However, not many people are aware of the asset (low prevalence) which restricts its ability to be used in place of the brand name. To further cement the element, it should be co-presented with the brand name.

Avoid: If the asset falls in the “Avoid” quadrant, marketers should be wary of using the element as an alternative to the brand name. Otherwise, the element may bring competitors to mind for consumers.

Ignore: An element in this quadrant is best unused in its present state. The exceptions are elements that are at the beginning of their development, as the majority of new elements have low prevalence and uniqueness. However, if an element’s uniqueness and prevalence have not developed after receiving proper marketing support, then the asset should be reconsidered.

Finally, some FAQ:

1.  Are there any drawbacks in using distinctive assets for brand identification?

While distinctive assets represent some opportunities, they also present some risks.  If you use the brand name to identify the brand in advertising, all who notice the brand name will know that it is that brand that is advertising.  However, if you only use a distinctive asset to identify the brand, and it is not 100% unique and prevalent, there will be some people who see the distinctive asset but don’t think of the brand name.  These are wasted exposures.

2. Do distinctive assets have to have a meaning for consumers beyond the brand name? (or is it better if they do?)

There is good reason to be cautious about selecting elements with strong meaning to develop as distinctive assets.  Firstly, the strong meaning will hamper the brand’s ability to attach the brand name to the distinctive asset.  This meaning will be evoked in consumer memory when the element is presented, which will then dominate and interfere with the development of links to the brand name.  Secondly, you can’t control the consistency of this past meaning.  Finally, what if the core meaning of the brand changes over time in response to consumer or market trends?  The distinctive asset will also need to change, negating the value of past investments.

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For more information on this research, contact Jenni: Jenni@MarketingScience.info

Jenni Romaniuk’s research interests are Brand Equity Metrics, Brand Salience, Distinctive Brand Assets, Brand Name Execution, Advertising Effectiveness and the influence of Word of Mouth on consumer behaviour, particularly in Television program viewing.  Her work has been published in European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Business Research and Journal of Marketing Management.  Jenni is also past editor of Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science (JEMS): www.empgens.com

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is a world-class research institute that delivers real scientific knowledge and dramatic discoveries to corporations all over the word including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Turner Broadcasting. To learn more about the Institute visit www.MarketingScience.info

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Brand Salience – Why It Matters for Your Brand

February 22, 2010
Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is just showing up .” Unfortunately, at purchase decision time, the vast majority of brands never show up at all. Getting consumers to “think” about your brand more often, and in more buying situations, is one of the most under-rated marketing challenges that brands face today.

Brand Salience — What is It?

Brand Salience is the degree to which your brand is thought about or noticed when a customer is in a buying situation. Strong brands have high Brand Salience and weak brands have little or none.  This helps explain to some degree why big brands are big and small brands are small: if no one thinks about you at the moment of buying truth, your brand is going to be relegated to the dustbin of small and unnoticed brands.

Moment of Truth - Does Your Brand Have Salience ?

Brand Salience IS NOT the same thing as top of mind awareness. Top of mind awareness is simply what brands come to mind when consumers are asked to recall brands within a category. Brand Salience is different. Why? Because it is what brands come to mind when consumers are in a purchase situation. More specifically, Brand Salience is the memory of your brand and its linkage to other important memory structures. The buying situation “mindfulness” and linkage to memory structures is what differentiates Brand Salience from top of mind awareness.

What Drives Brand Salience

This all sounds very simple. But there really is some science behind it. Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science have done research into Brand Salience, and the findings are surprisingly simple, yet counter-intuitive, for Marketers. Brand Salience is a function of the quantity and quality of the consumers memory structures. Brand Salience is the step before consideration–is your brand even “thought of” before the consumer considers a brand or brands and makes a final purchase decision? Or is it mentally screened-out, like the majority of brands?

1.  Quantity Of Memory Structures

In buying situations, consumers are often driven by mental “cues” that trigger their thoughts around brand consideration sets. For example, if I’m thinking about getting a quick meal for under $5, I’m likely to consider Subway based on their ubiquitous “$5 Foot Long” campaign.

Subway $5 Footlong - Building Brand Salience

Or, if I want to eat something “fresh and healthy,” then I’m also likely to think of Subway given their focus on fresh and healthy eating. The more memory structures your brand is linked to, the more salient your brand–e.g. the more likely it is to be thought of during a buying situation. The examples above point out something important: what buyers remember about brands isn’t always the same across buying decisions. So, the quantity of memory structures can make a difference.

2.  Quality of Memory Structures

Romaniuk and Sharp argue that the quality of Brand Salience is a function of the strength of the association and the attribute relevance.  Taking the Subway example above: because I’ve seen so many $5 dollar foot long creative executions, the linkage is very strong. Additionally, if value is important and relevant to me because I’m on a budget, this further increases Brand Salience.

So, to summarize:  Brand Salience is a function of: a) the quantity of memory structures your brand is linked to; and b) the quality of these structures, as defined by the strength of association and relevance of the structure. By building the quantity and quality of memory structures, you maximize the number of consumers who will think of your brand and the number of times they think of your brand in various buying situations. So, in Woody Allen parlance, your brand “shows up.”

Brand Salience vs. Brand Equity — A Conflict?

If you grew up in traditional CPG brand management like me, you were trained to believe that a brand should define its equity and rigorously and relentlessly focus on communicating it without deviation. I still recall senior P&G managers speaking scornfully of advertising which was “off-brand.” On the other hand, Brand Salience sounds a bit like a license for freelance communication–equity be damned.

There needn’t be a conflict. Marketers need to consider two approaches to building Brand Salience:

1.  Focus on Defining and Communicating Different Cues Against A Common Equity – Assuming you’ve defined a focused and important equity for your brand, you need to do the consumer research to understand the most important and relevant cues which link to your benefit. Then, having defined these, brands need to execute creatively against these cues to maximize the number of memory structure associations.

Subway Fresh & Healthy - Building Brand Salience

For example, Subway’s “fresh and healthy” positioning can be executed via a range of cues like “good for my kids,” “for people on diets,” “good for outdoor activities,” etc. These are all different cues that may lead to a consumer considering Subway for a “fresh and healthy” offering.

2.  Create and Own Distinctive Executional Memory Structures – A second approach is to increase the quantity and quality of executional memory structures. For example, the Subway logo, usage of the Jared Fogle character, the $5 dollar foot long music, etc. are all examples of creating executional memory structures. These executional memory structures help create a platform that enables consumers to more easily remember your brand in buying situations.

Subway's Jared Fogle - An Executional Equity

So, Brand Salience is an important but often ignored challenge for Marketers. Do your brand a favor. Listen to Woody Allen. Make sure that your brand “shows up” and is salient — a very important step in ensuring your brand gets considered for purchase.

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