Byron Sharp, “How Brands Grow”

Found this book by Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow, that seems interesting.

“How Brands Grow” is based on decades of research that has progressively uncovered scientific laws about buying and brand performance. This book is the first to present these laws in context, and explore their meaning and marketing applications.

It is a myth-busting book, in the tradition of classic scientific discoveries. So it’s different from most business books by being noticeably based on extensive data. The Nielsen Company and TNS, in particular, have provided access to vast amounts of data covering hundreds of product categories and a number of countries.

Some online overviews of the book:

1. Market Share growth is driven mostly by increasing penetration amongst all types of buyers, most of whom are light consumers who only buy your brand occasionally. The book suggests that the way segmentation is often used in combination with loyalty schemes is based on false assumptions about the importance of heavy buyers.

2. Brands compete as if they were near enough identical. Most people, even ‘loyal’ buyers of a brand don’t view it as significantly different from other brands in the cateogry. It is their popularity which defines their market share, not how well they are differentiated from their competitive set. The book suggests that it is more important for marketers to concentrate on avoinding giving potential reasons not to buy than to spend too much time worrying about how to differentiate.

3. Building market based assets – physical and mental availability – should be the key focus for any marketer. Brands that are more memorable, and in greater physical distribution, have more market share. This means marketers should concentrate on making their brand stand out (branding) and ensuring that their advertising refreshes positive memories about the brand amongst large audiences of light buyers.


New media theorists seem think that a consumer loves nothing more than to spend their life searching for brand related content on Facebook while trying to learn the latest social media engine. Truth is that we spend a lot more time thinking about other things (like family, work, money, vacation, …) and don’t think about brands all that often

This is part of the humanity revealed through statistics in the book “How Brands Grow; What Marketers Don’t Know” (Byron Sharp (and others); published by Oxford University Press) It’s a highly challenging, terribly real, and refreshingly human read. For the most part it’s also tremendously perceptive and accurate. (Below I’ll note the two areas where I think his conclusions paint far too broad of a picture.)

Sharp offers us “laws” based in his research on behalf of the biggest advertisers around the world as well as a library with over 50 years of research found in the archives of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. To be clear, humanity is the term I apply to what Sharp finds because he shows us a humbling picture of brands and a very real, human sense of their true role in consumer lives.

Sharp finds that brands don’t become big on the sales of their most committed customers. Rather, big brands are big because a lot of people buy a little from them. (Apple is a prime example here.)

He finds that statistics show the 80/20 rule is wrong. This rule suggests that 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers. Research shows that isn’t true. And, he gives a thorough discussion of what the real situation is.

He finds statistically that mass marketing is the way for brands to grow.

And he finds that statistics show that what most marketers think of as “consumer loyalty” is non-existent. What consumers do is simply have a tendency to buy from a few brands. (In fact, his term is “polygamous” – that consumers are polygamous when it comes to brands.)

I think it sounds pretty interesting, just as a statistical approach that seems to belie the conventional wisdom of marketing and branding.  Though Kristin and I were just talking about how, based on our own personal experience, it seems better applicable to, say, which brand I buy in the supermarket, than how I choose my computer or other, long-term usage equipment, e.g. if I want a new smartphone and I have to wait 3-5 weeks for the latest iPhone, I’m not going to hope on over to Android.  Maybe other people do, though? Sahrp seems to be saying that’s the case, rather directly towards the end of his TEDx talk:

One Response to “Byron Sharp, “How Brands Grow””
  1. no says:

    I want a new smartphone and I have to wait 3-5 weeks for the latest iPhone, I’m not going to hope on over to Android. Maybe other people do, though?

    of course they do! now change it to toothpaste. if the supermarket does not have your brand of toothpaste you gunna wait or buy another brand

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