Should you refuse to follow Byron Sharp’s rules to grow your brand?

Byron Sharp’s laws of brand growth were challenged in a recent Campain article by Maire Oldham of VCCP, who says that “many of us in advertising and marketing refuse to adopt the professor’s arguments as sacrosanct”. I started discussing and challenging Byron’s laws six years ago in this post. And I take Marie’s additions to the debate seriously, as she uses data-based cases from the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards.

Marie actually agrees with some of Byron’s fundamental points saying, “There are still benefits from investing in big, memorable communications across mass media channels to maximise mental availability and drive penetration”. Her challenges are focused on the issue of targeting, on which she quotes Byron as saying, “targeting is a waste of time and reduces brands’ ability to attract more buyers.”

Below I look at her points related to targeting: by need, by season, by demographic and by channel.

1. Targeting by NEED: Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Byron recommends mass marketing rather than targeted marketing. However, a segmented approach helped Eurotunnel deliver 3.2m additional car journeys and £258.7m of incremental profit over a five year period. Tailored messaging and media reached audience segments such as “spontaneous older couples” or “cultured second-homers”.

I suggest that a targeted approach worked for Eurotunnel because it is a complex service brand, where needs vary by segment. An older child-less couple is likely to have fundamentally different needs to a large family, in contrast to simpler FMCG categories, like coffee or washing powder, where needs by life-stage are likely to be similar. A targeted approach allows you to tailor promotions, pricing and proposition depending on needs.

To note, even with this targeted approach I would recommend using ‘fresh consistency’ to have consistent brand properties and positioning to build memory structure, whilst adapting the specific offer and promotion to meet segment needs.

Action: is your brand a complex, service brand where needs differ significantly across segments? If so, more targeted marketing could be a good way of activating the brand and driving sales.

2. Targeting by SEASON: Narellan Pools

Byron advises the need for continuous communication. Yet Australian swimming-pool manufacturer Narellan focused its marketing only when specific climatic conditions were met, which Marie suggests contravenes this rule.

I suggest targeted timing of activity worked for Narellan owing to seasonality linked to climatic conditions. This case is so interesting its worthy of a follow-up post; the brand used sophisticated data mining to understand exactly when to spend their limited budget to maximise conversion from leads to sales.

To note, this is seasonality of the category, not of the brand. In a category where all brands follow seasonality, such as slimming brands advertising post Xmas and pre-Summer, this advantage will be less, and prices to advertise in this peak season will be high.

Action: is there seasonality in your market that is not being leveraged by other brands, allowing you to more tightly focus your spend to get more bang for your buck? If so, how can you use analytics to accurately program your spending? 

3. Targeting by DEMOGRAPHIC and SUB-BRAND: Pepsi Max

Byron recommends focusing on marketing that reaches all targets and builds on brand associations. In apparent contradiction to this rule, Maire explains how Pepsi Max brand focused on 18- to 34-year-olds, “creating its own (sub-brand) content around a string of disparate, ‘unbelievable’ stunts that would entertain” and using “a new media strategy that allocated a bigger role to digital platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to distribute the content, and a lesser one for TV.” Over three years the strategy drove £54m of incremental sales, making it the company’s fastest-growing UK cola brand.

I suggest this approach may reflect the weakness of the Pepsis ‘parent brand’. Pepsi is in an unusual and difficult situation where the Pepsi “anchor product” is relatively weak. UK figures below suggest Pepsi Max has a bigger user base. Hence, you can see the business sense in ‘following the money’ to create a distinctive mix for Pepsi Max, given the weakness of the ‘parent brand’. Indeed, rather than creating separate sub-brand content for Pepsi Max as Marie suggests, Pepsi is only spending on Pepsi Max, according to this report. Pepsi Max is the brand, it seems.

Its also worth pointing out that the 2015 growth in Pepsi Max sales seemed to have a lot do with ads and sampling for the Cherry variant, under the strapline ‘Maximum cherry, no sugar’, according to this report.

In contrast, look at Coca-Cola’s sales figures below. You see that red Coke is much stronger, and Coke’s equivalent to Pepsi Max, Coke Zero, is much smaller. Coke is taking a much more Byron-esque approach with its one brand strategy, as I posted on here. It will be interesting to see how this approach plays out in the market place.

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Action: be cautious about creating sub-brand mixes that differ radically from the parent brand where your parent brand is strong, and the sub-brand is small, as is the case with Coke. If a sub-brand is big and maybe the most competitive part of your portfolio, it may make sense to ‘follow the money’ and focus investment on it.

In conclusion, I’d agree with Marie that “Great work requires more than following universal ‘laws’ and conventional thinking.” You also need a good dose of business sense and pragmatism to understand the category and brand specifics. And a blend of strategy and creativity to then develop and execute a winning mix.