Byron Sharp: debunking the myths of marketing 3/3

how brands growmyth number six : the 80/20 rule always applies

This isn’t a myth per se, but the numbers don’t quite add up. Sharp, on the basis of numbered evidence once again, shows that Pareto’s Law does apply but real numbers based on observation are closer to 50% for most brands and never reach 80%. This reinforces the need to acquire more customers.

myth number seven: advertising doesn’t sell

Sharp shows on the contrary that advertising has a clear (but mostly long-term) impact on sales… Provided your product is distinctive enough and that your campaigns follow a few simple principles amongst which:

  • reaching all by categories
  • no lapses
  • clear brand links
  • easily noticed and remembered

myth number eight: price promotions increase sales in the long term

That one is far less counterintuitive I find. Price promotions are quite effective in boosting sales. Evidence produced by Byron Sharp shows that promotion have no or little effect on long-term sales. Sharp sees little rationale for maintaining price promotions over time apart from maintaining a relationship with retailers.

myth number nine: loyalty programs are effective

In fact, loyalty programs work a little, but their impact on loyalty is minimal and in some cases, brands won’t even feel the true effect at all for many external reasons. My friend and colleague Prof Christophe Benavent from the Paris University has been a long-time contender that loyalty programs don’t work. He’s actually quoted in Byron Sharp’s book as well. One may have the vague feeling that conclusions might be different whether one looks at airlines for instance, or a company like AMEX which has built its distinctiveness upon its loyalty program (I even chose to get an AMEX card a few years back which is coupled with my airline frequent flyer program and I have transferred the entirety of my purchases to AMEX) but evidence is required before one makes any rash conclusion.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sharp’s approach which is based on fact rather than fiction, even though some of the most counterintuitive conclusions would benefit from a serious data update. I definitely recommend you buy this book and place it on your bookshelf.

Byron Sharp’s blog is available at

… to be continued

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Byron Sharp: debunking the myths of marketing 2/3

how brands growmyth number two: heavy buyers matter, light buyers don’t

That is false too. A customer base is like a long tail , with few repeat buyers and a vast majorty of light or very light buyers; but the sheer mass of the latter makes their category very important in fact. These people are those which brands must convince over and over again if they want to succeed.

myth number three: targeting works

That one is really puzzling I must admit. Sharp points out that despite marketeers’ efforts in trying to “differentiate” through targeting, brands end up sharing “normal – looking” customer bases and those customer bases are supposed to be interchangeable. This is – once again – said to apply across all categories and countries. Yet, luxury products for instance, cannot be afforded by all. Sharp’s point is that segmentation within a subcategory doesn’t exist. It may exist between subcategories however. This item would however, in my mind, require further investigation.

myth number four: cannibalisation is a bad thing

According to Sharp’s findings, it’s not! What matters here, is not whether brands are differentiated, but whether they are “distinctive” (that is to say easy to recognise from others).

myth number five: consumers by preferred brands

Sharp contends that is just the other way round. One tends to favour one’s own choices; some sort of post justification of one’s own purchases in fact (I bought this, therefore I like it; or, I’m used to buying this etc.) That point he adds, also applies to iconic brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson. Basically, he means that Apple customers aren’t in any way, more loyal than PC clients for instance.

This chapter is probably the most difficult to sell. There is so much hype about Apple products that things do get very irrational. Sharp may well be right, but the evidence he uses to show that this is the case are rather outdated. Beside, Apple’s overwhelming success has, recently, put so many companies in such a bad position (Nokia, Sony Ericsson to name a few, not to name hp which withdrew from the Pocket PC (then Smartphone) market which it hugely dominated only a few years before). The evidence given here is a bit outdated on the one hand, and debatable on the other. This chapter requires therefore more investigation, even though mine Sharp may well be onto something (for other myth busting regarding Apple on this blog, click here).

Byron Sharp’s blog is available at

… to be continued

Byron Sharp: debunking the myths of marketing 1/3

how brands grow Once in a while, a business book appears which changes your perception on things for ever. Such business books are inspirational (Crossing the chasm in 1992 for instance), some are critical (such as Scott Berkun’s myths of innovation) and some just take you back to basics. This is the case with Byron Sharp’s “how brands grow” (Oxford – 2010), an opus which unfortunately didn’t get enough attention and is even sometimes wrongfully dismissed as scientific claptrap. I must admit that I enjoyed the book thoroughly, even though some of its conclusions did puzzle me a bit. I suppose that these will lead to more investigations, since some of the evidence presented in the book and some of the conclusions based on such evidence (mostly in chapter 7) are very counterintuitive. Here is what I learned and would like to share with you regarding this book.

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Marketers are used to believing their own stories but often fail to check the facts. This is what Byron Sharp and his Ehrenberg Institute have done and their conclusions can be summarised as follows:

myth number one: loyalty matters, acquisition is less important

How often do we hear that it is more worthwhile to retain existing clients rather than acquire new ones? Well… as far as I am concerned, almost on a daily basis. Sharp shows that this is wrong, that churn depends – mostly – on the size of your customer base and that customer acquisition is of paramount importance. This is what is known as the double jeopardy law: “sales are lower because they have fewer buyers who buy the brand less often”. That law, besides, applies to all sectors, and all countries. As a consequence of the double jeopardy law, it is not cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire new ones. Acquisition, CRM pundits must be eating their hats now, is not an option, it must even be a priority for brands.

… to be continued

what the cluetrain manifesto teaches us on social media … 11 years later

the manifesto's trademark armadillo picture

this is the unabridged version of an article published and written originally for of which I am a regular contributor

OK, “markets are conversations” but keep on reading anyway …

How many times have I heard consultants open their presentations with the ultimate quotation from the 1999 cluetrain manifesto to justify the need to jump on the social media bandwagon: “Markets are conversations”; QED (or so they think).

I have been a long time admirer of the manifesto myself (if we except its pseudo French translation to make it sound international). 95 theses (not just one) such as the one quoted above, make up the manifesto. In this piece, I will take just five of them which I think are most important and should be remembered … at least as much as the obligatory conversation motto.

thesis #3: “conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice”

•    in social media, it means that you have to have real people and real life interaction– including behind-the-scenes — when discussions are triggered in tools like twitter for instance. Automated responses will not do.

thesis #7: “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”

•    this doesn’t mean that your boss should be replaced. It means that websites are driven by linkage, not menus and that they aren’t designed like software. Unfortunately, I haven’t witnessed any progress in that direction. Too many discussions – not to say feuds – in businesses are triggered by the relative position of a menu within a home page. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the Web is working and the way that SEO is done.

thesis #24: “Bombastic boasts “we are positioned to be the pre-eminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position

•    in social media, what matters is directness, truth, honesty, disclosure, real information from real people, not preformatted pitches in corporate speak.

thesis #26: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

•    as per our previous post on Paul Argenti’s latest opus on the subject of Corporate Communications, it’s not so much that PR doesn’t do that at the moment which matters, but the sheer necessity for PR to reinvent itself and become human again. It’s not as obvious as it may seem when you are behind the company firewall so to speak.

thesis #66: We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

•    clients, ecosystems, visitors at large want information, and they want information that is useful to them, not company brochures which mean nothing. when I see most Corporate websites 16 years after the launch of the first ones I realise how little progress we have made in that direction. this is also because Corporate Websites have become the new bone of contention between entities, the area for which all business units are battling and that most of the time, people lose track of what could be of interest to visitors. At the end of the day, this is also what makes blogs easier to manage than corporate websites, as blogs are real opinions from real people.

links and further reading