Building an Effective Brand Strategy Without Using Persuasion

A vast empirical study unpicks conventional thinking

Of the ten thunders we are to explore, nine are from fields and disciplines outside marketing. This first thunder however, is a challenge from within. Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow (OUP 2010) is a study based on evidence from categories as diverse as fabric wash, beer, automobiles and health insurance. It uses data from the world of marketing to challenge current beliefs, mindsets and practices within that world.

Byron Sharp Brand Strategy

In How Brands Grow, Sharp crunches vast amounts of hard data. The result is a loud, rolling thunder, because the study challenges and debunks many of the foundational tenets and assumptions under which brand builders have been operating for years.

The First Thunder

There is one critical finding among all the Sharp conclusions. It is the first thunder of “Rebirth of Brand”.

"Advertising is most effective when it doesn’t try to persuade."

For many, what marketing is about first and foremost is persuasion. It is there to persuade the consumer to buy your product or service.

So to suggest that advertising is not about persuasion is fighting talk that is nothing short of revolutionary. Sharp’s research reveals that, advertising works best when it helps us remember the brand at the point of purchase, and that the best way to do this is to connect with, refresh, and build on the consumer’s existing memory structures.

This thunder awakens some big questions. When “persuasion” is seen as the central focus for marketing strategies, every other element of the brand positioning process becomes tasked to build, a persuasive, rational argument. The most popular tests for advertising effectiveness are wholly focused on establishing whether you have been persuaded or not.

Sharp’s work strongly suggests that much of the core focus of marketing strategies misdirected. We have moved beyond persuasion.

For many, what marketing strategy is about first and foremost is persuasion. It is there to persuade the consumer to buy your product or service. So to suggest that advertising is not about persuasion is fighting talk that is nothing short of revolutionary. Sharp’s research reveals that, advertising works best when it helps us remember the brand at the point of purchase, and that the best way to do this is to connect with, refresh, and build on the consumer’s existing memory structures.

This thunder awakens some big questions. When “persuasion” is seen as the central focus for marketing every other element of the brand development process becomes tasked to build, a persuasive, rational argument. The most popular tests for advertising effectiveness are wholly focused on establishing whether you have been persuaded or not. Thunder One from Sharp totally up-ends the central starting place for most of the world’s marketeers! His research strongly suggests that much of the core focus of marketing strategies is misdirected.  

It is interesting to note that while challenging well-established tenets, Sharp’s work can be read as a powerful advocate for the time honoured medium of TV (and radio) based mass marketing, a medium that many modern marketers feel is secondary to digital. TV is still a very powerful way to reach mass audiences, get noticed and refresh and build memory structures with relevant associations. All the things that Sharp has identified as to “How Brands Grow”.

But Thunder One is not about media. It is a much more profound point. Though he is more a reflective practitioner than an academic, social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuck comes at exactly the same point from a different angle. In his “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” best seller. Using his beloved metaphor of boxing Gary Vee highlights the “Jab”. This is the patient, time consuming conversations and engagements that build relationships.

He is making exactly the same point as Byron Sharp. The first task is about the glue that connects Customers to Brands, they feel a bond, an emotional bond to them. They do not want to be sold to, and particularly in modernity. We get exposed to 10,000 commercial messages each day and we can smell a “pitch”.

In introducing “Rebirth of Brand” ten days ago we shared Apple’s “Crazy Ones” as an amuse bouche of this whole project. There is one spot that even transcends “Crazy Ones” and it too is doing no overt persuading. It is relationship building! Check it out...

Over the next few days we will explore the some consequences of this Thunder and share some ads that illustrate in powerful ways the central point.

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