Byron Sharp in Seven
This interview was published in Issue 13 of Impact Magazine, the quarterly membership magazine of the Market Research Society (MRS). For more information about MRS membership visit the Market Research Society website.
By Jane Bainbridge
Byron Sharp, Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia, is a champion of evidence-based marketing. His latest book is a follow – up to How Brands Grow: what marketers don’t know entitled How Brands Grow Part 2
1. What do you think is the most common misconception among marketers about their discipline and brand-building?
Byron: There are a number of common misconceptions and they are often surprisingly damaging to marketing effectiveness – sometimes catastrophically so. Too many marketers, and market researchers, fall for what I call ‘marketing’s attitude problem’. This is where problems about buying behaviour – that is, not enough sales – are recast as brand image problems. So if the problem is ‘how do we encourage more recycling of rubbish?’ it’s recast as ‘how do we get people to care about the environment?’ Many brand plans argue that the reason sales growth hasn’t been as robust as desired is that the brand image is ‘not strong’ – whatever that means – or needs to be ‘updated’, ‘modernised’. The idea is that if we can just get people to see us differently, then sales will go through the roof. In reality, what’s holding back sales is that people hardly think of the brand; it’s seldom noticed, and not fast enough, and it’s difficult to buy. The need for differentiation is a related myth, as is the idea that brands sell to distinctive groups of people, or that it’s beneficial or necessary to target a particular group – and therefore not speak to other buyers.
2. Given your views of purchasing behaviour, what is your opinion of the way market research is carried out and used by companies?
Byron: They’re not views, I just happen to know some important facts about purchasing behaviours. Some market research is a waste of money; questions are asked repeatedly, using different words, but they are all measuring the same thing. Attitudes, satisfaction, and so on, are all highly correlated with past sales behaviour. On top of this wastage, such questions are tracked continuously when they don’t really change – other than from random variation, and systematic/predictable variation with sales. Some market research – focus groups, marketing mix modelling, neuroscience, advertising pre-tests – gives untrustworthy output.
3. Your argument is that brand loyalty, as most marketers think of it, is a myth. Is there an occasion where genuine, single-brand loyalty exists?
Byron: Brand loyalty, in terms of actual behaviour, is everywhere. It’s the idea that this is caused by ‘love’, or ‘attachment’ that’s largely wrong. Does brand-love- based loyalty ever happen? Yes, of course; the world is a big place and there are a few odd consumers but their strategic importance is negligible.
4. Big data – friend or foe?
5. Science survives on constant discoveries. What areas of marketing science need new laws? Where should marketing research concentrate now?
Byron: Little marketing research leads to laws because researchers aren’t looking for patterns that repeat – they need to start looking. There is so much to learn. For years I’ve been asking the question: ‘For magazine advertising, is the right-hand-side of the page more effective than the left?’. No-one seems to know. There are millions of these questions still unanswered. Competition between marketing departments will increasingly be based on who learns fastest and implements that new knowledge.
6. Omni-channel is a current favourite word – does it change strategy and customer preference?
Byron: Was there ever a single channel era?
7. If you could make businesses make one change to their marketing strategy, what would it be?
Byron: Stop doing competitions and loyalty programmes. Take the savings and spend it on reaching new and occasional buyers