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23 September 2020

Byron Sharp 2.jpgMarketers aren’t known for their love of numbers, most preferring art to science and theory to facts. 

But a decade ago a small scientific text published by Oxford University Press sparked a revolution in marketing practice.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of How Brands Grow: what marketers don’t know.

The Financial Times called the book, “empirical, closely argued and, in its sober way, incendiary. Most marketing books are long on airy assertion and short on rigour. How Brands Grow is the opposite.”

On its release, How Brands Grow sparked controversy and curiosity from marketers worldwide.   Advertising Age readers voted it Best Book in 2013. 

Today, it’s has been translated into more than a dozen languages and is considered a bible by Chief Marketing Officers and CEOs of global corporations alike.

It was the first book to present scientific laws and what they mean for marketing strategy.  The empirical evidence demolished accepted beliefs revealing that:

  • niche brands are largely a myth; small brands receive less not more loyalty;
  • any brand’s loyal buyers also buy rival brands;
  • advertising rarely changes consumer’s minds, and yet still works;
  • price promotions fail to attract new buyers;
  • and, loyalty programs fail to boost brand loyalty.

Professor Byron Sharp says he wrote the book after being urged to do so by senior marketing executives.

“They asked for a book that they could give to their CEO or the Chief Financial Officer to explain that they were changing marketing again, but this time based on sound evidence rather than fashion or theory,” Prof Sharp says.

Professor Sharp, Director of the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, shares credit for the book with more than 50 Marketing Scientists. These scientists, he says, are making daily discoveries that are changing marketing.

“Science has transformed every discipline it’s touched, and it’s doing the same for marketing,” he says.  We got off to a slow start because we wrongly assumed that there couldn’t be any law-like patterns in the way people buy, in how they do or don’t notice advertising, and so on.”

One of the law-like patterns revealed in How Brands Grow is an example found in shopper behaviour. Professor Sharp says that the majority of supermarket shopping trips are to buy fewer than five items; a discovery that has important implications for the design of supermarkets. This ratio of small to large baskets occurs all around the world, and recent data on Australian shoppers showed it stayed true even during the height of coronavirus-induced panic buying.

“Creative marketing strategy is far more likely to work when it’s based on a view of how the world really is, rather than theory or guesses,” he says.

“Scientific laws have given marketers a new confidence and understanding.

"And the book has done a great deal for our Institute as well - it's broadened our reach and given us the opportunity to communicate with a far wider audience.” 

The scientific laws and their implications for growth have not been lost on the finance community.  Pierre Laubies, Managing Director of Elmfort Capital says, “having led many business transformations, I have acquired the conviction that the deployment of the How Brands Grow philosophy is both a strategic imperative and a formidable accelerator to any lasting transformation.”  

Merete Hoberg, Director Marketing Strategy & Innovation at Ringnes in Norway says, ”How Brands Grow is as much as a game-changer now in marketing industry as it was then - this book, and working directly with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, has sparked a change of paradigm in our organisation. It has helped our team make smarter, evidence-based decisions every day, and we’re continuously focused on disseminating the learnings throughout the wider Carlsberg Group.”

In Amsterdam, Global Commercial Director, Consumer Dairy of FrieslandCampina Aniruddha Kusurkar says, “How Brands Grow has required us to embrace new ways of data-led behaviours and at the same time challenged us to ‘unlearn’ many of our conventional beliefs about brand building. Our journey with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has helped us to embed more evidence-based thinking - more science and less art. How Brands Grow has been nothing short of an eye-opener.”

Media contact: 
Merri Rivett, Marketing Officer - Ehrenberg-Bass Institute tel +61 416 254 412 email Merri.Rivett@MarketingScience.info

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