Jon Bradshaw is the director of Brand Traction, a marketing consultancy for the modern age. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing and brand building. None of which is of any use any more. there are 15 references to elephants in this post. Jon recognises he is stuck in a metaphor.
We have learned a lot about advertising and marketing effectiveness in the last 10 years. We know more about how and why people make the choices they do and how to affect those choices. We know how successful brands keep growing and what we need to do to drive brand growth. For all its increasing complexity, we have learned a lot about media, and how to use it to best achieve positive outcomes for the brand. We even understand some of the rules around creativity and what makes for a good ad vs. a bad ad.
Sadly, all this richness is mostly hidden in dusty and dry research papers, textbooks that nobody bought, and online blogs nobody read. But we have learned a lot. From some very smart and well-researched people.
Most of the marketers I meet around the world might have dipped into “How Brand’s Grow”, or more likely have read one of the many dumbed down online précis you can find of that excellent text. If we are lucky, they might also have read one of Les Binet and Peter Field’s excellent papers. I get it, I used to be a marketing director too. Life’s way too busy to be reading text books and white papers.
What’s really interesting to me, however, are the overlaps and crossovers between the various works. When we join the dots between everything that’s out there, we start to see some really interesting patterns and themes. But to get to that point, you need to read. A lot.
In the last 12 months I’ve finally overcome my academic lethargy and read and distilled nearly 30 different major works on everything from behavioural economics, to media and creative effectiveness and all points in between. I started with the obvious; Kahneman, Sharp, Binet, Field, et al, and then really pushed out, into the broader reaches of study into the field. Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon anyone?
It’s possible to pick holes in almost any of these pieces of work if you’re an accomplished enough statistician. Hardly a day goes by without someone having an online pop at Byron Sharp. Even Les Binet and Peter Field came in for some (mostly unwarranted) analytical stick recently.
I think such pedantry often misses the point, though. A bit like pointing out that we had a cold winter, doesn’t refute the body of work on climate science. Picking statistical holes in specific studies ignores the fact that as a whole, we appear to be approaching some broad consensus, perhaps something we might start to call universal truths.
Even if we are not, surely, it’s better to act on this vast body of knowledge as if it were true, rather than just keep on wildly guessing what the right answers might be?
So, I’ve taken all these great published works, written by these great minds, and tried to make it into something more useable and digestible. I’ve obviously turned it into another dry and dusty white paper, because, “doh!”. But also, hopefully, a much less dry and dusty, series of practical, implementation-focused, training sessions for marketers.
In so doing, I have undoubtedly done the original authors a multitude of disservices. My hope is that even in my vast dumbing down and misrepresentation of their greatness, I might pique enough curiosity for people to search out the original texts and learn a thing or two.
The paper and the training, however digested, is broken into five sections.
- how to influence behaviour
- how brands grow (and how they don’t)
- where successful brands focus their money and attention
- how media works or doesn’t
- how creative impacts effectiveness (or doesn’t)
Here’s just a sample from each section.
1. We have a much richer understanding of how people behave and are influenced.
As marketers, our distinct role in the organisation is to persuade consumers to choose our brands over others. To get people to behave, in the way we want, that drives a commercial outcome. We are the behavioural scientists of commerce. Or at least we should be.
We have made huge strides in the behavioural sciences, that give us a much better understanding of why we humans behave as we do, and how to shape that behaviour. It’s mostly depressing reading that demonstrates we haven’t really got that far from the fires of the cave and the fear of the sabre-toothed tiger.
Any review of the research on behaviour really needs to start with Danny Kahneman’s Nobel prize-winning work, “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Jonathan Haidt in “The Happiness Hypothesis”, brilliantly dramatises Danny’s findings, by describing our minds as in two parts; like a rider, sat upon an elephant. With the elephant very much in charge, most of the time.
Danny shows us that 95% of our decisions are made emotionally and instinctively, by the System One metaphoric elephant, not rationally by the System Two rider. No wonder then that people’s relationships with brands are very different to how we might have thought. They really are not thinking about brands very much at all.
But it’s worth digging further into this fascinating and acutely relevant area. Work by B.J. Fogg, Dan Ariely, Rory Sutherland, Antonio Damasio, Robert Cialdini, Douglas Van Praet and many more all help us take Danny’s fundamental work and apply it to our jobs. Which, just to remind you, is to profitably sell more stuff, to more elephants, on more occasions, at higher prices.
2. We know what makes brands grow.
Hopefully, you have at least heard that someone from Adelaide suggests that brands grow best by increasing penetration. By finding large numbers of new people to shop and choose the brand. And that the more we focus attention on other levers, like loyalty, the less successful we will be in growing our brands.
Byron and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute “own” this new insight. And there’s plenty of comment out there that usually starts, “ah, yes but, for my brand, in my category…”. Or a critique of the lack of longitudinal sales data. What these people miss (other than a life) is that it’s not just Byron forming this conclusion.
We keep stumbling over these fundamental concepts, any time anyone does any kind of study in this field. Les and Peter see it in the IPA data-bank. Bain and Co have reported similar findings. It also makes complete sense if we refer back to good old Danny K and his System 1 elephant. If we are making decisions based on emotional biases and heuristics, no surprise that brand loyalty is a myth, and no surprise then, that we have to work hard to win new consumers in order to grow.
3. We know the best way to split the focus of the budget.
Great marketers can clearly split their activity, spend and focus into two clear buckets; long-term brand building and short-term sales activation. As Binet and Field have shown, time and again, over recent years, the most effective marketers spend 60% of time, effort and money on the long-term. And only 40% on the short-term. 60% on penetration and enabling future growth. 40% on delivering the plan today.
The implications of this are profound for marketers, marketing organisations, agencies, marketing measurement, brand planning, and advertising. It is, however entirely consistent with the first two learnings. Brand’s grow best by focusing at least 60% of their effort on persuading a whole herd of elephants, to buy them at least once. Because talking to the rider and trying to get him to go hard left right now, is very difficult indeed.
4. We are learning how media and advertising works and how it doesn’t
Advertising is a weak force that can only have small impacts on large numbers of people. Even less impact on elephants. It can nudge, remind, associate and attract. It might make people think and feel. It rarely gets people to do. It doesn’t make us do things more, want things we don’t inherently need, buy stuff we don’t want, or act against our instincts.
“Advertising is not strong enough to convert people whose beliefs are different from what is claimed in the advertisement. Advertising is generally not capable of overcoming resistant attitudes.”
John Philip Jones, describing work by Andrew Ehrenberg
Advertising can only make our brands memorable, appealing, distinctive to the large number of people who are already open to being persuaded. As such any media plan needs to spend bigger than its current brand’s market share and drive reach, attention and recency in that order. But mainly reach.
Given the vast sums spent, there’s probably more hard research in the area of media spend than any other. Most of which I am certain is regularly being ignored. But we know loads about reach, frequency, recency, attention and spend, that can help us shape the plan. We know because Binet and Field, Erwin Ephron, Duane Varan, Ebiquity, Karen Nelson-Field, Nielsen, Jennifer Taylor and Rachel Kennedy have spent hours and hours meticulously researching these topics.
5. We have real insight into how to harness creativity in advertising.
If the role of advertising is to have small impacts on large numbers of people. If consumers are being faced with a massively fragmented set of media choices. If they can more easily avoid advertising. If they are paying less attention than ever before and didn’t really want to pay attention in the first place. It makes sense that making the ad itself inherently more engaging is critical to success. That creativity is important. Recent work by Nielsen Catalina suggests that as much as 47% of the effect of an ad comes from the creative idea itself.
Despite this, creative impact is one of the least researched areas to be found. Maybe because we believe it to be such an intangible, mythical beast, so we don’t consider researching it as an option. But there is still gold to be found out there, in the nether regions of the marketing internet.
It’s clear (Binet and Field again, but also you may be surprised to hear, Millward Brown) that creative work is at its best when its emotional and when we use ‘fame’ to get talked about and stand out. What is less well known, is that using consistent, simple, easy to understand mechanisms, like pictorial analogies and extreme situations, drives comprehension, recall and hence effectiveness. This is why trawling through the depths of academia to find fascinating work by Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon is worth it.
What we also all know, but so often forget, is that the single biggest driver of in-market advertising effectiveness according to Kantar Millward Brown in 2017, is sadly getting branding right. Again, no surprise, if we see that statistic in context of everything else. Of course, we should make the bloody logo bigger. We are trying to get a herd of elephants to remember it.
The Final Pitch
There’s a load more we have learned about marketing effectiveness and a heap of richness in each of these areas to be explored. I recommend you develop an appetite for the dry and the dusty textbook, for the long-winded papers, and for the online blogs of certain individuals. Because there’s a lot for us all to learn, and a whole heap of things to yet uncover.
If you’d like to know more about this summary, contact Jon Bradshaw at BrandTraction to obtain a full version of this White Paper.
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