Staying Sharp and keeping Byron at bay

The Leading Edge MD Lee Naylor
By The Leading Edge MD Lee Naylor | 5 September 2017
Lee Naylor

Professor Byron Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’ and its imaginatively titled sequel ‘How Brands Grow 2’ have been key for many marketers in the last few years. And so they should be – they have a lot of good common sense in their pages. Sharp has built on many of the great principles of Ehrenberg and challenged marketers with a more data-driven approach to their brands.

In our work at The Leading Edge, we deal with many types of clients and it is interesting how Sharp’s material is first of all referenced and then applied in the companies we work with. Many executives can tell me about aiming their brands at the mass market, but too often they default to using broad media targets and category driver messaging. They talk about the principles of mental and physical availability and how it’s all about penetration. They deride the users of that old marketing doctrine – segmentation. They pour scorn on how it limits brands and how it is old school marketing with no substance to back it up.

Now I must admit that I am one of those dirty, disgusting marketers who believes in segmentation – even worse, I actually build them for a living.

Segmentation is a road map to the current and future market. It shines a light on where to go and why brand custodians should go there. It is also a way to avoid taking a one size fits all approach to growing brands. For at the end of the day, for it to be successful, it has to be used to change consumer’s behaviour. This means understanding people from a number of dimensions – who they are, what they are driven by and what they want.

Sharp is right in saying in many cases behaviour can be similar between young and old, or the healthy conscious and the fast food junkies. The trick is understanding what makes us choose different things. Some of it will come down to mental and physical availability – but mental availability is an area that is not just about frequency of messages. If it was, I would be a heavy buyer of makeup, perfume and fast cars.

So why does segmentation get a bad rap from Sharp’s disciples? In my opinion, it is because it is badly abused as a tool. Penetration is great if a purchase is a one off decision, but repertoires exist for a reason. Different products and brands deliver differently to the different moments in a consumer’s life. I drink beer – in fact I drink a variety of different beer brands. All brands in my repertoire are purchased by me (penetration), but what makes me choose a different beer from that repertoire?

Some of it will come down to mental and physical availability – but many of my brand purchase decisions are due to the context or occasion I find myself in and how well the brand connects to that particular occasion. So even though focusing on increasing the number of people purchasing your brand in a given time frame is good, penetration of occasions is where brand cues play a role in consumer choices.

This idea of context or occasion is not just a FMCG concept. It happens when we consider other services – just on a slower scale as we don’t purchase these as often. We need to look at how those services fit with our lives and context, not just the narrow category we put them in. I have multiple financial services products, but they are with different providers. Why? Because I believe that those different providers are better suited to the context I use them in. Many online aggregator services are helping plug in those context variables to get a better fit for me. They use those variables to segment me and find appropriate brands and products.

Segmentation allows brand marketers to understand both people and context when used correctly and in doing so informs smarter brand and product decisions. So marketers; stay ‘Sharp’, but ensure that you use segmentation in working out how we can participate in certain moments of a consumer’s life.

By The Leading Edge MD Lee Naylor

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