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4.7 out of 5 stars31
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 June 2010
It's refreshing to read a marketing book that puts theory aside and looks at the evidence-based learnings from some of the most successful campaigns.

The results can make for uncomfortable reading (especially if you currently manage the marketing plan) but the book is based on clear, objective and compelling research, expertly presented in way that makes it both a great read and immediately actionable. Overall, an original, impressive and insightful book that does exactly what it says on the cover - reveals how brands really grow.
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on 14 January 2012
Very complex view on marketing and brand management challenging many traditional myths, challenging a bit traditional Kotler's point of view. Applies rather scientific approach and support view with a lot of evidence. Suitable rather for experienced marketing managers and professionals. Should be obligatory reading for CEOs, CFOs and generally board members, as at very well explains the role of advertising and promotion and what can and cannot be expected.
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on 7 December 2015
This is an outstanding book for anyone who is interested in selling - which since all business is selling, should be anyone in business.

It debunks quite a lot of ideas around marketing - e.g. there is no such thing as loyalty - most big brands are big because they have massive distribution so it makes is more likely consumers will find them on the shelves when they're looking for something in the category. The nice thing is that much of the earlier chapters are backed by reasonable amounts of data (e.g. how easily consumers switch brands, etc) - something that is unusual in marketing.

It also ties in nicely with the work of Daniel Kahneman on heuristics saying that, despite having little loyalty, most people only buy things they've heard of (we take mental shortcuts for decisions as Kahneman has comprehensively proved) so you need to make sure people have heard of your brands in the first place if you want to sell it.

However, I only give this four stars as in some of the later chapters (e.g. Chapter 9, "How advertising really works") the author suddenly drops his evidence-based approach and goes back to the time-honored marketing approach of making authoritative but evidence-devoid assertions. For example, the now popular idea that you need to create more "occasions" around your brand to grow mindshare clearly come from this book, but no data for it is ever presented.
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on 24 November 2010
My first copy was leant to me by a marketing friend who said, 'Read this, you're going to be amazed. Our company has changed it's whole marketing strategy based on this book, and it's working.' A little sceptical, I took the book and started reading.

Half a day later, I emerged, dazed and astounded. She was right, I was amazed. It was a revelation to someone who's been in marketing for over 20 years. It will challenge your accepted marketing thinking and fill your head with a vision of a Brave New World. I'm off to start building mine now, before every marketer has read this and the advantages it gives me will be the norm once more.
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on 21 June 2010
The most unfortunate thing about this book is that most people who most need to read it probably won't! It is unfortunate that the marketing profession is largely founded on what appear to be exciting ideas that are underpinned by little empirical evidence. Prof Sharp provides a challenge to everything we think we know about marketing, and provides a wealth of empirical evidence to back up what he says. If you think you know something about marketing, then you really need to read this book.
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on 2 August 2010
Writing a review of a book which you know you are going to like before you have read it presents a few problems. Firstly it is harder to find substantive as opposed to trivial faults such as "50% ( 200 divided by 100)" on p 31, or figures 4.1 and 4.1 mis-labelled). Nobody apart from a few of us sticklers will notice or care, and anyway they will get corrected in the second edition!

Secondly there is a danger of being over effusive and becoming one of the small number of `passionate committed consumers' who matter but do not significantly affect the overall performance of the brand (see chapter 7) - Kotler may be wrong but he is a much bigger brand the Sharp!

Sharp's target market for this book is clearly marketing managers which violates some of the most important law-like relationships revealed in "How Brands Grow" - it should of course reach a much wider group of consumers which (at least) include marketing pedagogues in further and higher education institutions (and their charges!) and academic and practitioner marketing researchers.

The book will be a challenge to those who are unfamiliar with the core concepts, and there are many who will find the ideas so dissonant with their own behaviours as marketers or teachers that they will not read it all. Hopefully they will return and re-read and re-evaluate and then reform their views of marketplace realities.

The structure and approach are good and the feeling of repetition at times can also be seen as a way of reinforcing the awareness created. The use of data to exemplify the rules matters greatly and it would have been great to see an extensive example from one of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute supporting companies woven throughout the book.

The best part for me was the last substantive chapter on "mental and physical availability of brands" - and that is because it cystalised some concepts which I had thought about, but not deeply enough before.

Overall it is written in an engaging style which is critical if it is to convert the non-believers.
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on 21 September 2010
Read 'How Brands Grow'. Then, for every bit of Marketing lore and received wisdom you THINK you know, ask yourself what data that belief is - or isn't - based on. This will be an uncomfortable process, I guarantee.
If you're only just starting out in Marketing, you're lucky: you have a Bible to digest, learn and refer to.
If (like me) you have come up through the ranks of MarComms, with all its taken-for-granteds and that's-the-way-it's-dones, "How Brands Grow" rips down the flimsy edifices we've leaned on for years, and replaces them with solidly-founded constructions, rooted immutably in fact.
The book's title is disingenuously neutral. It could have been called "Everything You Know About Marketing Is Wrong", and still not have done justice to the radical way it demolishes existing Marketing theory and practice. Which it then replaces with simple new principles which any Marketer anywhere could adopt and use tomorrow.
Please don't assume that because it is such a departure from current thinking, it can't possibly be THAT much better. You may think, "Surely a middle ground is most likely to be right? ...something that draws on the best of what we already know, and adds newer, sharper thinking to it?" Big mistake. This is a take-it-or-leave-it offer - you're either with us or against us (I apologise for quoting Bush). You can't read "How Brands Grow" and do nothing: either you clamp your hands over your eyes and ears like terrified monkeys, or you put up your hands, surrender, and gird your loins for the arguments you're going to have every working day.
Read "How Brands Grow". If you decide my review is wrong, that's fine. I KNOW I will be out there making brands grow. You keep doing what you're doing - you may get lucky.
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on 21 January 2015
How brands grow is a book largely about fundamental marketing principles: brand growth, how advertising works, price promotions and loyalty programs. It’s a myth-busting classic, filled with scientific discovery so it feels different from the more traditional business textbooks. Sharp successfully tears strips off current marketing practices and likens marketing managers to “medieval doctors, working on impressions and myth.” He pushes this analogy further when he compares much of our modern marketing theory to the practice of bloodletting, which was once regarded as a particularly effective way to “cure” medical ailments.

You get the feeling that Sharp really enjoys challenging every single marketing assumption we all have; from the taken as given need to differentiate your brand to the fact that a brand’s consumers are a distinctive type of person, in fact, even the pareto law gets a kicking, gone are the assurances that 80% of sales come from the top 20% of your buyers – according to Byron only slightly more than half of sales come from the top 20% of the brand’s customers, the rest come from the bottom 80% .

It’s true to say that by and large this book is somewhat of a manifesto for what he calls his new world model:

Past World Model Positioning Differentiation Message Comprehension Unique Selling
Proposition Persuasion Teaching Rational Involved
New World Model Salience Distinctiveness Getting noticed,emotional response Relevant Associations Refreshing and
building memory structures Reaching Emotional
And this new world model rests on a very simple premise that ALL brands grow by increasing their market penetration, forget about loyalty and/or anything else. He proves this hypothesis through what he calls the Double Jeopardy Law. Sharp argues that the Double jeopardy law tells us what our marketing metrics will look like – if we are successful in gaining sales and market share.

Here’s an example:

Shampoo Brands Market Share (%) Annual market Penetration (%) Purchase Frequency (average)
Suave Naturals 12 19 2.0
Pantene Pro V 10 16 1.9
Alberto VO5 6 11 1.6
Garnier Fructis 5 9 1.7
Dove 4 8 1.4
Finesse 1 2 1.4
Average 1.7
Note: Smaller US shampoo brands suffer from only slightly lower loyalty.

If Finesse were to catapult up to the sales levels of Suave Naturals or Pantene Pro V, it would be substantially more popular with millions more households buying it each year. But these households would not, on average buy it much more often than current Finesse households buy the brand.

Finesse’s brand manager could plan to reach market leadership by getting current customers to buy eight times a year. That would be enough to do it – in theory. But in practice it’s impossible. As Sharp goes on to point out Finesse buying households currently only buy shampoo six times a year; therefore Finesse would need to command 100% loyalty just to achieve six purchases per year per customer. But no shampoo brand in the US commands 100% loyalty. Such a marketing plan is a fantasy.

Double jeopardy, therefore, tells us what is, and what isn’t achievable – sort of a practical guide to strategy formulation.

Make your brand famous,make your brand popular.

The book continually delivers a strong case for mass marketing, as attested above, Sharp continually hammers home that growth in market share comes by increasing your brand popularity or fame. You do this by gaining many more buyers (of all types), most of whom are light consumers buying the brand occasionally. This allows Sharp to controversially define brands as “undifferentiated choice options of varying popularity.”

It’s an easy read, a lot of it planners probably already know as it’s based on the work of Andrew Ehrenberg who in 2003 proved, albeit with shorter term dynamic analysis, that both rising and declining brands displayed more change in their penetration than in their purchase frequency. Sharp adds a level of metric data to the debate which makes Ehrenberg’s theories easier to substantiate. This argument also fits well with the more recent IPA analysis by Binet & Field in 2007 which showed that effectiveness award winners were far more likely to have set targets to increase market penetration.
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It seems sensible, doesn't it, that if you want to grow, you need more customers - new customers. This is the essence of the book, but it over-turns the wisdom that you should spend time, if not money too, concentrating on your existing customer base. A broad, shallow customer base, always growing is the key to brand recognition and business growth. What else the book is saying is that investment on keeping loyal customers is - well, not necessarily a waste of money, but has nothing statistical to suggest that it has any meaningful effect. I have read several books on branding in recent months and each of them has merit, contributing something different to the case and the question - how to grow your business? If you accept that most customers have no inherent loyalty, then constantly seeking new ones, to broaden your base, makes sense. It is logical and unemotional: being a customer, buying your product is probably subject to whim or changing values and expectations and loyalty comes at a cost in terms of vouchers and give-away discounts etc. A brand offers meaning to customers who recognise it but, who may buy a cheaper or more convenient product nevertheless; a recognised brand also helps to capture new customers who help to make your business grow. In a nutshell, this is what the book is saying - it offers more than this and a range of statistical information that puts its arguments into context and makes it convincing; not the only, but one of the best books on the subject I have read and which has set me to work, so it is much more than a merely interesting read.
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on 31 December 2012
This is a very good book, and the central idea is profound. Why not 5 stars? Well it lambasts other marketing books for failing to commit to scientific rigour, and works hard to then convince through data based logic, but just falls short of sharing the empirical evidence at a deep enough level. The full analysis is referenced, but the data actually shared ends up feeling directionally compelling, but not quite complete.
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