Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow – Book Review

In this post I review Professor Byron Sharp’s latest book: How Brands Grow (HBG). Prof. Sharp wrote this in collaboration with colleagues at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, which is sponsored by leading global brands like Coca Cola and Unilever.

Sharp’s influence on modern marketing is renowned. He was the first person to take the concept of ‘double jeopardy,’ originally developed in the 1960s and communicate its implications to the marketing community, changing how campaigns are conducted. Achieving this once again, in HBG, Sharp has produced one of the most definitive works on brand marketing within the last ten years.

He drew on decades of research, dispelling common marketing myths with extensive data covering hundreds of product categories and nations, allowing for HBG to serve as an argument for evidence-based marketing. In HBG, Sharp lays out the fundamental laws which govern brand expansion. This is the first book to put these principles into context, as well as examine their meanings and marketing applications, making HBG an invaluable resource for brand marketing professionals worldwide.

Sharpe gradually outlines why brand loyalty is a myth. He uses evidence to infer that consumers buy more out or availability and habit than commitment and loyalty, as they perceive very weak differentiation between rival brands. Here, he argues that developing a distinct brand personality, in order to assure consumer loyalty, is futile, as most are not looking to form a relationship with a brand.

HBG’s key takeaway is that brand’s should ensure they are mentally available to consumers at vital ‘decision moment.’ This involves creating market-based assets which position brands as easy to like, memorise and recall to consumers. These assets come in two varieties, maximised distribution and clear, memorable branding with easy-to-recall sensory cues (e.g. colours). Sharp argues that the challenge here centres on availability, both in store and in the consumer’s mind, so he outlined seven rules for brands to overcome this issues, showing that targeting and positioning are still relevant.

These guidelines ranged from common sense measures, such as “get noticed” by consumers, to more complex concepts, like building and refreshing memory structures, to make the brand noticeable and easy to buy. In HBG, Sharp provides major implications for brand innovation, basically outlining how after spotting an opportunity and developing a product solution, a marketing team can seize upon it to foster brand distinctiveness with sensory brand assets, which will appeal to consumers.

In How Brands Grow, Bryon Sharp tackles the overblown importance that has been placed on brand personality in recent years. Sharp may place too little importance on innovation, which despite negative short-term effects, ultimately allows brands to evolve within changing, competitive environments. But in HBG, he ultimately reminds us that successful brand innovation depends as much on distribution innovation as it does on product innovation.