Brand Equity twaddle

I occasionally send some friends interesting (both good and bad) articles from marketing academia.  This is an interesting reply.  I won’t name the academic paper.

Dear Byron,

Thank you for sending this paper. I think the correct response, using the scientific vernacular, is ‘utter twaddle’.

The framework below is very neat. It’s very sequential. But it’s also very wrong.

When marketing academics observe what really happens in the real world, they can make powerful discoveries that help further the discourse around how people behave and make choices. But when marketing academics start with a hunch (disguised as a testable hypothesis) and then find data to back it up, they are, at best, worthless, and at worst, damaging.

I wouldn’t waste my time critiquing each component in this model. What I will do is give you an example of a very real ‘real world’ observation about how people behave, despite what one might think they have in their heads regarding Brand Associations and so called Brand Equity.

I am lucky to live in a very nice suburb of southwest London called St.Margarets. It’s what one might call leafy and affluent. Its residents are, on the whole, fortunate to be significantly better off than the average UK population in socio-economic terms. Lots of doctors and lawyers and bankers and media types.

 The overwhelming majority of my St. Margaretian friends and acquaintances are well-educated and, again on the whole, politically liberal. Generally left of centre, having evolved from the armchair socialism of their more zealous, youthful days. I should put an important caveat in place here; I was never an armchair socialist, nor indeed a socialist of any kind really. Anyway, I digress.

There is a nice sense of community in St. Margarets and I have made many good friends here over the years. And in addition to these friends, there are plenty of others with whom I can enjoyably engage in pleasant and cordial passing conversations. As you can imagine, it’s fertile ground for many dinner parties and for gatherings in local hostelries.

Once the wine has started flowing, and the initial greetings and polite exchanges (such as how the kids are getting on) have been completed, conversations inevitably move on to the more ‘serious’ topics du jour. House prices, gossip about who Sally was seen with last week, standards of schooling, what Charles said to his accountant, how moral standards are becoming polarised between the haves and the have nots, what Carol was caught doing with Bob down by the river. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure.

Commerce will often have it’s place in this cauldron of righteousness as well. I distinctly recall more than a few conversations about business ethics. And a number of these have centred around a well-known retailer which has had the temerity to open one of its smaller store formats slap bang in the middle of St. Margarets. Right next door to the railway station. Outrage abounds.

“Tesco Express … they’re crucifying all our little local traders,” opines Gareth. “They bully farmers into bulk deals with derisory margins … Tesco is ruining our agriculture,” shrieks Camilla. “The way they treat their shop workers … it’s slave labour … they should be taken to the International Court of Human Rights,” booms Barry.

I listen with interest. Sometimes, I must admit, the odd fair point can be heard from time to time amongst the remonstrations and general distaste for having such a purportedly disreputable behemoth impose itself on our little suburban ‘village’ (as the Estate Agents like to describe it). But the over-riding theme is one of deep-seated antipathy. A theme with which, I must say for the record, I disagree. I think Tesco is a great business and great for our economy.

The dinner parties end, the hostelries close, and we all go home to our beds. Watered, fed and safe in the knowledge that the world would be a better place … if only ‘they’ just listened to our wisdom.

When I travel home from work during the week, I frequently do so by train. Most of my friends and acquaintances do the same. We come in to St. Margarets station, wearied by the day’s travails, ready to put our feet up and watch the telly. We trudge up the station stairs to the street. As I start to walk down the street  I remember that Cathy called me to remind me to pick up a pint of milk and some chicken breasts for dinner. Ooh, and I can pick up a half decent bottle of wine too … why not!

I turn in to a shop which is already teeming with St. Margaretian commuters.

Before I can even reach down to pick up the chicken breasts I’m tapped on the shoulder. I turn around to see a smiling friend; it’s Camilla. “How lovely to see you”, she says, “(mwah mwah) feels like I saw you just two days ago at Barry’s for dinner.” We both laugh. “Oh, look, speak of the devil, Barry’s over there with Gareth at the check-out.”

“Anyway, see you soon I hope, Camilla,” I say, “We’re going round to the Greensmith’s next Saturday, probably see you there.”

As I leave Tesco, which is slap bang in the middle of St.Margarets, right next to the railway station (to where thousands of well-heeled St. Margaretians return every evening), I give a little wave to Sally, Charles, Carol and Bob. They have arrived back on the next train. They’re just popping in to Tesco to pick up some things before they go home.

As I open my front door, a question comes to mind; can the need to get a pint of milk, as easily as possible, really trump the most heartfelt attitudes expressed around a dinner table in St. Margarets only a day or so earlier! It would appear so.

‘There’s nowt as queer as folk,’ as the old Yorkshire saying goes.

People may claim to hold firm perspectives about brands. The truth is that there is a world of difference between what someone consciously says and what they actually decide (primarily subconsciously) to do.

So, yes, that paper is truly dreadful.

Cheers,

Seamus

 
On 4 May 2013, at 01:25, Byron Sharp wrote:

A poster-child for everything that is wrong with brand equity research.  If you can’t be bothered reading the article just look at the struggle they had to come up with any findings or implications.

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7 thoughts on “Brand Equity twaddle

  1. Funny how the same creative teams who say “we can’t trust consumer responses when asked if our creative moves them” turn around and thoroughly trust theories of brand engagement…which rely on trusting literal things consumers say.

    • Yes, and these theories of brand engagement/value/equity assume convoluted relationships between abstract concepts measured by consumer surveys. Whereas we can look at the face validity of consumer responses to advertising, they are much more straightforward.

      People will believe scant, untrustworthy, obscure evidence (and logic) if it reinforces their existing prejudices.

  2. What a ridiculously wonderful post! Sums up all of the behaviours vs attitudes debate in one simple story.

    I’m sure most of these people would be 100% in favour of green energy, going to the gym every morning and never drinking alcohol, however we know that their behaviours would be drastically different.

    To build marketing and advertising on the basis of attitudes is a very simple and effective way of sending a client broke very quickly.

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