Conflicts in the marketing system

I do sometimes hear an ad agency people say “we don’t care about creative awards, we are totally dedicated to each client’s business objectives”, especially when in front of clients.  It makes me wonder whether they are lying (that’s bad), or that they are deluding themselves (which may even be worse), or if they are admitting that they simply aren’t good enough to win creative awards (and that’s not good either).

I think it is important to be grown-up, honest and up-front about conflicts of interest.e.g. Martin Sorrell wants to sell marketers stuff, his empire (like his competitors) will sell whatever marketers will buy that he can deliver profitably.  This matters far more to the agency than whether or not it is the best way to build their clients’ brands.

Creatives want to win awards.  And if this doesn’t sell a single extra of your product they aren’t really worried.

Media agencies want to do what they know, what’s easy, and they have to sell media space they have committed previously to buy.

Market research agencies want to sell standardised products, ideally that use automated data collection and analysis, or low-level people.  They can’t make big profits from stuff that requires in-depth analysis by expensive people.  They do far more R&D into reducing data collection costs than into better research.

Retailers want to win share from other retailers.  They don’t care if this means selling another box of your product or not.

So partners yes.  But there are conflicts in the system.  This is fine, so long as everyone understands the conflicts then they can be managed – it’s possible for everyone to win.  But pretending these don’t exist is dangerous.

Professor Byron Sharp

July 2014.

Apple could charge a lot more – but should they?

Most of the things we own are OK, but a few special few are works of great craftsmanship, things of beauty. They give us pleasure in the same way that some houses, some architecture, is beautiful to look at. It’s something about being human that just looking at a building can be pleasurable yet we aren’t benefiting in any way from its function, we don’t own it, and may never even step inside it.

Beautifully crafted things usually cost more, which is understandable. In fact they often cost a great deal more – we have to pay a lot for small increases in quality, especially at the top end.

So luxury watches, handbags, wines (even business schools) cost an awful lot more even though functionally they may be rather similar to much cheaper alternatives. Luxury watches still cost tens of thousands of dollars more than throwaway watches that now are just as accurate at timekeeping.

Apple, under the guidance of chief designer Sir Jonathan Ives, makes beautifully crafted products. No tablet comes close to the build quality and sleek lines of the iPad Air, and the new Mac Pro looks like something developed using futuristic superior alien technology.

If these products came out from a company in the LVMH empire they would be priced many times higher. So why doesn’t Apple charge more? Even just a little bit more would do little to dampen demand and would add dramatically to profits. So why not?

Firstly, because Apple is in the technology business, where product features are very important and where it’s difficult to gain much of a technological advantage, certainly not one that lasts for any time. In handbags it’s taken for granted that they can all hold stuff, so design (both looks and build) matter enormously. In technology, basic functional factors like speed and screen size really matter, and Apple will never be far ahead of competitors.

Secondly, because Apple wants to build penetration and scale. They want lots of customers for their beautiful products who will then buy music, movies, books and apps from Apple – and of course future products. Getting an Apple product into someone’s pocket or bag gives Apple a medium through which to build mental availability for other Apple products. This is the same reason Amazon massively subsidies their Kindle price.

Thirdly, because Steve Jobs hated price premiums. He always wanted a lower price. Not a discount – he understood the need for profits to fund new product development and marketing, but as low a price as possible to still be profitable. He wanted his products to change the world, which meant getting them into as many hands as possible. Like Jonathan Ives he wanted people to see his art.

Anyone can have a price premium, it isn’t necessarily a sign of strength or good strategy.

So there are arguments in both directions, Apple should lower its prices and more aggressively chase share (closer to the Amazon Kindle strategy), or Apple should increase its prices and reap enormous profits. I guess from their perspective that means their prices are where they should be.

Out-take for marketers: a price premium might be nice for profits today but it holds back reach and scale, and that increases the riskiness of future profits.

PS A related interesting question is whether they should launch a cheap, minimal feature smartphone to bring kids and ‘light users’ into their fold? But they already sell the iPod touch and still have the iPhone 4S on the market so maybe this simply wouldn’t do much for them?

Does iPhone enjoy greater loyalty than Samsung Galaxy?

This is a short summary of an earlier more extensive analysis of this issue.

In short, no the iPhone doesn’t enjoy unexpected (magical) loyalty.

Essentially iPhone looks as if it has more loyalty than Android smartphones because we aren’t comparing apples with apples (pardon the pun). There are three reasons for iPhone’s higher loyalty than all android phones.

1) iPhone only plays in the premium end of the smartphone market, an area where users do use apps, and hence tend to be a bit more loyal because their purchases lock them into the platform.
2) People tend to trade up in smartphones, not down, so the premium end of the market has a bit higher loyalty than the lower end.
3) In this premium end of the market Apple is the market share leader, so in accordance with the Double Jeopardy law it gets higher loyalty.

So yes Apple has higher loyalty than all other smartphones, but its loyalty advantage over other premium smartphones (like Galaxy) is largely Double Jeopardy in action.

PS The “lock in” effect of iTunes and App Store is less than might be expected because buyers of premium smartphones are already so loyal.

Is advertising on Facebook better than TV?

This morning I received this interesting question in the mail:

Cadbury’s Social Media Manager claims a 7% sales increase in single Creme Egg sales over Easter after shifting from TV to Facebook (paid for and community management). Knowing that Facebook Fans are heavier buyers, do you know how they achieved such sales success?

My immediate reaction is that this is like medical stories of someone eating something [snake oil, placebo, vitamin C….whatever] and then feeling healthier. If it’s an outcome like cancer going into remission then it might feature on Oprah, but no sane medical practitioner will give the incident any credence because it’s an uncontrolled experiment, just one time, and with a single patient. I recall one claim of someone receiving an electric shock after a snake bite and being ‘cured’. When the story was investigated it was found that the man only thought he might have been bitten by a snake, all studies afterwards showed that electric shocks do NOT cure snake bite poisoning.

The story here looks very similar. Cadbury took a bit of their Creme Egg advertising money out of TV and put it into Facebook, after two years of dud campaigns (20% sales drop in 2011 and a further 19% in 2012) they posted a small improvement (up 7% from this now reduced sales level). So that’s one brand, in an uncontrolled experiment, in a market where there are a million other things going on that affect sales. Personally I’d be much more likely to put the effect down to the new creative than to Facebook.

Over the years I’ve seen many studies that claim that taking a bit of money out of one (large) medium and putting it into another (smaller medium) produces great results. These ‘research studies’ are usually paid for by that smaller medium. John Philip Jones used to explain them by saying that the first dollars you spend in any media are the most effective, so if you reduce your TV budget slightly you are taking out the least effective dollars, so spending them to another medium has a good chance of being effective. Maybe. It makes particular sense for a seasonal campaign like Cadbury Creme Eggs where you can quickly end up buying a lot of (less effective) frequency, hitting the same people on much the same evening, on TV. But just as likely explanation is that the result is a fluke, an untrustworthy piece of evidence.

And, of course, we don’t know what might have been achieved if they had just scheduled their TV better. Most advertisers do a terrible job, blowing money hitting people multiple times in single evenings. They could easily increase the effectiveness of their TV spend.

I couldn’t help but notice this line in the article:

As a result, this ‘Smell like a Crème Egg’ post was one of a number of posts that was promoted using news feed ads. It reached a natural audience of 188,000, but paid media helped it to reach 1.45m people.

Certainly this fits with the research in Karen’s new book ‘Viral Marketing:the science of sharing’. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and nothing drives social media exposure like paid-for advertising in big media like TV, radio and print.

As Cadbury put it “Facebook doesn’t just have to be a deep engagement platform for an audience it can be something that broadcasts an engaging marketing message en masse.” For a fee of course.

Finally it’s hard to trust the ROI research mentioned in the article. Comparing purchase intent among groups who recall exposure in different media is fraught with bias. People who recall both TV and Facebook exposures tend to be far heavier users of the brand so have higher purchase intentions (with or without the advertising).

In short, claims that one medium is more sales effective than another are simplistic. For the simple minded. And a single study shows nothing.

PS The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is an independent research institute of the University of South Australia. We are financially supported by Mondelez (Cadbury) and a number of its competitors, but we stay very independent, free to critique.

The heavy buyer fallacy

It seems obvious, a brand’s currently heaviest buyers generate more sales and profits (per customer) so they should be the primary target for marketing.

This is commonly held misconception. The rise of direct marketing and CRM gave this fallacy a big plug, after all it can be hard to justify sending expensive letters to light customers.

But if our aim is to grow sales then our efforts should be directed at those most likely to increase their buying as a result of our attention. It takes only a moment of thought to realise that customers who already buy our brand frequently are going to be difficult to nudge even higher.

If, instead, our aim is to prevent sales losses then heavier customers would seem more promising – after all they represent a lot of sales we might lose. But then again, they are more loyal, other brands make up less of their repertoire, their habit to buy our brand is more ingrained, our brand has rather good mental and physical availability for them. In short, they aren’t particularly at great risk of defecting nor of downgrading.

So the idea that heavy buyers of your brand (“golden households” or “super consumers”) are your best target is flawed. Dangerously simplistic.

Apple’s mythical price premium

I’ve written previously questioning the marketing orthodoxy to aim for a price premium, and specifically on the myth of Apple’s price premium.

Here is another nice quote from Steve Jobs, interviewed on stage alongside Tim Cook (current CEO). He was asked if Apple’s goal was to win back dominant share of the PC market

“I’ll tell you what our goal is…to make the best personal computers in the world and products we are proud to sell and would recommend to our family and friends. And we want to do that [raises voice] at the lowest prices we can, but I have to tell you there is some stuff out there in our industry that we wouldn’t be proud to ship, that we wouldn’t be proud to recommend to our family and friends…and we just can’t do it, we can’t ship junk”.

Advertising Age votes “How Brands Grow” the best marketing book

Readers of Advertising Age have voted “How Brands Grow” the best read of Summer 2013.

The competition was large, many books, some awful, but also some very worthy research-based books such as:

Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
Decoded by Phil Barden
Applying Scientific Thinking to Marketing by Terry Grapentine
Everything is Obvious by Duncan Watts
Viral Marketing: the science of sharing by Karen Nelson-Field

Are iPhone owners more loyal than Android owners? a marketing scientist takes a look

Several studies have recently reported that US iPhone owners are more loyal than owners of Android-based smart phones.  These have been widely reported in the press.  The coverage on blogs and in the press is of patchy quality, with no reference to known patterns of loyalty.

So I thought I had better take a look.

I found this study (reported here) based on 2-purchase (switching) data, and this one based on purely intentions.  It’s slightly concerning that neither of the market research firms involved are well known.  But it is heartening that different methods are saying the same thing.

The general gist of the news coverage is “research shows….Apple wins more of its sales from Android than Android wins from Apple”.  And this set off alarm bells for me, because it’s a common mistake to see asymmetric switching and assume that one brand has less loyalty.

If you don’t know about the Duplication of Purchase law then it is very easy to make this mistake. That is, to see that Brand A shares a greater percentage of its customers with Brand B, than B does with it, and to conclude that A must be declining, has a weakness, and so on – when the real story is simply that B has much larger share than A.  For much more on this see chapter 6 “Who Do You Really Compete With”.  Otherwise explain quickly now.

Imagine if Android had 90% share and iPhone 10% in a total market of 100 customers.  And that this market was perfectly stable, neither brand moving in share.  Say each period they each lost 2 customers to each other, leaving them both with the same share (lose 2, win 2).  For iPhone this would mean they lose and win 20% of their customers from Android.  For Android it would mean only 2% lost/won.  So we could write a story that said “iPhone wins 20% of its customers from Android, while Android wins only one tenth of that much from iPhone”.  Which is exactly the sort of story that was run (e.g. Forbes).  We could also write a story that said “iPhone loses 20% of its customers to Android, whereas it loses only 2% of its customers to iPhone”.

To try to understand the potentially confusing percentages that the studies report I looked up the market shares of iPhone and Android.  There are two sorts of share commonly reported, and often mixed up.  There is the share of the installed base (i.e. users of each) and then there are share of recent sales (i.e. in the last month or year).  Fortunately for us currently these two sorts of market share are fairly similar in the US – iPhone has about 40% share and Android 50%, with the rest going to Blackberry and Windows.

So Android is 20% (10 percentage points) larger than IPhone.  That means that Apple should get a greater percentage of its sales from Android, than Android does from Apple.

And that’s what happens, 20% of iPhone’s new customers came from Android, whereas only 7% of Android’s new customers came from iPhone.  This was reported as a huge win for Apple.  Also look at the chart, Android wins much more of its new sales (which are slightly bigger than Apple’s remember) from people buying their first smartphone.  Now percentages add up to 100, so if it has a greater % coming from “basic” and “first” then all its other percentages are likely to be lower.  Put simply this data doesn’t tell us if Apple has greater loyalty, or if people tend to upgrade from Android to iPhone.

iOS wins more of its sales from Android, but that’s because Android is bigger and it wins more of customers buying their 1st smartphone

We have to look at different data.  Fortunately I found this table on a website reporting on the same study.  This gives retention data.

iPhone (iOS) retained 78% of its customers when they bought a new phone, while Android only retained 67%.  Interestingly this behaviour isn’t far off what other people report they intend to do on their next purchase.  Now this is very significant because of the Double Jeopardy law we’d expect Android to be the loyalty leader not iPhone, simply because it has larger share.  So something is interesting about Apple, let’s examine further…

Both brands are winning customers who upgrade from basic mobile phones to smartphones roughly in line with their respective shares – and this is where most new customers come from.  Apple is doing a much better job at winning Blackberry users when they switch – in fact both Android and Apple are doing better at winning Blackberry customers than Blackberry is.

iPhone retained 78% of its customers, Android 67%

Now when we see deviations from laws like Double Jeopardy the causes are usually structural factors in the market place, and that’s the explanation here too.  iPhones compete at the top end of the smartphone market, they are on average smarter (and more expensive) smart phones.  I don’t want to get into a debate about the merits of particular models, all I’m pointing out is that Apple has yet to release a cheaper, low-end model.  Whereas there are plenty of low end Android models and they are clearly successful, particularly in giving Android that  large advantage in winning people who are upgrading from a basic phone (50% cf 39%) – if you can get a new smartphone for the same price or cheaper as your old basic phone, that’s an attractive upgrade.

When a smartphone buyer buys a new phone they practically never go back to a basic phone.  Mostly they stay with the operating system they currently have, but not all: 27% of Android owners moved to iPhone, whereas only 14% of iPhone users moved to Android.  That makes sense if we consider that many switches are driven by a desire to upgrade to better features and iPhone has a larger share than Android at the top end of the market.

So are iPhone customers much more loyal, or is this really a function that iPhone has larger share at the top end of the market?  To tell we’d really have to compare the switching between the iPhone and Android models like Samsung’s Galaxy S4 or HTC One.  I expect the figures would align much more closely with the Duplication of Purchase law, yes iPhone would look strongest but that’s because it has the higher market share.

In summary, it looks to me that Apple is doing extremely well at winning market share, it’s not “buying” false smartphone share selling cheap phones to people not seeking smartphone features (apps and internet).  When people do want these features it’s a much bigger brand than overall “smartphone market share” figures suggest – and that’s what drives these loyalty figures.  This is supported by internet browsing figures that show iOS with a substantially higher share of web traffic than Android.

Likewise, Samsung is doing very well too as the standout Android brand.  Everyone else is struggling for share but then this is a very large and growing market, even small brands (which will have lower loyalty) may still be able to prosper.  But Android needs to not only sell smartphones but also get people to use them as smartphones – and/or to win greater share amongst people who really do use their smartphone.

Should Android marketers worry about Apple launching a low(er)-cost iPhone?  Absolutely.

Should Apple worry that Android is recruiting more of the new consumers entering the category, who will largely then stick with Android?  Absolutely.


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A short critique of “a critique of Double Jeopardy”

Bongers, M. & Hofmeyr, J. 2010. ‘Why modeling averages is not good enough – a critique of Double Jeopardy.’ Journal of Advertising research, 50:3, 323-33.

A longer explanation of the mistakes made in the above article can be read in:
Sharp, B., Wright, M., Dawes, J., Driesener, C., Meyer-Waarden, L., Stocchi, L. & Stern, P. 2012. ‘It’s a Dirichlet World: Modeling individuals’ Loyalties reveals How Brands Compete, Grow, and Decline.’ Journal of Advertising Research, 52:2, 203-13.

Here is a short critique:

The title is misleading, this is not a critique of the empirical phenomenon ‘double jeopardy’ but of the theoretical model ‘the Dirichlet’ – a stochastic model of purchase incidence and brand choice, which predicts double jeopardy and several other empirical laws in choice behaviour (see Ehrenberg et al 1994). The critique is naive, and the “test” of the Dirichlet is wrong.

To explain:

The Dirichlet is used daily within the marketing science units of corporations to benchmark their brand metrics against the model’s predictions for patterns of buying in a stationary and non-partitioned market. It is useful because the market conditions it models are well understood. It is also interesting to marketing theory because these conditions have been shown to be so prevalent (contrary to the world portrayed in most marketing textbooks).

Bongers & Hofmeyr use the purchasing of non-stationary brands to test an assumption of a stationary model. Even if they had found something real all they’d be saying was that non-stationary behaviour doesn’t look stationary.  Unsurprising.

It is, however, good and appropriate to question the underlying assumptions of models – even ones that work very well. In this case there has been more than 30 years of serious investigation of the NBD and Dirichet’s underlying assumptions (e.g. Kahn and Morrison 1989), a literature that the authors of this paper should have read. There is also new work seeking to expand such models to non-stationary conditions and to add co-variates (causal variables).

The Dirichlet belongs is a class of stochastic models, which is a technical way of saying that it assumes a particular distribution of purchase probabilities (concerning the probability to buy from the category, and the probability to buy particular brands within the category). These purchase probabilities (loyalties) for each buyer in the population are fixed in the model, that’s why we say it’s stationary – and therefore the brands obviously don’t change share because if people aren’t changing their loyalties then brand shares stay stable (which in reality they often do, at least over normal planning periods).  These stationary benchmarks are useful to compare change, when it happens, against.

Bongers & Hofmeyr tackle the Dirichlet model’s assumption that consumers have steady-purchase probabilities (steady loyalties); their paper attempts to refute this by showing a selection of purchases of individual panellists of non-stationary brands. They see what looks like lots of variation, natural wobble in purchase runs, and mistakenly interpret this as changes in loyalties.  The Dirichlet correctly incorporates a degree of random variation in purchasing even for stable loyalties.  Now if I gambled regularly I’d have a steady on-going propensity to lose money at the casino – but some nights I would actually make money yet that doesn’t mean the casino investors assumptions are wrong.  All B&H show is that runs of purchases exhibit variation (as do gamblers), rather than nice neat identical purchase weights in each quarter period. Similarly, if we had a panel of coin tossers we would see that only a few panel members made nice neat runs of tosses HTHTHTHT. If we looked at small runs of tosses we would see very many where ‘Heads” was far from 50% of the tosses. However, it would be foolish to send off a paper to a statistical journal critiquing the long-standing assumption of coins being weighted 50:50.

Now the Dirichlet models something much more complex than coin tossing. We have the probability to buy from the category mixed with the probability to buy particular brands.

The Dirichlet assumes steady-state probabilities with substantial stochastic wobble (around each individual’s steady-state mean). The multinomial assumption of choices amongst available brands means that a buyer with a 10% probability of buying the brand will buy it in the long run on 10% of their category purchase occasions but this buying will be in an as-if random fashion independently of the brand they bought on last occasion. Put simply when you look at any individual’s brand purchasing for short periods you see a lot of stochastic variation (which the model accounts for – hence its very accurate predictions).

It’s quite reasonable that even though I didn’t buy chocolate last quarter that I still have a on-going probability of buying it 4 times a year on average – that doesn’t mean I buy it exactly 4 times every year, some years I only once or twice, some years 8 times (and how I distribute my purchases amongst brands adds further (predictable stochastic) variation).

The authors don’t understand this stochastic variation and it has tripped them up. If it is any consolation it’s not uncommon for analysts to misunderstand stochastic variation in purchase data. Common mistakes include taking a group of heavy buyers (e.g. the top 20%) then noticing that in a subsequent period their purchasing is lighter and assuming that real changes in propensity have occurred (rather than regression to the mean). Or simply noticing that a person who bought in one period did not in a subsequent period and inferring that they have defected from the brand. I recommend reading Schmittlein, Cooper and Morrison (1993) for their discussion on true underlying propensities.

References:

Ehrenberg, Andrew S C, Mark D Uncles, and Gerald G Goodhardt (2004), “Understanding brand performance measures: using Dirichlet benchmarks,” Journal of Business Research, 57 (12), 1307-25.

Kahn, Barbara E. and Donald G. Morrison (1989), “A Note on ‘Random’ Purchasing: Additional Insights from Dunn, Reader and Wrigley,” Applied Statistician, 38 (1), 111-14.

Schmittlein, David C., Lee G. Cooper, and Donald G. Morrison (1993), “Truth in Concentration in the Land of (80/20) Laws,” Marketing Science, 12 (2), 167-83.

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The role of government is to provide great infrastructure/environment for ALL business

Job losses at icon brand companies make big headlines. Politicians are addicted to giving taxpayers money to large businesses, including trying to lure them into their electorate. We all love the idea of having the next Apple or Google in our electorate, but look at the US economy and its poor performance over the past decade despite having these two emerge as giants over that period.

It’s hard to name icon companies from Singapore or Netherlands or Austria yet these are some of the richest, most productive economies in the world. It’s a reminder to government that any modern economy is diverse and complex, even a Google is a tiny player within it. What matters much more than having a few of these star companies is that thousands of less-than-household name companies can do business easily. e.g. an efficient retail sector is a stark difference between highly productive and less productive economies. I know this isn’t sexy, but it seems to be the truth.

This means that government should concentrate on infrastructure, on good and simple laws, less red tape, flexible workforces, access to training/re-training.

I note that Australian government investment in Roseworthy Agricultural College, and the Waite Institute, and setting the levy that funded the Grape and Wine R&D Corp has returned an astonishing return – creating Australia’s modern export wine industry (and better wine for Australians). But all attempts to save the industry in times of a high Australian dollar and so on (e.g. the 1980s grape vine pull) did little good, just put money in the pockets of a few lucky businesspeople.

I suspect there are many similar examples in many other industries.

Bad service habits

One of the most important functions of marketing is cultural, to prevent the organisation from slipping into a production orientation, to keep it focussed on the customer and the market.

Recently I was told off in the Bordeaux Apple Store, but rather that take it I told the employee off. You see I had taken a space on a large desk that had lots of spare space, to sit and write on the new version of How Brands Grow. So I’m sitting there with my new MacBook Pro and new iPhone (clearly I’m a good customer) and an Apple Store employee interupts me and tries to say that this table is only for one-on-one demonstrations. But the table is largely empty I said, if I’m in the way I’ll move. No you aren’t in the way he said, but the table is just for demonstrations. Now this struck me as absurd and I told him so. He said it was store policy. No it isn’t I said. I asked him to reflect how this incident would look to him if he were observing as a third party, or if he were watching it on a customer service training video!

I knew there was no silly policy like this. I’d even previously be summoned into the store to work by an employee who saw me sitting on the ledge outside the store using their wifi) “Come into work anytime he said”. Another employee had told my wife how children were always welcome to play in the Apple Store because they were future customers – to which my wife noted “our daughter is already a paying customer”.

Anyway the Apple Store employee went away, presumably to talk to their manager, came back and said I could continue to work. Then later he interrupted me again, “what now” I thought. And then he not only apologized but thanked me, explaining how easy it is to get into a bad habit, where you start to make rules of how the store should be without thinking why the store is here, to serve customers.

I said that I understood, that as a young university student I’d worked in a service industry and I now reflect how over-the-top, officious even, we often became in bossing customers around. In that instance our excuse (it was an amusement park, with a large rollercoaster) was safety – but that was an excuse for slipping out of a customer service orientation into a production orientation.

We are all human. It takes training, and reminders, to stop us slipping into bad service habits.

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True Brand Loyalty – it doesn’t matter

This is a footnote from “How Brands Grow“.

There is a very long (too long!) history of marketing writers debating what ‘true loyalty’ is. This is a perfect example of what the twentieth century’s most famous philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper, called essentialism: seeking to define the essence of an abstract theoretical concept (Esslemont & Wright, 1994). We can forever debate issues (like, What is true love? What is marketing?), but as these questions are simply about the definitions we decide to use there is no logical way of ever resolving them. To suggest that one approach captures the true meaning of brand loyalty, while another (by implication) does not, is bad philosophy, and bad science. Contrary to popular belief the purpose of science is not to say what things are but rather to say things about things: how they behave, how they relate to other things. Physicists can tell you a great deal about the properties and behaviour of things like gravity and mass while there is no rigid definition of what these things ‘truly’ are. Hence, this book is about what we can say about real world loyalty-type behaviour, both verbal behaviour (expressed attitudes) and overt behaviour (buying).

“Never let yourself be goaded into taking seriously problems about words and their meanings. What must be taken seriously are questions of fact, and assertions about facts; theories and hypotheses; the problems they solve; and the problems they raise” (Popper, 1976).

The rise and rise of retail chains and brands

I was telling a colleague about Hema, a dutch chain of stores that sell everyday staples, “everything from a needle to an anchor” my grandfather would say.  Well they don’t sell anchors but they do sell needles and all sorts of other useful things you need, regularly, for round the house.  And everything is their own brand.

It started me wondering about the rise of manufacturer-retailers or retailer-manufacturers, and single brand stores.  So I wandered around the shops and took note of which were multi-brand stores, like (most) supermarkets and department stores, and which were single brand chains.  It’s fascinating how the world looks different when you look at it systematically, out of “everyday mode”.  I expected to find lots of retailers who stocked multiple brands but they are a tiny minority – and look to be disappearing.  My list is at the end of this post, I could have gone on walking and made it five times as long but you can see most stores are singe brand.

Indeed I’m sitting in an Apple store writing this post.  An LA-based computer manufacturer that once had no stores, now it operates this store here in France and quite a few more like it around the globe.  When I was a student at university I remember quite a few case studies of manufacturers that had tried to get into retail to ensure distribution (e.g. brewers who bought pubs) and how it had often back-fired; manufacturing and retailing are different businesses was the lesson.  Well it seems that management has improved and many firms can do it (see list below), and many retailers find that they can have a central office buying (and branding and marketing) and that makes life more simple than having to stock their stores by choosing stock from many sellers.  The retail staff can just concentrate on retailing, whereas a purely retail store has to buy and sell.  This is perhaps why we see chains replacing owner-operated stores, even (sadly) in restaurants (though thankfully not in France).

There are a few exceptions like shoe stores, opticians, and cosmetic stores but even here there are single brand stores (e.g. L’Occitane, Julique), where the manufacturer (or designer or at least buyer) is also the retailer.  Department stores, supermarkets and wine stores are among the last, it seems, where the norm is for them to stock themselves with many brands from competing manufacturers – though even here they usually have their own private label brand along with the others.

So what does this mean for marketing?  In some ways it’s an indictment on the quality (and quantity) of marketing by manufacturers.  They were poor at building their brands, and retailers found that their retail presence was as good at building mental availability as the (little bit) of advertising that the manufacturers were doing.  Of course, it also shows that some manufacturers worked out how to be retailers, and very good retailers.  So it’s also an indictment on retailers who operated largely as shelf stockers, renting space to competing brands.

Will dedicated manufacturer-marketers and retailer-marketers survive?  Meaning stores that stock multiple brands?  I think we have the answer, the future is largely already here.  Yes there will be a few, a few dept stores, supermarkets, and some specialist stores.  But the majority will be single brand chain stores, where one head office designs and/or buys/manufactures its own brand’s product range which it sells through its own stores.

OK, what if you own your own shop, stocking manufacturer brands?  Hmm, the tide seems to be flowing against you.  I can’t think of any new chains that have emerged along these lines.

OK what if you are a manufacturer brand marketer without your own retail channel?  Again it looks like the tide of history is not flowing your way.  But can a company like Unilever operate its own stores?  It’s an interesting question; L’Oreal already owns The Body Shop.  Procter & Gamble and others have their “toe in the water” with their own online stores but that’s a long way from having a Hema type store stocked entirely by P&G.

Will we see wine stores dedicated to a single company? We already see some stores that stock many brands that are in effect commissioned by them, they own or control the marketing of these brands.  But might we see a large luxury wine brand like Penfolds open its own stores.  Nespresso did it – if only to use stores as a way of showcasing/advertising the brand.

Hmmm, predicting the future is difficult, but while 10 years ago the idea of manufacturers who depended on many different retailers, like Apple and Levi, opening their own stores and surviving seemed unlikely. And it has happenned.

PS Retail marketing scientist Herb Sorensen points out that “own brand stores” are a strike back by manufacturers at “private label”.

 

List single brand retail chains I made walking around Bordeaux:

H&M
Levi’s
Mango
Paul
Pimkie

Pull&Bear
Jules
Etam
Bocage
Heyraud
Minelli
Apple
Guess
Oliver Grant
MaxMara
Minelli
Atelson
Aigle
Somewhere
IKKS
BCNGMaxazria
Diesel
Zapa
Gant
JB Martin
Faconnable
Eden Park
Hugo Boss
L’epetto
Lancel
Father. & son
Devernois
Orange
Baillardran
Alain Figaret
Louis Vuitton
Nespresso
Hermes
Weill
Laingo
Ballon
Florence Kooijman
Mangas
Pain de sucre
Eric Bompard
Olivers & co (olive oil !!)
Petrusse
Rosa Bagh
Alienor chocolatier
Osaka
and so on…..

Exceptions I noted:

Pharmacies
Galleries Lafayette
Bijoutiers but only some
Opticiens
Cosmetics but only some
Manfield – shoes
Outdoor and sports clothing
Kitchenware/design
Wine shops

New marketing practice, evidence or fashion?

A new study of 10 years of medical research in one of the very top journals shows that reversals are not uncommon.  This is where later evidence shows that a new medical practice is no better or worse than older practice (or doing nothing).

40% of the studies that examined a current practice found it shouldn’t have been adopted.

The problem is partly that tests of new practice tend to be biased towards being positive. So later, better, studies are going to find that a good number of their findings were wrong.

Also practice tends to adopt invasive practices perhaps due to patient pressure, and doctor desire, to “do something, rather than nothing”. Though there are also reversals to current practices that refuse to take up something new (e.g. vaccinate, take aspirin) because of some (often theory-based) fear, which turns out to be unfounded.

This shows that the advance of (medical) science, and evidence-based practice, is not a straight line. Reversals are common.

Now in marketing practice the tinniest whiff of evidence that something might be useful is enough to send lemmings running for the cliff! Fear of missing out? I’d put both the widespread adoption of banner and search advertising, marketing mix modelling, ROI calculations, and equity monitors in this camp.  We praise doing something new, even if it is harmful.

Then there are things like loyalty programs which were adopted without any evidence at all, just theory.

When evidence finally does emerge that a practice is flawed there can be great reluctance to accept it – especially amongst those who make money from it.  For example, how many market research agencies have changed their practices in presenting segmentation data after we showed comprehensively that brands do not differ from their competitors in the types of customer they attract?  For example, marketers are still launching new loyalty programs with the aim of extracting lots more business out of existing customers.

And not enough marketers worry when “emperor’s new clothes” type questions highlight the astonishing lack of credible evidence and testing of techniques like mix modelling or brand equity based predictions.  People even say things like “but if I stop doing this, what will I do instead”, as if doing something useless is better than doing nothing.  Marketing needs to grow up, because the medical example shows how easy it is to get something wrong even when you are as careful and circumspect as doctors are.

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.