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The POTENCY of Byron Sharp

Killer name, Byron Sharp, isn’t it? Passionate, self-destructive Romantic meets rapier wit that will cut you to shreds.

Ever since his book, How Brands Grow, came out in 2010, Sharp’s influence in marketing has been increasing. It’s now even prompting a debate on whether we’ll soon see the end of segmentation, targeting and positioning as we know it.

For those of you who still have to read his book, here’s a Top 10 of Byron’s points:

1. Growing your customer base is the key to growth

2. Most buyers of brands are light buyers

3. Buyers of different brands are very similar

4. You should sell to all the buyers of a category

5. Brand relationships are generally weak

6. Attitudes tend to fall in line with behaviour

7. Focus on distinctiveness not differentiation

8. Advertising is about being noticed and remembered

9. Loyalty programmes don’t work

10. It’s all about salience and availability

Over-arching these are two themes. One is an argument for evidence-based marketing. It’s often very convincing. Sharp has the researchers of the Ehrenburg-Bass Institute behind him and they have helped pull together case studies from multiple categories around the world.

The other theme is challenge. There’s a big clue upfront in the book’s sub-title: What Marketers Don’t Know. There are then any number of other attacks on current marketing practice and the veil is gossamer thin. At one point Byron even says: “Many well-paid marketers are operating with wrong assumptions, so they are making mistakes and wasting money, without even knowing it.” Ouch!

So on top of all the evidence, there’s a strong desire to make an impact, to stir it up, to be the new authority – in need terms, for Potency. Sharp argues the ideas in his book should be liberating for marketers and I’m sure in some cases they are being. But he really wants to win, doesn’t he?

What’s also interesting is that the book seems to have put marketing people on the defensive. This may well be part of Byron's insight. Many in the industry have a pretty big Potency need of their own. But maybe what he senses behind this is a deep-lying insecurity. We talk up the positive effect marketing can have on brands, on organisations and even on society in general. But we know that a lot of what we do day-to-day isn't, in the general scheme of things, that important.

We also know that we can’t always support our arguments with evidence – not a great place to be in a world governed by metrics. So if someone attacks our beliefs, it can knock us off track. That’s the thing about people like Sharp. They really know how to find your weak spot.

At least now people are coming out to defend ideas like target marketing. It’s high time we did the same for positioning. You can argue about distinctiveness vs. differentiation and even positioning vs. position, but a brand has to stand for something, it has to have a purpose.

The job for marketing people is to get that idea into people’s minds and make it stick. And the best way to do that is by making an emotional connection with people, one that resonates with their deeper needs.

So if your brand is targeting people with a Potency need, don’t just try to make them feel powerful. Be their armour. They’ll thank you for it.

Of course I’m talking about emotion here, not reason. Byron would understand. Not sure Sharp would see the point.

Whose side are you on?

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