John Fanning on why Irish marketers should regard Dr Jenni Romaniuk’s new book on brand health as an important read
The old chestnut that marketing departments know that half their marketing communications budget works, but not which half, is thankfully long dead and buried. Its demise helped by pioneering studies of how advertising works by JWT in 1960’s London; built on by planners like Alan Hedges and later Paul Feldwick in later decades; with newer critical insights from Les Binet and Peter Field.
Studies from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute reported on by the redoubtable Professor Byron Sharp have also helped immeasurably. Sharp’s blockbuster 2012 publication, How Brands Grow, has gone into numerous editions and achieved best-seller status. He postulated a series of ‘laws’ for marketing managers; salience rather than positioning, distinctiveness rather than differentiation.
Sharp also addressed reaching not teaching, continuous activity rather than bursts. He had the audacity to nobble one of the longest established icons of marketing practice; USP in favour of making relevant associations and building memory structures. Like another messiah 2,000 years earlier he then encapsulated his commandments down to two; mental availability and physical availability.
Expert take on branding: Dr Jenni Romaniuk outlines the faults of brand tracking studies under three headings – philosophy, fads, fear.
One suspects the professor would have approved of the comparison. Sharp’s capacity for pithy phrasemaking and flair for communication means that his main conclusions are now widely shared across the business. Inevitably, some of his pronouncements have attracted criticism, particularly from fellow academics who can often make ground hurling look tame.
Sharp’s tendency to dismiss niche brands as small brands that lack the ambition to be more successful has been effectively rebutted in several case studies. Since the initial publication of How Brands Grow 11 years ago, there has been a steady stream of publications expanding on the initial thesis. The publications collectively represent a comprehensive guide to successful brand management.
How Brands Grow Part 2 appeared in 2014 with Sharp joined by Dr Jenni Romaniuk, also a research professor at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science in South Australia. Four years later, she published Building Distinctive Brand Assets, an expanded thesis on one of the key components of a successful brand; colour, logos, copy lines, symbols, characters, visual and verbal tone.
Romaniuk has now written a new book covering another critical area of brand management (measurement) entitled Better Brand Health; Measure & Metrics for a How Brands Grow World. The self-confident approach of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is evident from the preface where the author wastes no time in outlining the faults of most current brand tracking studies.
The faults are explained under three headings: philosophy, fads, fear. Determining that they adopt the wrong philosophy by concentrating on heavy and loyal buyers; the E-B academics have tended to focus on low level or non-buyers as they are key to future growth. Romaniuk is also critical of ‘fads’; that is adding new measures for the hell of it, leading to ‘fear’ of dropping measures.
The measures have a tendency to become superfluous, resulting in bloated questionnaires. The author then reminds us of the three most important ‘laws’ of brand growth which form a backdrop to the book; brands grow by adding new buyers all the time, all brand buyer profiles are similar, and your brand’s main competitors are the biggest brands in the category.
From this emerges a simple mantra for brand tracking; design for the category, analyse for the buyer, report for the brand. The key point to note here is that although you are preoccupied with your brand in the eyes of the consumer where it competes in a category, so designing the research through a category lens will result in a more accurate view of its overall health.
The remainder of the book subjects every aspect of brand health studies to forensic analysis and leaves the reader with detailed instructions for improving their own studies and for making the most practical use of the results. Take the most basic of all measures; brand awareness, that’s fairly straightforward, isn’t it? Oh no it’s not…
While it provides responses, on top of mind as well as scores for spontaneous and prompted awareness; the book focuses on the intricate relationships between all of these and delicately unravels them with detailed advice on how to avoid potential pitfalls. The same even more so applies to the choice of attributes, and particularly attribute wording, to include in questionnaires.
Anyone who has had to sit through tortuous meetings arguing the merits of modern versus up to date, will benefit from Romaniuk’s sensible down-to-earth observations on this perennially thorny subject. Many more issues are covered, but of particular interest is the chapter on word-of-mouth.
Romaniuk explores how to measure word-of-mouth’s impact on brand health now that social media platforms have exponentially increased its range and scope. Brand health tracking studies are essential components of professional brand management. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this new book will become an essential part of professional brand health studies.
John Fanning lectures on branding and marketing communications at the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School; email@example.com