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How brands grow...and grow

How brands grow...and grow
The Shortlist for the 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards demonstrates even brand leaders can still enjoy rapid growth.

Listerine, Gordon’s gin, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Lucozade, Imodium... 

Disappointingly, these are not the ingredients of a highly novel hangover cure.  

Rather, they are all brands that were subjects of IPA Effectiveness Award-winning case studies written at the time that the brands in question were leaders in their category.The 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards Shortlist has added new cases of the same type from Fairy Liquid, McDonald's and Premier Inn.

How do brands grow? Australian academic Byron Sharp is confident enough of the answer to this perennial puzzler to drop the question mark from the title of his book, ‘How Brands Grow’.

As anyone who has read the book or saw his IPA presentation a few years ago will attest, Professor Sharp, who is Professor of Marketing Science and Director at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, has no time for many widely-accepted marketing theories about the drivers of brand growth.

These include the beliefs that brands grow by inspiring loyalty, segmenting and targeting niche audiences or investing in differentiated brand positioning. Indeed, one memorable Sharp quote advises: “Rather than striving for meaningful, perceived differentiation, marketers should seek meaningless distinctiveness”.

To summarise Sharp’s view necessarily crudely, brands grow primarily by maintaining their physical and mental availability to consumers. To ensure this availability they need to invest in a range of activities such as continuous advertising to the whole market, removing any barriers to purchase, maximising distribution and ensuring the memorability to consumers of their branding and packaging.

You can read some counter-arguments here and here. Whatever your opinion, the debate remains a live one. Can the shortlist and the IPA's Databank of historical cases, provide any evidence on this subject?

Following previous analyses of Effectiveness Awards cases for insights into planning for success and improving brands by small increments, and without any claims to being scientific, I have examined the question of growth strategies from a particular angle.

By combining information from this year’s shortlisted cases (published in full after Awards Night on October 27), interviews with case authors, and precedents from the IPA Databank, I have looked at successful growth strategies used by brand leaders, even when they are in mature or declining categories.

Although there are particular factors at work in each instance, there are also some common drivers of this growth which include turning the scale and legacy of big brands into assets, taking a long term, consistent approach to advertising investment and creative choices, and using participation-based platforms to keep brand awareness and involvement high. 

One shortlisted entry paper, Fairy’s, suggests such cases of marketing-leading brands in robust growth are extremely rare.

Do you agree? If so, why should this be the case? Are the scale and legacy that big brands accrue more commonly outweighed by the disadvantages of risk-aversion and bureaucracy that can come with size? Is growth an unrealistic prospect for most big brands, and is seeking to defending share a more achievable goal? Is growth less important to bigger brands than relative metrics such as ROMI?

We want to hear your voice, however big or small.

Last updated 26/09/2014

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