In the battle between salience and differentiation, Bothism wins

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“You come to the King, you better not miss.” This is my advice to Professor Felipe Thomaz after his recent interview and entertaining critique of the work of Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Sharp was in great shape a month ago Down Under, mocking a range of marketing concepts, including the long and the short, attention theory and cross-media synergies, a concept he has dismissed as “a bit of a myth”. The comment clearly angered Thomaz, an associate professor of marketing at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, who had recently published an article on exactly this topic.

In an interview published on this week, Thomaz noted published evidence that spreading marketing investments across different media channels does indeed generate significant incremental impact.

“We’ve known that these things interact powerfully for a very long time,” explained the Brazilian marketing academic. “Maintaining the idea that this is not the case is weird to me. Anyone who knows how marketing works would know that these things exist, at different levels of strength for different conditions.

And Thomaz was not done there. Pausing to note that most marketers wouldn’t even have heard of mental and physical availability, he went on to say that Sharp’s How Brands Grow had “chosen existing frameworks carefully and left out specifics. important”. Specifically, Thomaz is uncomfortable with Sharp’s rejection of differentiation.

“By removing differentiation, it breaks brand image,” Thomaz concluded rather dramatically.

According to “100 years” of evidence, Thomaz suggests that the rest of the marketing academy believes that not only does differentiation exist, it is essential.

“Growth is a function of perceived differentiation. The distinction does not work. There’s work with Google on YouTube that reviews thousands of ads, and asset distinctiveness doesn’t make it into the top 10 features that drive performance. »

For marketers, the key lesson is that when building brands, they need to divide their attention and effort between the two concepts.

Thomaz has something of a point. For many years, Ehrenberg-Bass consistently suggested that “differentiation plays a more limited role in brand competition than the orthodox literature assumes”. But the devil is in the differentiated detail.

There is no doubt that 20th century approaches to brand differentiation were riddled with bullshit and fundamental impossibilities. The “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP) is a nonsense concept if you step back and think about it for more than two seconds. Worse than Maslow. The same goes for the idea that a brand can possess one or more specific attributes compared to its competitors. You just don’t see that in the data, ever. The premise that brands had to differentiate or die shows how zealously marketers have prayed on the altar of differentiation over the past century.

Ehrenberg-Bass’ impact on the ridiculousness of these extremes is to be commended. It was not only a good, precise job, but also an essential reality check for confused marketers who feed on bullshit success stories written in the United States. Trouble is, Ehrenberg-Bass has a habit of overdosing his science omelettes.

Yes, differentiation plays a more limited role in brand growth. But it plays a role. And How Brands Grow proponents have taken the theory too far by exposing the absence of any differentiation. Obviously, this is nonsense. Brands are perceived differently by customers and differentiation matters in brand choice.

‘Bothism’ is the cure for marketers’ fascination with pointless conflict

Professor Thomaz therefore deserves a disciplinary pat on the back for making such a strong case for differentiation. But, like Ehrenberg-Bass, he also exaggerates and exaggerates his response. To suggest that “distinctiveness doesn’t work” is nonsense. If there’s one empirical gift that Ehrenberg-Bass has given marketers, it’s a renewed interest in salience and the important role the mind plays in buying situations in the growth of the brand.

And no, it’s not the same as the 1990s Kevin Keller derivative models that Thomaz refers to in his interview. I know these models. I taught them for many years that a brand is built from the gateway variable of notoriety, then from the associations that these brands arouse in the mind of the consumer.

Visibility is more important than brand awareness. More situational. More ephemeral. And this plays a much larger role in driving preference and rationalized preference than Keller’s models suggest.

Without wanting to add another appendix to this already manly cockfight, I might suggest that Thomaz and Sharp could learn a thing or two from my work on Bothism. This is clearly a perfect example of two marketing concepts at odds with each other, which form a much more complete and powerful ideal when put together.

We need brand visibility and associated theories of distinctiveness to build stronger brands. It’s clear from System1 modeling, the work of the B2B Institute, and many other examples that salience needs to be a priority for all marketers. Sharp is right.

But Thomaz is also right. The past decade has been obsessed with salience, at the expense of brand image and the equally important potential for brand differentiation. This is not the straw man argument of a USP, which we must all agree is nonsense, but the potential for relative differentiation across a small but important range of associations. You can promote this belief without minimizing the concept of brand visibility or the dramatic impact and rigor of Sharp thinking.

For marketers, the key lesson is that when building brands, they need to divide their attention and effort between the two concepts. On a single page of paper, you need a list of distinctive brand assets that will provide distinctiveness. But underneath that list, you also need a clear and precise brand position which, if executed correctly, will result in valuable and relevant relative differentiation.

Thomas is right. And wrong. Just like Sharp. We need distinction and differentiation. Bothism for victory and victory. Once again.


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