The timeless power of getting the basics right.

The S-curve graph visualises the way that technologies evolve over time – starting slow with R&D, then moving into fast growth before plateauing. It’s a way of understanding how innovation accelerates, matures and finally stabilises over time.

In February 2020, tech analyst Benedict Evans re-imagined the curve: from stupid to exciting to boring:

Chart 1

Marketers are inspired by innovation, and the last decade has been a bonanza period of new technologies and new platforms, all supposedly meant to optimise marketing to the point of pure automation, deep engagement and perfect personalisation. Some never make it past stupid. Many are exciting. The ones lasting the distance become the wallpaper of our campaign plans. Meanwhile, there’s a growing field of metrics to parse as martech stacks expand and effectiveness measures evolve.

Even with huge investment in CX, analytics function, data science and digital transformation, brands have seen only incremental improvements in customer retention and very little by way of customer acquisition. The S-curve has become a rollercoaster.

How can we find a sense of stability? By balancing this urge to try new timely ideas with the timeless principles of marketing and brand.

Here are the five most important principles of brand building:

1. To grow, grow your share of voice

No matter how you cut the data, share of voice is an excellent indicator of growth. As Field and Binet demonstrate in their ground-breaking paper, ‘The Long and the Short of It’, if your share of voice is greater than your market share, you can expect to grow; less than your market share, and you should be preparing for some lean times.


2. To maximise effectiveness, target everyone

Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow quickly became a timeless marketing resource with this simple maxim: “Growth in market share comes by increasing popularity; that is, by gaining many more buyers (of all types)”.

It’s not necessarily about hyper-targeted campaigns. It’s about knowing people. Most users are “light buyers” who only purchase occasionally. So, focus less on targeting super users and more on trying to reach larger audiences. 

Chart 3

3. Distinctiveness doubles

This is another key operating principle from Sharp’s How Brands Grow. TRA’s work in this space across categories proves it out on a local stage; comms activity which is correctly associated with the brand drives brand growth by a factor of 2-3 times.

In most cases, consistency beats inspiration. Brand building is another name for relationship building – and that’s about letting the consumer get to know you. Think carefully before you redesign your packaging, shake up your brand tone or launch a new product. Those brand cues and distinctive assets are key to keeping you visible. Without them, you disappear, or worse, start inadvertently promoting the category, rather than your product.

4. Push your way into the choice set

While an amazing sales promotion might sneak you into a consumer’s top three brands – their choice set – staying there will mean constant promotion. If you’re in a consumer’s choice set, you’re six to ten times more likely to be chosen again. Those are good odds that make for insanely efficient marketing pushes, regardless of what’s happening out there. 

There are some clear heuristics, or mental shortcuts, that people go through when making decisions about what to buy. Work in a messy, non-linear way through a process of elimination or selection to understand what those are for your offering.  And how do you get into the choice set? See points 1-3. It’s all about brand salience.

5. Listen, don’t just talk

Growth businesses and those in more mature markets are spending more on listening – and there’s a good reason. Understanding your audience’s needs, wants and meta trends lets you build your brand in the right way. Do that by investing in research.

In this part of the world, only five cents of every advertising dollar goes on research  – well below international standards. In fact, it’s about half what is spent in more mature marketing environments in the US and about a quarter of what’s spent in the UK.

Build your brand, grow your business

Winning businesses invest in brand and follow timeless rules. These rules provide guardrails for innovation and timely experimentation. Shiny new technology can feel timely and attractive, but unless it helps you build your brand you will be spending large for poor results.

Written by Connon Bray, Partner, TRA