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Which Is More Effective: Targeted or Broad Brand Building?

Building a strong brand is one of the most important roles of a marketer. It is why the branding bull’s-eye is consistently the most visited framework on this website. Not everybody has the same formula for building brands. There are two camps, one led by Professor Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and the other by Mark Ritson, a former business school professor and columnist for Marketing Week. Their differing views on building a brand make interesting reading because both have good points to make.

1. Their differing approach to marketing: Byron Sharp is an advocate for a mass marketing approach, which involves targeting the largest possible audience with a consistent marketing message. He is of the view that brands grow by collecting new devotees who start out on the fringe and are gradually convinced by the marketing and brought into the fold. Mark Ritson believes in a more targeted approach in which brands are focused on specific segments and their marketing is tailored accordingly. They are surely both right. Segmentation is a key to good marketing because it recognises different groups of people with different needs. Adjusting an offer to meet the needs of different segments builds loyalty to a brand. However, brands need to grow and growth comes not from within a segment but from a wider audience. It is why we should think of spending 60% of our marketing budget on broad based brand building and 40% on tactical and focused advertising that builds sales in segments.

2. Their differing approach to branding: Sharp argues that brands should focus on creating mental and physical availability of products by increasing their market penetration and making them easy to find and buy. Ritson, on the other hand, believes that branding is about creating an emotional connection with consumers, and that brands should prioritize building brand loyalty and advocacy. Both have a point. Sharp is right in emphasising the importance of availability because if it isn’t there, you can’t buy it. Ritson is right in pointing out the importance of emotions. Emotions tie us to brands. We may rationalise why we buy brands but at the end of the day we buy them because we trust them to deliver on their promise.

3. Their differing approach on metrics: Sharp is a proponent of using hard data to evaluate marketing effectiveness, and has developed the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute's approach to measuring brand growth. He argues that brand growth primarily comes from increasing the number of buyers, rather than increasing the loyalty or purchase frequency of existing customers. Sharp believes that the key metrics are “reach” (the proportion of the population that buys a brand), “frequency” (the number of times a buyer purchases a brand), and “penetration” (the proportion of the total market buying a brand). Ritson, on the other hand, argues that brand metrics like awareness and loyalty are too soft and that marketers should focus on driving sales and profit growth. He believes it is important to measure the effectiveness of marketing activities by tracking metrics such as customer acquisition costs, customer lifetime value, and return on investment. He argues that many customers are not loyal to a brand and will switch to a competitor if they perceive a better value proposition or if they are offered a more compelling incentive. Therefore, he believes that marketers should focus on building strong brands that are distinctive and relevant to their target audience, rather than focusing solely on building loyalty. Both have a point. Sharp must be right in arguing that a brand has to grow by increasing the number of customers and Ritson reminds us that sales and profit must never be ignored - they are the raison d’être of all businesses.

4. Their different approach to digital marketing: Sharp has been critical of digital marketing and argues that many of its claims are overblown. He thinks that sales won by digital marketing are potentially ephemeral and can blow away in a strong wind. He is also suspicious of the ability to closely target tight groups of people digitally. Ritson likes digital marketing because it is a precision tool that can aim messages at specific groups of people. It is therefore cost effective in building sales. In fact Sharp and Ritson are relatively close in their views on digital marketing. They both accept it can be effective but do not suggest it is used exclusively. They acknowledge that it is supportive to broad-based advertising using traditional media channels which are critical to building strong brands.

In summary, while both Sharp and Ritson are marketing experts, they have different views on the role of marketing, branding, metrics, and digital marketing. Sharp tends to take a more scientific and data-driven approach, while Ritson emphasizes the importance of emotional connections and effective storytelling in marketing.


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