In How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know (Oxford University Press: 2010), Byron Sharp draws on recent neuroscience research to point out how ads really work. In his “new world view,” emotional supplants rational, getting noticed supersedes message comprehension, and relevant associations will get you further than unique selling propositions. Perhaps most important, “refreshing and building memory structures” has become the driving force rather than the old standby of “persuasion.” Our goal is now to reach, not teach and develop “salience” rather than “positioning.”
Not surprisingly, Sharp’s ideas have drawn acclaim from leading marketers such as Coca-Cola, Mars, Turner Broadcasting and many others who have worked with his “scientific laws.” Sharp’s view is scientific in the sense that if one uses his discipline, one can find repeatable results. In fact, the book is based on much data, collected by Sharp’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute along with research organizations like Nielsen. His work marks an early attempt to put together an approach to branding based on the rapid discoveries in fields from brain science to interactive metrics and loyalty marketing programs.
Although some may feel dismayed that a scientific approach could lead to cold, calculating creative, I think we might draw another conclusion. Building what Sharp calls “distinctive memory structures” may ultimately be more useful to today’s audiences than older approaches to messaging. In calling for “distinctiveness” versus “differentiation,” Sharp is pulling branding back to its roots. Distinctive qualities, even if meaningless, help a customer visually (or sensually) identify a product or service.
I recently had that experience as my colleague and I pulled into a Holiday Inn Express in Oklahoma City. We were told it was across from Wal-Mart, and there indeed was Wal-Mart on the other side of the street. But to my right, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed an orange strip, the rest of the building being hidden by the hotel. “Home Depot,” I said. “Yep,” said my colleague. In a busy world over-saturated with multiplicity in messages and images, simple things like that can be welcome.
And the fact that Home Depot boils down its orange-blooded values in the same hue makes customer service that much more memorable for its employees.