The Sharp sharia: Kotler is dead

More often the books How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp are being mentioned. The marketing conversations are more and more about penetration and mental availability. Not weird, because in the meantime it is a standard on the booklist of every self-respecting marketing education. And especially now you hear more about it. Because this is the time for the plan making for 2020.

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But, not everyone gets it form the first hand. For others it has been awhile. That causes for us to sometimes not remember exactly what it’s like again. And sometimes when a colleague quotes Sharp you think: “hmm, is that so?”. For example:

  • Segmentation is nonsense
  • Purpose is rubbish
  • Loyalty does not exist

These one-liners are often being pronounced with a tone and a facial expression that is a combination of determination, disbelief and resentment at the same time. Understandably. They are misunderstandings that can arise easily. Because after a certain amount of time you forget the nuances. And then, such a quote, that can easily be remembered, starts to live its own life.

One of these misunderstandings is that Sharp would advocate very flat and one-dimensional to be ‘as visible as possible’. Often interpreted as: the fatal thrust for creativity. Well, creativity is definitely necessary if you want to apply Sharp’s learnings. More about that another time.

About distinctiveness and differentiation. Because, what is the difference between those two? Differentiation would be nonsense, distinctiveness the holy grail. It Kotler really dead?

Sharp emphatically rejects Kotler. Kotler who says that you need to have a sustainable competitive advantage, that you need to consistently be the best in something. That sounds very logical and is not wrong in itself. Although, it is not a condition for success. You can be the best and not be successful. The same goes for purpose. (read the blog: piss off with your purpose)

What it is about is that you at least use the thing that you are good at to stand out and to continue to be recognized, because that is indeed a necessary condition: to be distinctive. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that there are multiple brands the best at something at the same time. That does not help.

If you don’t stand out or you are not being recognized (quickly) you will not break through the clutter and you will not participate in the game. Cruijff used to say: “If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score”. And all of that can be traced back to the intuitive, instinctive and impulsive handling of the human, the consumer. And with that the corresponding psychological phenomena as selective perception up to and including cognitive dissonance.

I often use the image with the birds such as the one above to illustrate the point.

All of the birds look extremely alike. And yet, there is one bird that immediately attracts your attention. It is not very different, but it acts different. That principle. Maybe it is not even the best at hanging in the opposite direction… With brands it is just like with birds-on-a-wire: in the eyes of the consumer they pretty much look alike. They often ask for attention at the same time and in the same place. Think about the healthcare insurers in last weeks of December… Brands unfortunately get mixed up more than a brand manager would suspect and want.

Besides, being the best/fastest/cheapest/first does not mean that you will be perceived as such. If a brand keeps on saying that he is the best, for long enough, it could eventually become a memory structure in the brain of many consumers. And people will perceive it to be true after a while. Not as an opinion, but more or less as a given. Is there a better one than Miele?

In short, be distinctive at least. That is a condition. It’s fine if you are different as well, that’s good. But use that to be distinctive.

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