Chapter 1 – Marketing and Bloodletting – How Brands Grow

Sharing is caring!

These posts are a collection of notes and summaries from the book “How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know” by professor Byron Sharp. This work is a must read for any marketer. My personal goal when I embarked on this series of posts was to get a deeper understanding of the book and its lessons, and as I have worked through them I have not only gained that understanding, but also an idea of the areas I need to investigate more deeply in the future. Sharp is always very insightful, but I feel the need for more perspectives on many of the topics he covers. You can buy How Brands Grow here.

The first chapter of “How brands grow” is a statement of intent for the entire book. 

It is an introduction to the importance of an “Evidence Based Marketing” approach.

Marketing permeates our lives, because, willingly or not, “everybody lives by selling something” and it is a fundamental gear for modern companies.

“Everybody lives by selling something

Unfortunately poor marketing is a massive waste of resources and the author advocates for a more scientific approach to improve efficiency and the marketing ROI. 

One of the most compelling examples proposed is one of his studies on advertising productivity.

With his team they examined 143 ads on Australian television screened on consecutive weeknight evenings. Then they telephoned the respondents and interviewed those who watched the programs during the ads to evaluate if they recognized the specific commercial. 

Can you guess what the recognition score was?

(# of respondents who recognized the ads/ total # of people who watched the show) 


Afterwards the author with his team asked what brand it was and on average only 40% of the subsample gave the correct answer. 

This means that, roughly, only 16% identified the brand, while 84% was wastage

Only 16% identified the brand

Honestly, defining the 84% of “negative results”  wastage is the author’s opinion, I am not sure about that, because some commercials need to be shown multiple times to be recognized or influence consumer behaviours.

That said, I am pretty sure that the author was just provoking the reader to reinforce the importance of a more evidence-based approach in marketing

Marketing and Bloodletting

We all agree that marketing is a very young discipline, even though we have more data compared with the past, but some marketers are working under the wrong assumptions, like doctors in the past. 

Why did he say “like doctors”? 

In the past, more or less for 2000 years, bloodletting was a common practice among doctors Bloodletting – Wikipedia .

This practice killed a massive number of patients, one of the most famous fatalities was George Washington. 

Doctors made him bleed massively to cure his sore throat;  obviously, he died. 

Bloodletting was the output of two wrong behaviour:

  1. Believing on untested theories 
  2. Not conducting systematic research

If patients recovered from their illness then bleeding was credited as the cure, if they died was the illness.”

And is the same for some marketers today who are working under untested theories and not conducting robust tests on their assumptions.

But in medicine what was the tipping point?

Statistics, of course! 

When it was introduced, when doctors started compiling records and case histories, the music changed! 

11 marketing mistakes

After this “medical allegory”  the end of the chapter finishes with the authors highlighting 11 marketing mistakes:

  1. Changing packaging in ways that confuse customers and reduce the brand’s ability to be noticed
  2. Creating advertising that doesn’t build or refresh relevant memory structures
  3. Failing to research what memory structures are devoted to the brand 
  4. Failing to research what makes the brand distinctive and noticeable
  5. Creating advertising that isn’t branded (other than a flash of the brand name)
  6. Investing countless hours and many dollars on pointless tracking research that informs no decisions
  7. Over -investing in already highly loyal consumers while neglecting to reach new buyers 
  8. Pricing too high then trying to compensate with very regular price discounts 
  9. Teaching consumers to buy when the brand is discounted
  10. Burning media dollars in advertising bursts then going silent for long periods *when consumers are still buying) 
  11. Paying premiums for low-reach media

I wrote them down and I will think about them while working on tasks/projects in the future because I am not 100% convinced and also because I require time to internalise them. 

Future Plans

On this premise, I think it is too early to share any gathered knowledge from the previous discussion. Actually there is a very frequent situation that I noticed. 

In the past, in a lot of projects, I saw a lack of a robust data literature and this weakness slowed down all the analysis of the marketing activities outputs.

Information was usually stored in different formats and in different locations making it hard to integrate for a broad and comprehensive analysis.

This will be one of my main challenges for 2022 as I truly believe that ”problems are opportunities in disguise”. 

Building data-savvy marketing departments is the first brick for a more scientific approach on Marketing and also for a healthier marketing ROI.

See you in the next post! 

I can’t wait to talk about growth and customer base! 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.