Mark Ritson wrote an article for MarketingWeek (August 2018) titled Byron Sharp in wrong—of course brand perceptions influence sales.
« Sharp is a fan of distinctiveness and goes to great lengths – I might add, persuasive ones – to make the case for using brand assets like colours and other graphical elements to stand out and better look like yourself to the customer. But that focus on distinctiveness comes at the expense of differentiation. Sharp questions “the importance of perceived and valued differentiation” and contends that distinctiveness – making a brand more easily identifiable – should be “at the centre of brand strategy”: »
« Any seasoned brand manager might prefer a greedier approach, in which distinctiveness and differentiation are equally potent and equally possible…. My long and lovely 15 years working with LVMH in Paris, for example, was founded on a belief that the 70-something brands I worked on during my tenure should focus on their DNA (the intended brand image we wanted to project) and their codes (the visual identifiers of the brand that we used to stand out and to claim mental saliency). »
« But Sharp is rarely a thinker who embraces plurality and nuance. »
« And that binary prioritisation was clear this week [August 2018] when he published a new blog on ‘Some inconvenient truths about brand image perceptions’. In the blog, Sharp questions marketers’ obsession with brand tracking and the ultimate value of changing how consumers perceive a particular brand versus the competition. »
« There is a mountain of evidence from other scholars using other samples that the perception of a brand, prior to purchase, influences the degree to which they will consider it, prefer it and ultimately buy it. The name Koen Pauwels might not be as familiar as Sharp’s but he is a brilliant advanced marketing professor based at Boston University. Pauwels won the Marketing Science Institute’s Best Paper award for a study that demonstrated that both attitude surveys and online behaviour measures are useful to explain and predict future sales. »
« Pauwels can show, with data, that brand perceptions not only change but that these changes result in measurable and significant changes in sales. In a current research paper he shows this happening with 76 brands across a range of different categories. »
« Pauwels can show this is partly causal and not simply a post-purchase correlation because, unlike Sharp, he uses longitudinal data. Rather than compare a purchaser and a non-purchaser … at one point in time, Pauwels follows consumers over a period of time to see if their earlier shift in perception … results in a subsequent change in behaviour »
« This week he openly refuted Sharp’s claim that it is “impossible” to quantify how particular perceptions drive sales: “I don’t see how the truth is served by Byron Sharp’s unfounded and absolute claim,” he concluded in a blog. Sharp’s blog is “nonsense” and “pseudo-science”, according to Pauwels.
« He is right. Sharp goes too far, too often. »
« When other scholars post contradictory evidence-based conclusions, often from much more robust samples of data, he either rejects them on methodological grounds (his response to Dunnhumby’s empirical refutation of his loyalty work was that their sample was “flawed”) or he simply shuts up shop and closes the debate down (he blocked Pauwels on social media yesterday when he aired his contradictory perspective). »
« This is not science. Scientists embrace debate and counter-argument because, ultimately, no theory can be permanently proven. We simply adopt the explanation we cannot disprove and if we do eventually falsify it we move on and evolve our understanding of the world. Proper scientists don’t reject qualification and refutation, they welcome it. »
« As the greatest scientist of the last 100 years, Richard Feynman, put it: “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
This is clearly not how Professor Sharp approaches his work or his “scientific” method. »
« Read his books, savour the insights and the perspective but sprinkle a heavy dose of sceptical salt on every page. Absolutes sit uneasily in the ever-changing, heterogeneous world of marketing. »