Brand Strategy

Stop Using These Marketing Strategies Now—Or Your Brand Will Suffer

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Marsha Lindsay

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Marsha Lindsay, Founder, Lindsay, Stone & Briggs

Every chief marketer faces this imperative: Either grow the brand or it dies. And while the Great Recession officially ended in 2011, it’s no secret U.S. companies of all sizes and categories continue to struggle.

Why? Our firm, Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, conducted a short survey of readers in May about the challenges they face growing a brand in today’s increasingly digital, social, and mobile world. Forty-six percent of respondents were national marketers, 36% were multinational or global, and 18% reported marketing regionally or locally. Forty-one percent were B2C marketers; 59% were B2B.

The most stunning finding? Sixty-seven percent of respondents said that compared with three to five years ago, driving growth today is not only harder, it’s nearly impossible.

These people know what they’re talking about: A sizeable majority (63%) are personally responsible for driving weekly, monthly, or quarterly increases in sales volume; 76% are responsible for year-over-year increases in sales and brand strength. And they’re motivated: Almost half said bonuses are based on achieving weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual sales goals.

More than 65% of respondents reported their investors and top executives are more impatient than they were three to five years ago—that was no surprise. More than 86% said they’re charged with adding new customers faster, and 69% said they’re charged with developing innovations faster and expediting their launch.

But, interestingly, an analysis of the survey findings suggests marketers’ growth challenges are not the news. It’s the “why.” A healthy majority said lack of authority or ability to get the support they need from above were not issues. The “aha” from our research is that many of the rules of thumb companies use to drive growth are no longer true. Or maybe they never were. And well-intentioned marketers and their bosses evidently haven’t realized it.

This means they’re actually creating the very slow to no-growth situation from which they suffer.

These findings from our survey affirm the results from our firm’s larger, 10-month global study in search of “universal truths” about how to drive growth. Our meta-analysis revealed the degree to which the strategies and tactics many marketers are counting on to grow their brands are, in fact, impotent.

More details about our meta-analysis will be revealed in an upcoming article. In the meantime, the following four impotent orthodoxies from our reader survey stood out the most:

1. AIDA:

Forty-one percent of respondents said people in their companies embraced the widely held model of AIDA—attention, interest, desire, and action—as the progression of human decision-making on a brand.

  • They will be surprised to learn AIDA was made up by The National Cash Register Company in 1887 to train new salesmen. It was not based on research about how human decision-making really progresses. And, of course, there is abundant research today from psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics that human decision-making is not linear, conscious, or as rational as AIDA suggests.
  • Today it is well-recognized that people gather all kinds of information about a category and its brands implicitly and assess it in a part of the subconscious dedicated to judging relevance. Information deemed relevant enough to be desirable is then stored in memory for future decision-making. The subconscious assessment means interest and desire actually happen before awareness. What’s more, research shows that one’s interest and desire comes to consciousness only after the subconscious has made the decision about them. So to market a product based on the presumption of a linear and conscious decision-making process such as AIDA is not likely to be very effective.

2. Unique selling proposition:

Sixty-three percent of respondents said their companies use USP as a rule of thumb. The term was created about 70 years ago by Rosser Reeves who, as head of the Ted Bates agency, devised it as a sales pitch about his firm. All ads needed a USP (and reasons to believe it) because, he said, consumers could take away only one thing from an advertisement. From this belief he reasoned that all ads thus needed a focused, rational argument.

However, absolutely no evidence accompanied his claim or reasoning. And though many people have since looked for evidence to support it, reportedly none has been found.

  • In the study of human information processing, it has been proved that people take away many points from any type of marketing communications, much of which are gathered implicitly and processed subconsciously. And their processing of the information for decision-making is predictably, and often highly, irrational.
  • What’s more, extensive evidence published by the highly regarded Institute of Practitioners in Advertising concluded that the kind of advertising mosteffective at driving preference and profitable growth is not the rational attempts of a USP. Rather, the most successful advertising is that which is more emotional than rational, and seeks not to differentiate but to make top-of-mind distinct visual assets of a brand.

3. Your most loyal customers are the most profitable:

This rule of thumb also is a myth. However, 57% of our survey respondents said many of their colleagues believe this orthodoxy. Unfortunately, because one’s most loyal buyers are so familiar with a brand, they likely time their purchases to when they know it will be on sale, stocking up precisely when a company will make less, or nothing, on every purchase.

4. Optimum budget allocation:

Our meta-analysis uncovered the optimum budget allocation between short-term volume-driving activities and brand building. Extensive case-based evidence reveals any spend over 40% to drive short-term volume generates no additional return. Yet 54% of respondents to our survey reported spending far more than 40%. (Some reported spending as much as 80%.) The research reveals the optimum budget allocation now proved to drive year-over-year growth in sales, share, margin, and brand strength is about 40% for short-term sales and 60% for brand-building—that is, driving perceptions of value.

Dose Of Reality

As Mark Twain famously said: “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know that just ain’t so.” The findings from our survey and meta-analysis clearly demonstrate that lot of people are trying to grow their brands based on the latter.

Well-intentioned marketers will be mortified to realize it’s not the economy or competitors stifling the growth of their brands. They are. Being out of date on the latest data, case-based evidence, and longitudinal studies has a way of sneaking up on us. The only antidote is to constantly question, double-check, reresearch what you “know” to be true—and, upon reaffirming the status quo or finding new evidence of what works, bring it to the attention of bosses and direct reports alike.

This article originally appeared on

Marsha Lindsay

Would hula hoop if put in an agency talent show.

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