How Brands Grow: Byron Sharp’s 3 Rules of Marketing

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What does How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp explain about marketing? What are the main takeaways from the book?

Marketing professor Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow says that while many people consider mass marketing to be “dead,” it’s actually more effective than modern marketing used today. To support this claim, Sharp creates three rules that every marketer should follow if they want their business to reach a wider audience.

Continue reading to learn more about Byron Sharp’s three rules of marketing in How Brands Grow.

Byron Sharp’s Rules of Marketing

Everything you know about marketing may be wrong. In How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp argues that many of the marketing principles commonly taught in business schools are unsubstantiated myths. By examining the real-world data that indicates which marketing techniques succeed and which fail, Sharp claims to have discovered a new set of empirical rules that directly contradict the widely-held “common sense” principles of marketing.

According to Sharp, most modern marketers believe you should:

  • Work to retain your existing customers instead of seeking new customers.
  • Tailor your marketing to the niche target market that’s most likely to buy your product.
  • Give your customers a reason to choose you over your competitors by communicating to them how your brand is different and better.

However, Sharp asserts that you should do the opposite—we’ve consolidated his advice into these three rules:

  1. Focus on constantly attracting new customers instead of establishing a core group of loyal fans.
  2. Market to as many different demographics as possible—ideally, the whole human race.
  3. Focus on making your brand memorable instead of unique.

In short, Sharp argues that mass marketing—basic messaging about your brand for a general audience—is still the most effective way to grow, despite many marketing professionals declaring it “dead.”

Rule #1: Market to New Customers, Never to Existing Customers

Modern marketers often profess that it costs less to keep your existing customers than to attract new customers. However, in How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp explains that they believe this because it makes intuitive sense: If someone bought from your brand already, they’re more likely to buy from you again—they’re “your customer.” 

Following this logic, your marketing is supposedly more effective on existing customers who are predisposed to spend a lot of money on your brand. For example, marketers may assume that it takes only one advertisement to convince an existing customer to purchase again, but five advertisements to convince a new customer to make a purchase. This makes the new customer five times more expensive to acquire.

However, Sharp insists that the data tells a different story: Marketing to existing customers is much less profitable than marketing to new customers.

Rule #2: Market to Everyone, Never to a Specific Demographic

With Rule #1, we established that marketers profit the most from acquiring new customers instead of trying to make their existing customers more loyal. With Rule #2, we see how most marketers fail to optimally market to new customers.

Sharp states that when modern marketers try to acquire new customers, they typically identify a target demographic and tailor their marketing toward it. Sharp challenges this strategy, asserting that in most cases, it’s virtually impossible to boost your sales by tailoring your marketing to a specific demographic. On the contrary, targeting a niche is more likely to limit your reach, which is stated in How Brands Grow. Byron Sharp says that you should market to as many demographics as possible instead.

Rule #3: Market to Be Memorable, Not Unique

If it’s impossible to find success by marketing to existing buyers or other specific demographics of consumers, what can marketers do to be more successful than their competitors?

According to How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp says that targeted marketing fails because consumers don’t care enough about branding for it to impact their purchasing decisions. Customer surveys reveal that consumers typically perceive all brands in a category to be roughly interchangeable—when the differences between brands are slight, consumers fail to see differences at all. This is especially true for the intangible features of a brand: Only a small fraction of consumers ever think about a brand’s image or personality. Even if they do describe a brand as more “trendy“ or “wholesome“ than its competitors in surveys, they frequently change their opinions if interviewed later.

Increase Your Presence With Memorable Branding

Because consumers only think about a select few brands when deciding which to purchase, Sharp claims that the most effective way to market your brand is to increase the likelihood that consumers will think about it.

There are three main techniques to influence consumers to remember your brand, which are proposed in How Brands Grow. Byron Sharp emphasizes that these techniques contradict the modern marketing ideology that is taught in business schools.

  1. Advertise regularly to create brand memories.
  2. Create recognizable brand assets and keep them consistent.
  3. Expand your brand’s reach to increase its visibility.
How Brands Grow: Byron Sharp’s 3 Rules of Marketing

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Byron Sharp's "How Brands Grow" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full How Brands Grow summary :

  • Why everything you know about marketing is wrong
  • An unpacking of the unsubstantiated marketing myths that business schools teach
  • The psychology behind consumers’ purchasing decisions

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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