min read

The Science of Marketing & Branding

November 15, 2022
June 12, 2024
Listen on Apple Podcasts

The Guest

Dr. Ethan Decker, founder of Applied Brand Science, is a brand strategist, marketing scientist, consultant, trainer and speaker with decades of experience working with brands of all sizes and shapes to help them understand the brand scape they exist in and strategize meaningful campaigns and power moves, and he’s here today to talk about brand and marketing science.

The Interview

One of the things we hear a lot about marketing is that it’s a blend of art and science. But according to decades of research into how brands grow and exist, most notably from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, there is a lot more evidence-backed science to marketing than most practitioners are letting on.

“What people don’t consider about brand science is that it’s just like regular science in that it’s the accumulation of observations & facts that can be summated into equations,” says Ethan.

“We do a lot of science-ish things in marketing but we don’t incorporate the long term findings into the practice, there are laws of brand science.”

One of those laws that Ethan shares with us is the law of Double Jeopardy, which states that small brands are punished twice, because they have fewer buyers, and those buyers buy less.

“Small brands rarely have higher frequency which flies in the face of the thought that niche brands drive higher loyalty hence performance,” explains Ethan.

“The biggest brands have the most customers and the highest purchase frequency. When you have a small brand you’re closer to your passionate buyers, which makes you think that the buyer base is passionate people, but if you look at the data you see that a lot of people buy once or twice, few people buy a bunch, and very few people buy massive amounts.”

This law, which is underpinned by the mathematical principle of binomial dirichlet distribution, is illustrated in the graph below from Dove. A lot buy a little, and a few buy a lot, and what’s most shocking is that a large portion of the potential buyer base doesn't even buy the brand at all.

The conception that brand growth comes from the most fervent purchasers of that brand flies in the face of this principle, and a lot of marketing strategy which seeks to engage the buyers with the highest propensity to buy, is on it’s face a laughable argument. Looking at the above graph, the reality is that ultra-light buyers make up the majority of the buyer base, and that the best chance to grow a brand lies in the untouched column of unaffiliated buyers on the far left, not the small bump of brand loyalists on the far right. 

The interview then veers into defining what a brand is, which Dr. Decker splits into two distinct groups.

“Trying to define a brand is like trying to define what love is - we go overboard in the definition but it’s actually unnecessary to the work,” states Ethan.

“There is little b brand, and BIG B brand. Little b brand is the logo and colors which is important. Little b branding is signaling and memory hierarchies - Big B brand is reputation - brands may live in the minds of consumers, but it also lives on the shelf. If you’re sold in third-party retailers like Walmart or Target, that’s a part of your brand.”

When we asked Ethan what he thinks most marketers misunderstand about branding, he broke it down with the marketing mix concept, and how this methodology can help marketers parse the roles and rules they can apply to helping their brand strategy.

“Most marketers conflate and confuse the big and little b brand,” says Ethan. “If you really want to address the problems within your brand and fix them, it is about marketing mix, which was founded in the 60s; Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If you want to fix the brand, you have to focus on the product, once you have that right, the price has to be right. Place is where you’re sold, Saks Fifth vs Walgreens has a huge impact on success, a large part of good branding is placement and distribution. Promotion is about PR advertising and stunts - its not just marketing folks that get it wrong, it’s the rest of the company that misunderstands the marketing mix. In a small company, the Ps are addressable by the marketing team, but in big companies the chief marketing role has been diminished in a way ending up being the little b brand officer and chief promotions officer.”

For a thorough analysis of the role metrics and dashboards play in maintaining and improving a brand, a dive into how to appropriately measure ROI and ROAS, and for a few stories on how brands have succeeded, and come up short, with marketing science, listen to the full episode at the links provided above and below, and follow Dr. Decker on social for more helpful hints and tidbits. 

The Links

Applied Brand Science

Ethan on LinkedIn

Ethan on Twitter

Marketing/Brand Science Resources

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science

How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp. A whole mess of marketing laws in one little book.

The Double Jeopardy Law in marketing.

The banana curve: Wiemer Snijders

The Marketing Mix, aka the Four Ps

Tropicana: Peter Arnell's radical design that broke marketing laws & torpedoed sales. 

The AFLAC case study.

Branding in the insurance industry. Planet Money.

How ROI & ROAS suck as marketing metrics. Tom Roach

The Most Important Business KPIs. (Spoiler: Not Conversion Rate!). Avinash Kaushik

Augustine Fou and ad fraud

LISTEN TO THE FULL SHOW -> Stay tuned, stay curious and subscribe to What Gets Measured on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube or add it as a Favorite on your podcast player of choice.

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