Myth busting series: no.4: Who you are impacts what you buy

On a regular basis, we’re going to take on some of the common marketing myths being peddled by the industry.

Why? Because all too often commercial solutions are being recommended to clients based on bias, conjecture and hear-say. We believe all solutions should be based on hard evidence and fact.

An insight into marketing – Who you are impacts what you buy

There is a popular assumption that the type of person you are has a massive effect on the kinds of products you choose. Let’s take Coke and Diet Coke as examples. Most people think there’s a certain type of person who buys regular Coke and a completely different type who buys Diet Coke. There’s a belief that these are distinct people with distinct interests, looking for distinct things from their drinks.

We’ve all seen those audience segmentation charts designed around these kinds of beliefs – the regular Coke drinker might be classified as more masculine, less health-conscious, more laid-back, a bit older; while the Diet Coke drinker is portrayed as being an active female who keeps up with trends and reads more online news. Marketing strategy would be designed to target the two in distinct ways.

Byron Sharp in his book “How Brands Grow”,  debunks this marketing myth.

He argues that though someone might prefer to buy a Diet Coke (and, in fact, the audience description might reflect a large chunk of their buyers), that doesn’t mean they won’t also sometimes buy a regular Coke at the pub, a Fanta in their meal deal, or a Sprite if they really crave it. Sharp has proof of this: 65% of people who had bought Diet Coke during a certain period of time had also bought regular Coke, along with 70% of Fanta drinkers, 67% of Lilt drinkers and 72% of Pepsi drinkers (and this was people buying for themselves, not family or friends).

It’s understandable why we’ve latched onto the idea of narrow market segmentation: it’s an attractive way of getting your head around a potentially complex market. Marketing seems simpler and targets appear more achievable when you convince yourself that only a certain type of person buys your product. You can just cater to them and ignore everyone else. Job done.

But, as we evidenced in the second edition of our myth-busting series, this is can be a major red herring. Aiming for wide market penetration (rather than focused loyalty marketing) is a much better strategy for long-term, significant brand growth. Sharp is helpful on this topic given his argument that there is no such thing as a typical buyer of a brand and so it’s easier to reach a wider audience than marketers might think.

Before you get carried away, let’s get one thing straight. Byron Sharp isn’t claiming that there aren’t some brands that only appeal to certain kinds of people – there will always be niche interest groups. He’s saying that marketers tend to overestimate how loyal or distinct most brands’ audiences tend to be.

Take GHD straighteners as an example. They’re typically considered a woman’s brand (women have longer hair/tend to be more interested in self-care) and they’re also more expensive than your average pair of straighteners, so typical marketing theory would suggest they should be targeted to a more affluent female population. But instead they decided to go for a mass market strategy, reaching as wide a population as they could. The results? They found they were actually bought by a wider range of people than the brand could have ever imagined, given that 25% of their online buyers in 2010 were young men. If they’d concentrated their marketing strategy solely on affluent women, they’d have potentially missed out on at least a quarter of their sales.

So, what’s our point?

Most people don’t have consistent and distinct buying patterns, so by only targeting those who you would expect to buy from a brand, you could be missing out on a huge chunk of potential buyers. That’s not to say some targeting isn’t necessary; there’s no point targeting people that don’t have any reason to buy from your category. There’d be no benefit in trying to sell GHDs to a bald man, for example. But importantly, buyers of different brands don’t appear to have fundamentally different attitudes, world-views or be from wildly different demographics – we’re all likely to be much more similar to each other than we think and should be targeted as such.