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Ritson v Sharp: they're both wrong

king kong vs t-rex

Article three in a series responding to the ongoing Sharp versus Ritson debate about the value of brand perceptions. 

In a nutshell

  1. The debate between Sharp and Ritson is misdirected. By focusing on brand, they were measuring the wrong thing. They were talking about an intermediary metric, rather than an outcome metric.
  2. ROI is the one outcome metric that matters in business. Our work has shown that brand salience drives ROI (so Sharp is right) but also that brand positioning drives ROI (so Ritson is right too).
  3. They're both right, but most of all they're both wrong because ROI is more holistic with a number of demand-side marketing initiatives that have an impact, and because they're both measuring an intermediary not an outcome metric. 
  4. To keep pushing the thinking of our industry forward, we have to accept that they're both wrong. 

My twitter feed is typically full of content to make me feel better about the world. Human beings are smart enough to design our way out of the climate crisis, the meaning of life can be explained through the random acts that happen on a sporting field and of course, Trump is an idiot.

A few weeks ago, my feed was subject to a take-over. My marketing heroes, so often aligned in their view of the world were forced to take sides in the battle of giants. Like the T-Rex and the giant ape battling it out in King Kong, I watched from the back row as the big guys slugged it out and others chipped in from the edges.

And it was glorious to watch. When I started in this industry, my mates laughed and labelled me “the brochure boy”. They saw marketing as all about long lunches and copious amounts of copy creation. Ritson and especially Sharp, have been a huge part of re-framing our industry. Giving substance and discipline to the science of activating demand-side opportunity. This debate was a clear indicator of how far the industry had come. It was simply not a conversation that would have happened 20 years ago.

But as I watched the giant gorilla and the T-Rex scrap it out, a thought did occur to me. Sharp battling for the power of salience in driving brand growth, Ritson fighting for the more classical view of targeting and positioning as the pathway to brand building, I realised they were both wrong. The debate was misdirected. By focusing on brand, they were making a classical scientific mistake – measuring the wrong thing. They were talking about an intermediary metric, rather than an outcome metric.

Distinctive or differentiated? What about the ROI?

In business, there is one outcome metric that matters. ROI. What matters to shareholders, to CEOs and CFOs is the return they get from investing their resources. While we have made tremendous strides in representing the demand-side of the economic equation, we still trail those who represent the supply-side. The access Management Consultancies have to both senior decision makers and premium pricing has been driven by demonstrating their impact in ROI terms.

And it is not that we can’t impact or demonstrate the impact of demand-side marketing initiatives in ROI terms. TRA’s own work in this space (using a variety of longitudinal A:B testing) has proven:

  • Greater levels of brand salience successfully drives ROI through superior acquisition.
  • Stronger brand positioning successfully drives ROI through greater repeat purchases.
  • Improved customer experiences drives ROI through superior customer loyalty.
  • Better retail/purchase interactions drives ROI by making it easier for customers to get what they need.
  • And recent work from our friends at Zavy has demonstrated how social media activity drives ROI.

Hang on, brand salience drives ROI – so Sharp is right. But hold the phone, brand positioning drives ROI, so Ritson is right too. They are both right but most of all they both wrong because:

  1. There are a range of demand side marketing initiatives which have been proven to drive ROI. These initiatives are not limited in their access to the followers of a certain doctrine – the salience subscribers, Ritson’s groupies or even those who belong to the cult of CX. In our experience ROI is more holistic and is delivered simply. A great insight, genuine customer-centric execution, measured the right way.
  2. Most of all, Ritson and Sharp are framing their debate in the wrong terms. They have both advanced the ball in the substance and discipline in our industry but they are making the classic scientist’s mistake of measuring an intermediary, not an outcome metric.

It is all too easy to say they’re both right. If we are to pave the way to a brighter marketing future, we have to accept they’re both wrong.

Headshot of Connon Bray, Partner at TRA in black and white
Connon Bray
Partner at TRA

New problems need new solutions.

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