Overturning marketing’s Principia

Alan Mitchell can be relied upon to cut to the quick of any marketing debate. His article on loyalty (MW April 4) was no exception. It was reassuring to learn that “more people buy bigger brands than small brands, they also tend to buy them more often.” On the face of it, this is what is referred to in academic circles as “stating the bleeding obvious” – a brand, almost by definition, will be bigger if it is bought by more people more often.

There is, however, a serious point here: the Dirichlet effect is predictive and parallels Newtonian physics in that the pull of a brand increases as the brand grows. A big brand will exert disproportionate influence when compared to a small brand. Brand-switchers and new consumers are therefore more likely to choose the bigger brand. This should surprise no one: the larger a brand is, the more visible it is. Its “share of mind” will tend to be significantly higher than will a smaller brand’s.

The reassuring thing for small brands, however, is that there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Consumer behaviour is never entirely predictable and good planning can help any brand develop that little bit of extra attraction. So mass is important, but it is definitely not critical.

Orange could never have claimed to have critical mass when it turned the mobile phone market upside down by talking about philosophy rather than coverage; Avis made a virtue out of being second; and a small airline, flying out of Luton, prompted BA to launch a whole sub-brand.

Perhaps the trick is not to decide you want more consumers, but which consumers you want most.

Gavin Hilton

Planning director


London W2

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