The problem with blindly jumping on the Ehrenberg-Bass bandwagon

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has made mass awareness king, but there's one little problem: women control 85% of all consumer purchases. John Douglas explains.

Much has been made of the great work being done by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Using empirical proofs, the institute has made us rethink marketing truisms, and everything we have assumed to be true about customers, loyalty and market share.

They have made us consider the notion that customer behaviour might actually be governed by laws. Laws like: customers don’t see a discernible difference between brands, segmentation sucks, and mass awareness is king.

They have been so successful, many marketers are choosing not to segment their markets at all.

A recent conversation with a prospective client highlighted this. When asked about market segmentation, and messaging to different customer types, the response was: “We don’t need to target women, we’re ‘Ehrenberg-Bass’.”

I think they’re talking horse nuggets, but I don’t blame Ehrenberg-Bass.

To be fair to the institute, they make their case very well. However, I feel mass awareness is being dumbed down to a simple piece of math.

If your share of voice is above the market mean, you’re more likely to grow your business. If your share of voice is below the market mean, you’ll struggle.

And, while this is great news for media companies, it dumbs down advertising. The endless morning meeting chants of “mass awareness” has given marketers all over Australia permission to target everyone in Australia with every communication.

According to many marketers, targeted ads are history

It stops us thinking about how we should connect and essentially says, “Make the logo bigger” – only in a scientific way.

The science may not be wrong, but the implementation seems to be short-sighted.

Compare the findings of the institute with another long term study: Field & Binet – The Long and the Short of It. The study shows that relevant emotionally-based messages are twice as efficient as rational messaging and twice as profitable.

The impacts are hard to measure in the short term. But, over the long term, they develop incredible power in terms of salience and memorability. Emotional messaging is, it seems, the compound interest of marketing.

What Professor Byron Sharp and his team have shown is, as long as you can be remembered, you’re more likely to be chosen at point of purchase.

What Binet and Field tell us is, emotions are better in the long run.

It’s a balancing act between how the customer becomes aware and how they justify their decision.

There seems to be, for those of us in the cheap seats, battle lines being drawn between “mass awareness” and “mass targeting”.

On one side, Lord Byron Sharp. On the other, leading the charge for the Targeteers, the ever-lovable Lord Potty Mouth, Professor Mark Ritson.

Making the case for targeting: Mark Ritson

I can’t help thinking the marketers hoping for a knock-out victory from one side or the other are watching the wrong game.

If science matters, why are so many marketers ignoring the really big numbers?

According to a Harvard Business Review article, there is a market segment which dwarfs all others. A segment bigger than the GDP of China and India combined, ($18 trillion versus $10.6 trillion + $2.8 trillion) and which requires targeted thinking, but which can be reached by mass awareness campaigns.

Given the very real and very immediate economic challenges being faced by so many businesses, I’m surprised I’m not seeing more marketers screaming for a piece of that action.

It’s a market which has proven to be receptive to relevant emotional messaging.

A market segment which not only will reward you in the short term, and will continue to reward your marketing efforts in the long-term

A market segment that is four times the size of any other in terms of purchasing power.

Imagine if your marketing efforts could be four times more effective, just by tweaking your message. Then ask yourself: “Why am I not going all-out Ehrenberg-Bass to women?”

Is it because “Ehrenberg Bass” has become shorthand for “advertise to everyone”?

Or has the institute successfully sunk the idea of brand loyalty and brand love? And is “love” a neat little pigeon-hole into which some marketers have slotted the entire sweep of marketing to women.

According to Bloomberg, women control 85% of all consumer purchases. They are the great juggernaut of the world economy. And this critical mass is being cast to one side by some marketers wanting to make everyone aware of their brand.

Perhaps some simple math might help.

The secret to strategy, according to Lawrence Freedman, is developing a dominant position.

If 80% of your market is men, it only makes sense to develop your marketing based around an insight gleaned from what men like and how your brand fits their life.

If 80% of your market is women, by the same thinking, develop your marketing based around an insight gleaned from an understanding of women.

If your market is split 50/50, statistics would suggest you should still sway your messaging to be more relevant to women, because you’re rolling the dice on a 17:3 advantage.

By all means, choose mass awareness. But choose mass awareness to women.

If you can’t be all things to all people, at least try and be 100% relevant to 85% of the market.

Be emotional. Be relevant. Then get scientific.

To borrow from Euripides, how can Ehrenberg-Bass help you if you don’t first help yourself?

John Douglas is director of strategy agency Brand Clarity


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.