How a lesson from fly fishing can help your brand gain market share

By Hamish Pringle |

August 4, 2014 | 6 min read

Many marketers will be brand planning and budget setting for 2015 and there’s a question that should be addressed during the quieter summer months which is: What can we learn from fly fishing? Answering it will lead to the optimal channel and content mix, and a budget that will deliver increased market share.

I was lucky enough to go to a school called Glenalmond in Scotland which had the river Almond flowing through the grounds. There were many fish in the river – trout and salmon especially. If you caught a fish the kitchen would cook and serve it up for you in a silver salver delivered by the chef to the dining hall. Quite a treat considering that the school food was, well, school food, so we tried very hard to catch a fish. And many happy hours were spent hand-tying fishing flies – they were things of beauty.

However, sad to say, I never succeeded in catching a fish. So no silver salver for me…

Years later I read a magazine article by an underwater photographer investigating how an insect landing on the surface appeared to a trout: it looks nothing like the flies we used to tie. It turns out that it’s the particular little dimples created by the feet of the insect on the surface of the water that fish have evolved to spot, and that’s what attracts them.

So the first lesson we can learn from fly fishing is that often we regard our media and content as things of beauty, and we don’t spend enough time looking at them from the customer’s point of view. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and ask what brand communications would work for me?

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If you think about fish in a river there can be many different kinds doing many different things. They can be spawning, swimming upstream, or feeding. Or they can simply be resting in a quiet spot by the riverbank. And different insects hatch at different times of year, and are attractive to different kinds of fish.

The second lesson is that the same is true of people, and specifically of customers. They’re moving constantly from buying, to not buying, and different types of brand communication are engaging to them depending on which mode they’re in. When they’re not in the market and are disinterested in your brand, display advertising is required which uses entertainment, emotion, and originality to ‘sugar the pill’ and get their attention.

When they’re in the market and researching a purchase, the brand needs to help them search and provide relevant and accessible information. In fact there are five different roles which brand communications have to fulfil in order to appeal to the full spectrum of customer needs: ‘fame’, ‘advocacy’, ‘information’, ‘price’, and ‘availability’.

The third lesson is that people are like fish in a river in another respect: they’re now living in the ‘media flow’, that ubiquitous mix of offline and online channels which they can step in and out of easily. And the digital era has also brought with it the ‘data flow’ which provides marketers with a continuous stream of information about customer behaviour. We know more and more about the inter-relationship between life and media flows and can put the brand into them with great accuracy.

If it’s all about keeping the brand alive in the media flow with appropriate messaging for as much of the time as possible, how do we calculate the budget for doing so?

The original insight into this was made by an American called Roland Vaile who discovered that those brands which did not cut their budget during the 1930s Depression did better than those which did.

Vaile’s analysis has been repeated many times since using time series data, and proven the relationship. In particular the IPA, through Les Binet and Peter Field, has confirmed the relationship between share of voice (SOV), defined as the brand’s spend as a percentage of the total media spend of the brands in its competitive set, and its share of market (SOM). Brands which invest in extra share of voice (ESOV) ie spend more than their percentage SOM in percentage SOV, gain market share, while those which disinvest lose it.

In 2009 Nielsen confirmed the relationship between share of voice and share of market. It correlated its media and its sales databases over an 18-month period covering about 40 FMCG market categories and over 140 brands. The analysis showed that 10 per cent extra share of voice generated a 0.5 per cent increase in sterling market share per year.

Consultant and report author Peter Field then analysed the FMCG cases in the IPA Effectiveness Awards and found that 10 per cent of extra share of voice generated a 0.8 per cent increase in market share. In other words excellence in strategic development, channel planning, and creative content generates a 60 per cent uplift in performance.

Thus budget setting is a sophisticated analytical process which requires accurate information on the brand’s competitive set, its status within it, its market sector type and life stage, and the history of competitive expenditure.

If the brand wants to win increased market share, it has to invest in extra share of voice. The only alternative is to invest in greater creativity. In his seminal analysis of Gunn Report and the IPA Effectiveness Awards databases Peter Field found that over the period 2003-2010 creatively awarded campaigns were 12 times as efficient as non-awarded ones.

Both these strategies deliver increased presence for the brand within the life and media flows – one through increased share of voice, the other through greater stand-out. Like the successful fisherman, the more lines out, and the more attractive the bait, the more fish caught.

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