Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Buyhaviour 6: The Matthew Effect

Originally published in Mumbrella 31 March 2015.  

Why is it that agencies or brands with momentum seem to be more successful? Christopher Ott explains the Matthew Effect.

When an ad achieves success at one award show it generally goes on to receive more success at other shows. As though its fame feeds its future success, ad infinitum. There’s an unfair advantage, right? The same unfair advantage big brands enjoy over small ones.

It’s called the Mathew Effect – named after a verse in the Matthew Gospel, which goes: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance”.

And, because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the inverse is also true. In other words, the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

The Effect was first observed within the scientific community. They noticed that the more famous a scientist was, based on past success, the more credit they’d receive for other work, even when that other work was the same as an unknown scientist.

Andrew Ehrenberg, the Don of evidence-based marketing discovered an uncannily similar finding in marketing, too. He coined it The Double Jeopardy Law, and found: Brands with a larger market share benefit twice. They have more buyers, and those buyers are more loyal. Conversely, brands with smaller market shares suffer doubly. They have fewer buyers, and these fewer buyers are also less loyal.”

It only takes a moment’s thought to get why. Buyers of small brands will also buy big brands as they’re mentally and physically available to them (they do more advertising and can be purchased in more places). But buyers of big brands, conversely, may not even know the small brands exist.

The implications are groundbreaking. The Matthew Effect or Double Jeopardy Law (whatever you call it) means: The size of your brand can only ever be proportionate to its market share. Wholly bankrupting the concept of niche marketing.

If you want your brand to be big, you need lots of customers. Not a few heavy loyal ones. You simply can’t have a small brand that’s big through its buyers being more loyal if its buyers are inherently less loyal because the brand is small.

Which means the popular practice of growing a brand through loyalty is utterly fictitious. Yet, how many agencies and marketers create campaigns that try and do just that?

If this is hard for you to digest, take heart knowing that Columbus’ peers would have felt a similar indignation finding out the world was round. Science has a way of doing that.

The good news is if you’re quick to understand it, you have an extraordinarily rare opportunity.

While your competitors remain spellbound by the over-promise of loyalty programs and over-invested in targeting a niche few, you can focus on getting more customers by talking to your whole category, getting famous, and increasing your market share to grow your brand.

And then get richer.


More from the Buyhaviour Series:

Buyhaviour Series: An Introduction 
Buyhaviour 1: Availability Bias 
Buyhaviour 2: Status Quo Bias 
Buyhaviour 3: Confirmation Bias 
Buyhaviour 4: Conjunction Fallacy 
Buyhaviour 5: The Spotlight Effect
Buyhaviour 6: The Matthew Effect  
Buyhaviour 7: Fight or Flight Heuristic
Buyhaviour 8: Imposter Phenomenon 
Buyhaviour 9: Red Queen Hypothesis 

Christopher Ott

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