How Brands Grow: Themes Through the Lens of Cafe Bustello

(Note from Farrah: We love Byron Sharp's book "How Brands Grow" because it challenges the assumptions and 'truths' that marketers hold dear. It breaks apart theories with facts and marketing science. We frequently incorporate the critical thinking of this book into engagements with our clients and into the way we look at the world we operate in. So when Hilary joined, she read the book. Here are her reflections.)


How Brands Grow” authorByron Sharp, breaks apart theories while providing fact-based examples. He challenges readers and offers a new framework for branding and marketing strategy. This investigation into topics including loyalty, acquiring new customers, discounting and customer relationships with brands vs categories brought to mind a simple example in my own life. Looking at my coffee consumption habits and behavior illustrates a few of the key takeaways from the book. 

I started drinking coffee in college and my only requirements that it be strong and inexpensive. I happened upon Cafe Bustello my senior year in college in the grocery store - it looked so cheerful! It quickly became my morning drink.

Takeaway #1: Coffee brands enjoy a relatively high degree of ‘loyalty.'

I moved to New York shortly after graduation. On my first trip to the grocery store, I grabbed Cafe Bustello. I didn’t seek it out, but selected it without so much as glancing at my other options. 

Takeaway #2: Prior usage and familiarity results in slight favorability towards a brand.

Cafe Bustello continued to as part of my morning routine. During my weekly grocery shopping I would automatically select it from the coffee isle. Five years later I continue to buy it and drink it. 

Takeaway #3: Routine results in passionless brand loyalty.

Occasionally, when some other brand is on sale, I will buy that brand. I never think of branching out otherwise and promptly dismiss the idea of ever buying that brand again when the sale ends. 

Takeaway #4: Acquiring new customers through discounts doesn’t work.

Whenever Cafe Bustello is on sale, I buy an extra can or two - discounting Cafe Bustello steals the sales from the full price purchase that I would have made anyway. 

Takeaway #5: Increasing sales through discounts doesn’t work.

In college I chose coffee over energy drinks not Cafe Bustello over Red Bull. 

My grocery lists include “coffee” not “Cafe Bustello.”

Sometimes I think: “I wonder what this type of coffee on sale tastes like,” Not  “I wonder how LavAzza brand tastes.”

If Cafe Bustello was no longer available to me, I would be annoyed, but experiment and pretty quickly adopt some other brand as “my coffee brand.” However, If coffee was no longer available to me, I would be devastated and missing part of my identity. 

Takeaway #6: Brand decisions are trivial compared to category decisions.

We've been trained as marketers, market researchers, and even as consumers to believe that clear differentiation, sampling programs, and great branding lead to customer loyalty and passion. That's not quite what's happening. It's important to know the difference.