Decoded by Phil Barden

3 minutes estimated reading time

Decoded was originally written in 2013. I read this version. I know that there is a new edition being published in September 2022. Barden had been a marketer working at T-Mobile (now EE, BT’s mobile phone network), Diageo and Unilever.

Decoded by Phil Barden

His background and a foreword written by British marketing grandee Rory Sutherland give an indication of the book’s quality.

Once more with emotion

Barden’s background has skewed towards CRM, online marketing and consumer marketing. I disagree with Barden in one important way. Barden doesn’t think that emotion has any benefit in marketing. I agree with Barden to a point, beyond nostalgia, I won’t have an emotional connection with the brand of margarine spread that I buy. The nostalgia is largely out of control of the brand.

However, both the IPA and WARC have shown that communications that provokes an emotional reaction can build long term awareness over time. Think about the adverts that get stuck in your memory, versus rational adverts. Emotional adverts make you feel something, even if they don’t change your opinion of the product they can build memory structures with enough exposure.

The challenge as Barden points out, being able to do this consistently. The example that Barden cites is Cadbury’s inability to match the quality of its ‘Gorilla’ advert.

Getting beyond emotion

Beyond a difference of opinion on the effect of emotion in communications, I thought that the content in Decoded was very good. The book felt to me as if it was aimed at British junior inhouse brand marketers at the likes of Unilever and Diageo where Barden aimed his stripes. The book is full of British examples, this might limit its success in the US. The examples are already old enough that they might not resonate with marketers who recently left college; but they would leave US readers clueless. While British marketers are often exposed to US authors at the start of their careers like David Aaker and Philip Kotler; the same isn’t true for their American peers of British marketing thinkers.

I also see it valuable for marketing undergraduate students, with its real world examples. He also does these summary pages at the end of each chapter that reminded me of ‘Dummies Guides‘ format books.

Decoded covers behavioural science principles and is valuable for the quality of reading list that it provides the reader to delve into after they have read the book.

Barden dives into the kind of concepts that brand marketers would come across in shopper marketing and ad testing from the likes of Kantar. He provides a sound basis on which marketers can rely to understand, if not, critique their agency’s efforts.

Beside emotion, my biggest concern is that marketers might think that Decoded is the final step on their education journey, rather than the first step. It provides a useful primer that the engaged marketer can then delve into. Unfortunately for us all, there are a lot of surface player who would declare mission accomplished at this point.

If like me, you wanted a follow on read from Decoded, my recommendation would be Phil Graves Consumerology, which I reviewed here. Graves’ work nicely fits in with the discussion Barden had on shopper marketing from an expert in the field.

You can find out more about Decoded here.