This week I met with a Chief Marketing Officer for a potential client. I had been called in to discuss her company’s branding.
She spoke about the strengths of her brand, hypothesized about why it may be struggling in the marketplace and said they were looking for help to improve their branding. After just a few well-targeted questions it became clear that what she really needed was my help with her company’s brand strategy. Part of her problem is that she failed to distinguish between her company’s brand, her company’s brand strategy and her company’s branding. So, what are the differences?
What is a Brand?
While there are numerous definitions in the business literature, the one I use most often with my clients is:
“A brand is a set of associations in memory linked to a company, product, or service through its name, logo and other elements that provides a compelling promise of value to customers and other stakeholders.”
This definition is useful in three ways:
- It makes clear that the battleground for a brand is the minds of customers, and that the road to potential victory is made possible only if brands can be distinguished from each other through their names, logos and other branding elements.
- It requires us to acknowledge that products and services are at the heart of the attraction that a brand has for its customers and a key aspect of the value they are seeking.
- It reminds us of the purpose of a brand – that customers are not seeking products and services per se, but rather compelling value that helps them to achieve their rational and more abstract goals.
What is Brand Strategy?
Brand strategy is the means by which we associate a brand with a compelling promise of value in the minds of customers. It highlights the business practices and processes that are employed to build strong brands and businesses. Brand strategy and marketing strategy have so little separating them that, in my opinion, they are synonymous and so I use them interchangeably.
A great brand strategy always incorporates the following aspects:
- It emphasizes an important principle about strategy in general: that you must make choices about what you will do and what you will not do because you cannot build a strong brand and business by choosing to be all things to all people.
- It makes explicit the target customers that a business is choosing to serve, the compelling value that they are seeking, both rational and abstract, and a justification of why the business can win these customers.
- It leads to strategic execution. This is the artful and rigorous real-world manifestation of the strategy so that the brand and business can create, deliver and communicate the compelling value desired by its customers. Importantly, this strategic execution focuses on creating and delivering the necessary product, pricing, place, people and communication strategies for the brand and business. It is through these strategies that customers are able to distinguish the brand from competitors and to associate the brand and business with its compelling promise of value.
What is Branding?
Branding usually refers to a brand’s communication strategies–although all parts of the marketing mix can have a branding effect–and includes:
- Brand naming, logos and symbols
- Visual, aural and tactile branding elements
- Marketing communications, i.e. advertising, on-line, etc.
As the voice of the brand these strategies have two main functions:
- They ensure that target customers can identify your brand by distinguishing it from its competitors.
- They play an important role in communicating the brand’s promise of value for its customers.
Clearly branding is essential for building strong brands and businesses. But it is only one of the five important aspects of the strategic execution of a well-conceived brand strategy.
It serves little purpose helping customers to distinguish your brand from the competition, or to communicate the brand’s promise of value to them, unless your product, pricing, place and people strategies are de facto capable of creating and delivering on this promise of value.
Brand strategy is the means by which we associate a brand with a compelling promise of value in the minds of customers. That’s because brand strategy is about creating, delivering and communicating the compelling value that customers are seeking.
So if you, like the Chief Marketing Officer who invited me in to help with her branding, are tasked with building your brand and business, you now have other factors to consider.
It takes more than branding to build a strong brand and business and to win in today’s dynamic marketplace.