Your branding is not your brand.
These two terms are often misunderstood even by experienced marketers.
A brand is a set of associations in memory linked to a company, product, or service through its name, logo, and other branding elements, that provides a compelling promise of value to customers and other stakeholders.
You win with customers when they perceive your offering provides more compelling value, and so is better and different from your competitors.
Branding is what you do to imbue that set of associations. It usually refers to ALL aspects of the brand’s communication with customers and other stakeholders.
Branding seeks to achieve two important goals:
- To help customers identify your company, and its products and services.
- To shape customers perceptions about your company, and its products and services in a way that is meaningful to them so they perceive compelling functional and emotional benefits from their interactions and experiences with the brand
An identification effect
The word “brand” is from the Old Norse word “brandr”. It means: to burn a mark to identify ownership.
The first goal of branding is to make your products and services distinguishable from those of your competitors.
You are more likely to achieve this when your primary branding elements and codes of communication—brand name, logo, visual identity, etc., are:
- Distinctive: Help your company, and its products and services to stand out
- Consistent: Used repeatedly in a similar way to build recognition and recall
A brand meaning effect
The second goal of branding is to foster meaning in the minds of your customers—to help them to think and feel about your products and services in a way that is meaningful to them though their interactions and experiences with the brand. That’s why brand management is often referred to as “brand meaning” management.
Depending on the particular challenge facing a marketing manager, primary branding elements may be chosen solely to foster a strong identification effect or to facilitate both strong identification and brand meaning effects.
In either case, the goal of marketing management is to foster the desired set of associations—the brand meaning– through marketing communications [and the marketing mix].
The role of marketing communications
Marketing communications frequently play a crucial, but not always the primary role in branding a company and its products and services.
Traditional advertising, internet marketing, publicity, sponsorships etc., are valuable tools for fostering strong identification and brand meaning effects. They play a key role in associating a company, and its products and services, with meaning: rational and emotional values, and a distinctive personality that provides the basis for differentiation and a stronger competitive position in the marketplace.
The role of marketing communications in fostering brand meaning effects is greatest when brands compete in product-markets that are opaque than they do in product-markets that are transparent. It’s therefore important to consider your brand’s opacity to develop a winning brand strategy.
The role of the marketing mix
Many marketers believe that marketing communications is the focal point of their branding. This premise misses the powerful manner in which other aspects of the marketing mix–product, pricing, place, and people strategies–help to foster both identification and brand meaning effects, and thereby associate a company, and its products and services, with the desired meaning.
Tiffany & Co. is a case in point
The Tiffany & Co. brand name and blue box are the primary branding elements for this retailer.
Both of these branding elements act as powerful mental anchors for a set of associations that foster compelling rational, emotional and symbolic value for customers and other stakeholders. These associations represent the Tiffany & Co. brand in the minds of its customers.
For Tiffany & Co., its marketing communications play an important role in its branding efforts. However, every aspect of the marketing mix plays an equally valuable role in fostering branding effects in the minds of its customers and other stakeholders:
- The Tiffany product line is defined by jewelry of the highest quality and most glamorous collections created by the brand’s groundbreaking designers at price points to match
- Tiffany stores are situated in premium, high street locations in major urban centers around the globe
- Every aspect of the store designs conveys a distinctive and contemporary sophistication and elegance
- Tiffany service is in a class of its own and has been purposefully designed to be the perfect accompaniment to the high quality and glamorous product-line and the sophisticated and elegant store experience.
As this example illustrates, the goal of Tiffany’s branding is to build its brand.
By that I mean, its goal is to nurture the desired set of associations in the minds of its customers and other stakeholders, linked to the company, and its products and services, through its name, logo and other branding elements, that provides them with a compelling promise of value.