The Branding/Marketing Debate

In a LinkedIn discussion group last week, a person responding to my post about why nothing is easy in branding and marketing asked a question about branding being part of marketing. When I responded that it is actually the other way around (marketing is part of branding), he responded that a debate wouldn’t be helpful (I then realized his question was really a statement).

This discussion may come down to semantics and the type of business that is being discussed more than anything.  My definition of a brand is: The place you hold in the minds of customers and prospects based on their perceptions of the value of your products or services.  Given this definition, branding is everything your company does to establish that place in the minds of customers and prospects.  Yes, this includes marketing, but if you are a business-to-business company it can also include sales, customer/technical service, training, accounting—basically any function that interacts with the customer or prospect.  All these functions must be aligned to create a consistent brand.  This is why I believe marketing is just one component of branding in the B2B world.

For a consumer packaged goods company marketing may be equal to branding.  Consider the Four Ps of Marketing (product, price, promotion and place) that are usually the extent of the consumer’s interaction with the company: the product itself, how much the product cost, the ads and other promotions the consumer sees about the product, and how the consumer purchases the product.  Unless they have some problem with the product, most consumers are not going to interact with the company.  So for many packaged goods companies, branding is marketing and marketing is branding.

But even with consumer packaged goods there is a grey area.  Think of all the consumer package goods companies who sponsor some charitable cause and promote that through advertising, web sites, social media and public relations.  This is not part of the product, per se, but is meant to create a perception of the company as caring.  The company is trying to create perceptions that go beyond the perceived value of the product.  I guess it is marketing but not the classic product marketing covered by the Four Ps.

Then there are all those companies that provide products or services to customers that are not consumer packaged goods.  I am thinking about a situation I had over ten years ago.  We were traveling to Cape Cod for vacation at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday and hit something in the road.  I called Volvo roadside assistance and they said they could send a tow truck, but the car could not be looked at until Monday (goodbye vacation).  We decided to drive for a few miles and see what happened.  The car ran fine, but the air conditioning was knocked out, which was not a lot of fun on a six-hour trip with a newborn and two teenagers on a hot summer day.

Upon arriving in Cape Cod I called Volvo dealers within 150 miles but none could help me (a lesson in how not to treat a customer).  I found a local mechanic who told me to bring the car over.  He examined it, gave me a price and said he could fix it by the end of the week.  I was thrilled.  We made it home with beautiful, cold air in the car, but the next week, I heard a hissing sound from the car.  We took it to our local Volvo dealer who informed us a part had been installed incorrectly and the whole job would have to be redone.  Not very happy, I called the mechanic in Cape Cod, expecting a battle royal.  I was shocked when he told me to fax him the bill from the Volvo dealer and he would send me a check.  When I regained my senses and thanked him, he told me he guaranteed his work and since it was not practical for me to bring the car to him for service, he would pay for the mistake.

I don’t know if I’ll ever need car service when I go to Cape Cod again, but if I do, I’ll take my car to him and I have no hesitation recommending him to others.  Was this marketing?  I guess in the broadest interpretation of product/service, but he went beyond to create an impression and brand I’ll never forget.




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