Brands, Branding and Marketing

The topic of Branding vs. Marketing a few weeks back generated a lot of discussion on LinkedIn groups (all very civil, thank you).  The discussions provided a lot of food for thought about brands, branding and marketing—the distinctions, intersections and overlaps.  I am thinking specifically about these subjects in terms of start-up companies.

Let’s start with definitions for these areas as it may help in sorting out the topics (I’ll be using the word “product” to reflect both products and services):

Brand – The place your company or product holds in the minds of customers and prospects based on the value they perceive.

Branding – The steps a company takes in determining what it wants the brand to be in the mind of customers and prospects and the actions it must take, internally and externally, to increase the likelihood customers and prospects will have those desired perceptions.

Marketing – The actions required to develop a product, bring it to market and convince prospects to purchase or customers to repurchase.  It is the broad scope of the 4Ps (Product, Price, Promotion, Place), rather than just the elements often handled by a Marketing Department.

There is clearly overlap between these areas.  In branding, a company needs to understand the perceptions customers and prospects have to determine if those are the perceptions it wants them to have and, if not, what it needs to do to change those perceptions.  Marketing is critical to branding because it is the area where customers and prospects have the most contact with the company and its products.

In the case of start-ups, I have been thinking about what comes first, branding or marketing (there is no brand because no one is aware of the company or its products).  This is more than a chicken-and-egg argument, as some LinkedIn group members stated.  It has real implications for the future of the start-up’s brand and how it markets its products.

Does the entrepreneur start his or her company with the premise of marketing a product?  Or does he or she start the company with the idea of creating a specific brand in the mind of customers and prospects?  If starting with a product or service, does the company “back into” a brand and does that limit the ability to build the brand beyond the initial product, which might require creating new brands for diverse products (the Proctor & Gamble model of a stable of product brands none of them commonly connected to P&G)?  In this approach, there is no leverage from the company name and considerable expense is required to establish and sustain each brand.

If starting with a perception the entrepreneur wants to create in the mind of customers and prospects, the company might put its focus on delivering a variety of products that create and reinforce that brand (this might be more of the Apple model of bringing to market a series of products all with the Apple name).  The limitation of this approach is that all products must align with the brand that is created or it creates confusion for the customer or prospect.

Neither approach is right or wrong, and I suppose most companies start with the single product focus.  But those of us who have tried to change customers’ perceptions of a brand know it can be very difficult to do this once the customer has fixated on the brand. Entrepreneurs in pre-launch or early phases of product roll out might want to consider the ramifications of leading with a product that may limit the brand in the future.


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