Many companies place marketing and branding in the same department, and likewise, many schools of business consider the two disciplines part of the same overall curriculum. Some business professionals start their careers unaware of the difference between marketing and branding, however, and can end up sabotaging their efforts at one with a lack of appreciation of how it relates to the other.
This can lead to an organization that has two left feet: one that constantly trips over itself in hopes of courting markets that aren’t interested in its brand, or that sabotages its brand through persistent marketing efforts that don’t suit its image. Similarly, changes in branding can undercut ongoing marketing efforts. As brand-building budgets increase in size by about 7% per year, making those expenditures count is more important than ever.
Marketing in Review: The Day-In, Day-Out
Marketing has been defined in various ways depending on contexts, but when dealing with its contrasts with branding, marketing is best seen as the tactical decisions made in the interest of getting people to buy products. Efforts in marketing focus on product, place, price, and promotion, and generally get people to purchase new products and make decisions in their day-to-day lives.
As a rule, marketing attracts customers actively rather than passively. People see pieces of marketing communication, such as advertisements and news releases, and make decisions regarding new information they gain as a result. It also can serve as a reminder that a product or service exists for customers who are only somewhat aware.
Branding in Review: An Identity and a Promise
Branding, on the other hand, has to do with the way in which customers engage with a company emotionally. Through the sum of customers’ experiences with the company, the products the company offers, and the service that company provides, a business develops a brand identity. Customers begin to associate consistent, specific qualities with a company’s offerings, and in turn, branding makes sure that products and services stay at the top of those customers’ minds.
A brand can also be considered a promise. By associating particular traits or benefits with a given brand, customers come to expect a similar caliber of traits and benefits will come with each new product offered under the brand. This association, in turn, can lead to changes in a brand over time, as new products are introduced or quality changes significantly.
One issue that can come up as branding and marketing drift apart is a drift of the brand’s identity. Some drift happens naturally, especially among businesses which have built their fortunes on specific age groups, but a brand’s image can also change as a result of ill-targeted or failed marketing efforts. When a company fails to convey sentiments consistent with customers’ expectations through its advertising and marketing efforts, customers will eventually change their perception of the brand itself.
Sometimes this is desirable, especially when a brand has lost its luster or taken on associations through no fault of its own. In these cases, marketing efforts should focus on being in line with the brand promise the company wants to portray, rather than the one it currently offers. This is a slow, purposeful process, however, and can take years.
Before any major marketing campaign, take some time to think about the connotations the marketing materials should have. Do these materials imply something that isn’t consistent with the brand up to that point, or with the company’s intentions for the brand in the future? Could it change people’s perceptions in a way that would make the marketing materials less memorable, or make it hard to associate them with the brand itself? Sometimes, this can be taken to an extreme, and become a different problem entirely.
An ad-brand incongruency occurs when marketing communication pieces don’t line up with a customer’s expectations of the brand. Customers bring their preconceived notions of the brand to the table when assessing the advertisement, and when they don’t line up, they often end up confused. This can lead to a muddled message that is less memorable and potentially less effective, especially for nascent brands, or those which are only somewhat established. In these cases, incongruent marketing can render a brand and its promise unclear. Savvy customers may even apply this scrutiny to different brands owned by the same company, seeing disparate values and promises as a betrayal of trust.
Extremely visible brands, however, can use ad-brand incongruency to their advantage. While it diminishes the effectiveness of an individual campaign somewhat, customers form separate opinions regarding marketing campaigns and brands. Occasionally pushing the limits of a campaign or breaking from tradition can change customers’ attitudes toward a well-established brand for the better, according to a 2004 study on ad-brand incongruency. The customer is given the chance to experience a departure from business as usual, and comes to see the brand as more novel.
What do you think?
While not every marketing effort will fly straight down the middle of a company’s brand image, the sum total of a company’s efforts should create a clear, consistent promise in a customer’s mind. This clarity will ultimately lead to a more memorable product that occurs to anyone in need of the benefits this product provides. Have you been part of a shift in branding? Has a marketing campaign changed the way people see your company’s product? Share your experiences with marketing and branding in the comments.