Brand or Branding? What's the difference?
Brand, branding, brand strategy, brand management. Here's an overview of what these terms really mean, and why it's important for any business to understand the basics of branding.
What is branding?
The term stems from when farmers branded their cattle with a hot iron to mark ownership. These days I believe they use ear-tags for that (I’m not an expert btw, my experience with cattle is best left to a whole other story), and so the term has moved on to be (arguably) the clearest way to distinguish one company from another.
Is that different to the term ‘brand’?
Yep. Think of branding as a mostly visual thing, generally a logo, a set of colours and some style guides. A brand however is more of a ‘personality’ that can be presented in many forms, often called touch-points. Nike has their slogan ‘Just do it’, which is as much a part of their brand as their swoosh logo. A brand can be reflected as an attitude or philosophy, a feeling or experience, a sound, even a smell. Your favourite perfume reflects a brand as much as the (hopefully) pleasant smell does.
Wait a minute. These things cross over, don’t they?
Yep. Loads. Let’s simplify it for this article to say that branding most often refers to the visual elements – the stuff you can see. Whilst ‘brand’ is a little less tangible and generally refers to the feelings it invokes. It's a lot more etherial, but arguably the more powerful element. A good brand expert will have a keen eye for design and ‘branding’, and an equally keen sense of how a brand should 'feel'.
Alright then. So what’s brand strategy and brand management?
Let’s start with brand strategy. This is where you sit down and determine your brand personality or character; what your brand should mean to people, mostly to your customers, but also your management, your staff, and even your suppliers. It’s generally a way to reflect your best qualities and values as clearly as possible.
We know for example, that Apple (for the most part) put good design front and centre of everything they produce. We also know that they charge a premium for that perceived quality, and so they’ve already positioned themselves as a premium brand, without ever saying their prices are higher than their competitors. That’s in large part down to their brand strategy.
They can also come across as quite aloof, something that historically might be associated with having massive confidence in their brand, but as society changes and social media becomes an essential part of brand strategy, even the most confident brands are having to humanise their language in order to become more engaged with consumers on a much more personal level.
So, good brand strategy ensures that everything a company does, everything they produce, the way they talk, the way they design their customer experience, even the ambiance of their stores or working environment, reflect the qualities and personality defined in their brand strategy.
Onto brand management, which is the most natural partner to brand strategy. Once the strategy is established, brand management ensures it’s followed through all the required touch-points. It’s essentially a subtle but essential control process over how a brand is used across any number of touch-points.
In a large(ish) company, there’s likely to be a person solely responsible for brand management (called a Brand Manager, funnily enough), whilst in smaller companies, it’s likely to be the MD or Marketing Manager checking that everything reflects the brand strategy. Some companies out-source this role to their designer or creative agency, to utilise someone with specialist knowledge. You might think that could slow things down, particularly in a small company – but if things are planned well, it’s just part of the process. And it’s an important one.
Why is it so important?
Brand strategy and management is often where we see the biggest differences in quality between those that get it right, and those who don't. Your company could have the greatest product or service in the world, but it could be let down by inconsistency, confused brand messages, or trying to appeal to too many people with conflicting requirements.
So brand/branding is obviously important. How do you know if you’re doing it well? I mean you can’t measure it, can you? It’s all visuals and touchy feely stuff.
Welcome to my world! It’s certainly not one of those straightforward things, but there are some simple things any MD, Marketing Manager or team can do to begin to answer those questions themselves.
- Make sure you understand your values and differences (I did say this would be simple)
- Make sure your customers understand those values and differences. How do you know? When was the last time you asked?
- Have a look at the diagram below. Think about where your brand is, and where your competitors are.
- Have a think about your position on the chart. Be honest with yourself. Is it where you really are? (this is where asking your customers, your staff, and other associates is helpful)
- More importantly, is it where you want to be? If it isn’t, what needs to change to get you there?
That was easy. What should I do next?
It’s simple stuff. At least it should be – if you found it hard to answer those questions, or plot your current and future positions on the graph, then it might take a little extra work to get there.
It’s not designed to be hugely comprehensive at this stage (I’m trying to keep this as succinct as I can) – for example we could use a similar chart to look at other ‘metrics’ such as innovation, trust, reliability, customer happiness etc. But it’s a good way of getting started, and once you get started, you’ll see how exciting brand strategy can be, especially with great design working alongside it.
The good news is that you don’t have to do that work on your own, and now would be a good time to have a chat with us about how we can help you to move forward.