Marketing without branding is just self-promotion.
Be careful—your brand can grow or decay beyond your control.
Walk the walk—words without action sow distrust in your company.
What, they aren’t the same thing? Well, not quite.
Turns out, marketing is what you say, while branding is who you are.
Marketing vs. branding might also seem like a chicken-and-egg problem at first glance. Do you market who you are, or create an image through your marketing techniques?
Again, it’s not that simple. Let me explain.
Let’s look at two scenarios.
Pretend your company sells computers. Your products have the same specs as your competitors. You sell them for identical prices. Functionally and aesthetically, your computers are exactly the same as the other computers in your industry.
Rather than build an identity or tell a story about your product, you hire the slickest, most badass traditional marketing agency on the planet.
Units start flying off the shelves. Your warehouse is nearly empty. Then, something weird happens. People slowly stop buying from you. Sales dry up. You’re back to square one, or possibly worse off.
Now consider the second scenario:
You run the same company as before. Instead of hiring a marketing team to boost sales, you take a different approach.
You completely redesign your website to make it easy to navigate and increase usability. You produce a weekly blog, only discussing topics your customers would find useful. You double down on increasing your search engine rankings. Your social media pages become infotainment hubs for your customers.
Sales don’t explode, not at first. But gradually, you build a small but dedicated following of people who can’t get enough of your company. These fanatics share all of your posts, comment on your tweets, and constantly refer friends and family to your site.
Business steadily picks up, and stays that way. People are buying your company, and not just your product.
These are fantasy scenarios, of course. Rarely do companies focus on just marketing or branding, even accidentally. And to be honest, both strategies should be part of your plan to grow your business.
But you probably noticed that marketing in the absence of branding is all style and no substance. That’s because carpet-bombing potential customers with a killer sales message might win you temporary sales, but in the end your product and company are still identical to your competitors.
With nothing to bring them back, why would a customer choose you again over any other company?
Branding is the missing link. Companies with powerful brands nurture loyal, lifelong customers.
Branding is who you are as a company. While an ad campaign is meant to support and showcase your brand, your brand identity goes deeper.
Is your product reliable, like you said? Does your customer service go above and beyond your competitors? Does your service or product provide whatever emotion or lifestyle you promised in your advertisements?
Fulfilling promises and exceeding customer expectations is how you create loyalty, but you must also give your customers something to be loyal to.
Branding is what makes Burger King the scruffy underdog to McDonald’s, not the fact that their sales are second. Branding is what makes Apple the company when it comes to tech first-adopters, not the fact that their products are superior or more innovative.
Branding is what makes drivers second-guess refueling at BP stations—not their responsibility for an environmental disaster, but their widely public and very poor, almost nonchalant attitude about that disaster.
The BP example illustrates an important point about branding—eventually, your brand identity grows (or decays) beyond your control.
BP ruined their brand identity with their actions, and attempted to rectify that tainted image with a marketing campaign. All the while, their actions ran contrary to that campaign, and it fell flat with the public.
Fanatics for or against your brand are created through your direct actions. The miffed customer kept waiting for repairs for too long may eventually lead the online rallying cry that permanently labels your company “untrustworthy.”
Likewise, deliver on your promises and your customers will sing your praises for you.
Branding needs to be a part of your business plan from Day 1. Be clear about your values, deliver on your promises. Create an identity and culture that’s consistent across your slogan, logo, blog and social media posts.
Project that philosophy through your marketing endeavors, and always use your brand as a base to build upon. Your customers will reward you for it.
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