I’ve never publicly claimed to be a marketer, but somehow I’ve managed to make a living talking about it over the past ten years. But that journey hasn’t been without its challenges. The first of which was defining the role of marketing versus the role of branding to my clients.
Let me be clear: idgroup is a brand transformation firm, and our specialty is branding: building perceptions in the marketplace that ring true for customers in such a way that their experience with the brand positively (although, sometimes if not properly managed, negatively) impacts the reputation they have of that brand.
This is very different than marketing. And the shift, while somewhat nuanced, occurs at the microscopic level—within the chemical reactions and synaptic nerve endings of the brain.
For the purposes of this article we’ll define marketing and branding not as nouns (i.e. fields or industries) but rather as verbs (the act of building or communicating something). Below are four key differences between marketing and branding as it relates to a communications plan and strategy.
Left Brain meet Right Brain
The human brain is an incredible piece of gray matter machinery, capable of complex thought processes, computations, and an almost limitless evolutionary bandwidth. And while both marketing and branding are neurological constructs, they trigger different parts of the brain in different ways.
The left brain is responsible for logical thought, analysis and is focused on facts and numbers.
The right brain, by contrast, is focused on creativity, non-verbal communication, dreams and imagination. When you consider the two separately, you can see how a tailored messaging strategy around each brain hemisphere’s specific attributes can strengthen any communication plan.
Keep in mind that one direction isn’t necessarily bad or better than the other. Think of marketing and branding as simply two different sets of strategies intended to accomplish two different sets of results.
Tell v Inspire
Marketing communication’s primary message is focused on communicating product features, benefits and incentives. These messages tend to lead with logic and aim to satisfy a basic need or desire of the customer. Branding messaging communicates the essential truth or value of the organization, product or service intended to inspire others who may be seeking deeper connections with the products or services they buy.
Push v Pull
In the world of traditional marketing, the Four Ps exist to maximize potential purchasing power: Product, Price, Promotion and Place. You’ve experienced these push tactics in their most common form—clearance sales. When it comes to branding, the Four Ps transform into more internally-focused pull strategies intended to promote the organization or brand’s values and beliefs: Purpose, Position, Promise and Principles. In this case, a customer isn’t buying a product because it’s on sale, but rather because it stands for something that the customer agrees and aligns with. It’s worth noting that this kind of attraction of values-driven customers results in their willingness to pay more for a product than a more budget-friendly alternative.
CTA v CTE
Digital marketing specialists adamantly push for creative that includes a clear call to action (CTA). And rightfully so. In the digital marketing space the key to a successful CTA is to generate messaging that incites an action, whether that be clicking a banner, a button, an email, or a link. The same is true in the analog world, too, with “act now,” or “while supplies last” messaging often heard on radio or seen on made-for-tv product infomercials. At a fundamental level, a CTA serves as a reason to act now. By contrast, branding communications’ call to action is essentially an appeal to the emotions of the customer and his or her values and beliefs. “Act now” messaging is replaced with more inclusive language intended to invite customers into the brand’s tribe.
Return on Investment
In the end, the ultimate goal of marketing is to generate an upward trend in numbers: new patients, new customers, new purchases, or increased hits on a website or landing page. For branding, instead of a transaction, the return comes in the form of relationship-building. In a world where purpose and principles are paramount, branding can have the power to galvanize an entire community of loyal advocates to your cause that stick around beyond the initial sale. An oversimplified analogy can be likened to that of creating new friendships: are you interested in quantity, or quality?
In the end, your objective will define which communication strategy will best suit your needs, as well as which hemisphere of the brain you’re tailoring your messages toward.
Download this simple cheat sheet for the next time the topic of branding and marketing come up at the coffee shop, or in the conference room.