Professionals and laypersons alike often don’t properly distinguish between advertising, marketing, and branding in the way that a brand consultant does. They think they are synonymous terms for a single function. The result, ultimately, is misapplication: people think they develop brands through advertising, or that their brand is simply the product or service for sale in the marketplace. Allow a professional brand consultant to dispel these mistaken ideas by defining what advertising, marketing, and branding are, and clarifying their relations to one another. Hopefully, you’ll have a working knowledge of each of these three concepts, both in their common usage and as I believe they should be understood.
Advertising as Awareness
Most people focus on advertising as the single most important feature of both branding and marketing. It’s understandable to think that advertising is the most important feature of a business’ brand, given the fact that most of us are bombarded with advertising. A good ad makes consumers aware of a product or service, but it also makes the item attractive in order to compel the consumer to seek it out. Advertisers have gone so far as to promote the idea that the product or service is so iconic it generates a culture — Coca-Cola’s “Coke is it;” Nike’s “Just do it” — to which the consumer should want to belong. But at the end of the day, the function of advertising is simply to create brand awareness and hopefully drive customers to your place of business. No matter how flashy, savvy, sophisticated, or manipulative an advertisement is, the best it can do is make consumers aware of a product or service, and possibly move them to investigate or even make a purchase. Convincing a customer to make a purchase, however, doesn’t mean you’ve created a brand. What it does do is give you the opportunity to create and build a brand.
Marketing as a System of Uniting Businesses and Customers
Advertising is one of the activities involved in marketing. So, what’s marketing? Broadly speaking from the perspective of a brand consultant, it refers to those activities involved in the marketplace concerned with bringing products and services to consumers (and vice versa). The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.” Marketing involves, among other things, research for gathering and analyzing data about customer demographics, customer perceptions, market size, strategies for developing and positioning a brand in the marketplace with the help of a brand consultant, the channel of distribution arrangement and management, and management of a sales force. In brief, marketing is a sort of social institution, a systematic way of bringing customers and businesses together to facilitate a sale. Initially, the marketplace was the physical location where goods and services were sold, and marketing derives its identity and basic methods from this original idea.
Notice that both advertising and marketing are mechanisms. As such, they are means of simply connecting customers and businesses. They are not brand experiences.
Branding Is a Process of Creating Authentically Unique, Emotional Experiences That Create Loyal, Lifelong Customers
The common — and incorrect — understanding of branding in the world of marketing and advertising is a method of advertising to create and reinforce particular ideas of a product or service. Most people think a brand is a company’s logo, image, or tagline— an identifying mark that differentiates one business from another in markets cluttered with similar products and services. Others think in terms of objects, namely, that a brand is a type of product manufactured by a company. In truth, branding is the creation and support of a powerful perception and image of someone or something based on unique, emotional experiences — so powerful that the perception or image becomes a belief. Therefore, I argue that the formula for professional and personal success lies in our ability to create the most powerful, emotional, memorable brand based on these unique experiences. As a result, branding operates at a level that is far more profound than is commonly thought.
Branding, as I conceive it, is a feeling. You feel trust, loyalty, comfort, love, need, desire, and happiness for brands because of beliefs derived from very precise experiences. What establishes this connection, however, has little to do with a product or a service. Some people initially get excited about the product or service because their introduction to it creates an expectation. But, just as advertising simply makes you aware of a product or service, and marketing directs that awareness, buying a product or service only provides you with something you expect to have. The real connection is established through person-to-person experience. What people get truly emotional about is the process, the experience of getting the thing — whatever it is — not the thing itself. The purchase is just the beginning, and only a small part of the brand building process. Advertising is a factor, but not the only one. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. In addition, although whatever you buy is useful and hopefully enjoyable, it’s not what gives us the emotional experience that ultimately builds brand loyalty. Loyalty is expressed by what people say and do. Brand loyalty is expressed by what I call brand evangelism. In fact, brand loyalty is critical for brand evangelism.
Loyalty is created by human interaction, not objects. So, the paradigm of powerful, emotional, positive brand building that I am articulating enters the picture when people interact with each other in such a way that lasting emotional connections are made. Customers become evangelists; they become raving fans, because they trust the brand and they are loyal to it. In short, the brand is now part of their belief system because of the unique interpersonal experiences they have with that brand.