I teach a course on branding so I’m often asked to define the difference between branding and marketing. I usually have a fairly long-winded answer and I’ve noticed that the person who asked the question often leaves the conversation with a puzzled look.
Since I’m about to teach the course again, I thought I would do a web search to find a pithier answer. I wanted a simple mantra to cut through the clutter. Unfortunately, the search only added to the confusion.
Many of the sources I consulted confused marketing with selling. I’ve always thought that there were at least two parts to marketing:
I’ve always thought of marketing as a “pull” operation while sales is a “push” process. With effective marketing, you create products that people want and pull them in. Here’s how Theodore Levitt put it in his classic article, “Marketing Myopia”:
Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert the product into cash, marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering, and, finally, consuming it.
All too often, the sources I found on the web (for instance, here and here and here) focused on the “second half” of marketing. They effectively define marketing as an adjunct to sales, perhaps even a support service to sales. In my humble opinion, that’s far too narrow a definition of marketing.
So, if marketing is about identifying customer needs and satisfying them, what is branding about? It’s the process of planting a consistent, compelling, and differentiable image in the customer’s mind. You want to occupy a position in the customer’s brain. The customer’s brain is probably pretty full already so she’s not going to give you much room for your position. You need to keep it simple and consistent.
This definition is essentially the customer-based brand equity (CBBE) model pioneered by Kevin Lane Keller at Dartmouth. In short, CBBE suggests that it doesn’t matter what the brand owner thinks, it only matters what the customer thinks. The value of the brand lies in the customer’s mind. The process of branding is putting appealing, differentiable images into the customer’s mind that will fit the (small) space available.
Is there a simple, pithy way to summarize all this? Here’s the best I can do. Marketing is the process of developing products that people actually want to buy and communicating the whole product benefits. Branding is the process of putting an idea in someone else’s head. Marketing is what you do. Branding is what you are.
I used to work for a CEO who liked to go to cocktail parties. When he introduced himself to people, he often mentioned the fact that he was the CEO of XYZ Corp., the well-known B2B software company. People looked at him blankly and said, “I’ve never heard of your company.”
The next morning, the CEO would inevitably call me to complain: “People have never heard of our company. I’ve told you this before. When are you going to fix it?” I typically responded with a question or two: “Does the person you met want to do business with us? Do they want to buy something?” The answer was always no. “So why”, I continued “should we spend money to communicate with them? What’s the return?”
I’m surprised by how many CEOs want their company to become a household name, even though most households will never buy from them. This is another subtle difference between B2B and B2C companies. With a lot of B2C brands – Coke, Nike, Levis, Red Bull, Amazon — virtually any household anywhere in the world could possibly become a customer. So it makes sense to become a household name by spending hugely on advertising and sponsoring high visibility events.
B2B companies, on the other hand, usually have much more defined markets. In the last major B2B company I worked for, Lawson Software, we could identify approximately 30,000 companies in our target markets, in our geographies that might actually buy from us. We put them all in a database, made some educated guesses about when they might buy, and starting contacting them. We kept sifting through our data to improve our probability rankings and contacted high probability buyers frequently.
For me, it didn’t matter if Lawson was known in every household. It mattered a great deal if we were known by the 30,000 companies that might actually buy from us. That’s where we invested our marketing development dollars and targeted our lead generation campaigns. If you work for a B2B company, I’d advise a similar approach. If that means that people at cocktail parties don’t know who you work for … well, take a brochure with you.