Friday, September 25, 2009

Do You Have a Brand…Or Do You Brand?

Most marketers tout the virtues of brands. And to listen to us pontificate, it might appear that we all sing from the same hymnal. After all, we use the same verbiage with equal enthusiasm. However, there are subtle differences in our marketing-speak that signal significant differences in the output of our work. The most notable of these linguistic differences is in the use of the term “brand” itself.

Consider the difference between brand and branding. A brand is a thing, or a collection of things—logos, identity systems, advertising, blogs, Tweets, etc. Branding is a process or behavior. The former is static, the latter active. Viewing brands as things places the emphasis on the executional elements themselves. Viewing branding as a process places the emphasis on the strategy behind them. The line between these two perspectives is easily blurred because both result in some form of expression. However, the quality of expression differs depending on the perspective of the marketer.

Marketers who view brands as things tend to talk about executional elements and brands interchangeably. Their work tends to be expressed through a limited set of mediums, usually their strength. Their portfolios typically consist of one-off campaigns because their ideas lack strategic continuity. And in some cases, they become salesmen in search of a client for their favorite executions.

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The superficiality of executional branding diminishes the value and importance of branding. Additionally, assigning the concept of brand to specific executional elements unnecessarily limits a marketer’s purview. Branding is the process of managing perceptions—determining what perceptions, if created, will produce an advantageous result and then behaving in a manner that will create them. As such, a positioning idea can and should influence more than a company’s marketing materials. If it can’t or doesn’t, it’s the marketer’s failing.

Ideally, companies wouldn’t have brands, they’d brand. It might also be more descriptive if we called ourselves “branding consultants” rather than “brand consultants”. But doing so would be committing a sin—creating proprietary lingo. So we’ll simply have to trust that people understand what we mean.

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