I hadn’t anticipated that we’d use our blog as a Q&A but Emily Davis tweeted us the other day suggesting that a post about the distinction between brand and branding wouldn’t go amiss.
Emily said she felt that, anecdotally, there was some confusion about the difference between the two and my own experience suggests that she’s probably right.
In fact the misapprehension about the distinction brand and branding is almost as commonplace as the misapprehensions about the distinction between ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’, and ‘public relations’ and ‘media relations’.
How may times have you sat in a meeting where someone talks about marketing and you know they really mean promotion? Or talk about PR when they mean media relations? How many times have you said it yourself? *holds hand up*
But back to the difference between brand and branding…
At New Tradition, we like to stick to working definitions that are heavily influenced by the eloquent simplicity of one of the world’s leading brand practitioners, Wally Olins. We’ve distilled his thinking about brands and branding down to two pretty straightforward definitions:
- Branding enables people to recognise and understand how to navigate your business’s goods, services and organisation.
- Brand is the consequence of how you go about doing what you do.
But, in order not to seem glib about the whole thing, over the next few days we’ll publish a couple of posts to dig a little deeper into what we mean by both the statements.
I’ll start with the question of branding because, although it performs a remarkably important communication function for businesses, it is only one of many contributory factors that, in combination, help to establish a brand.
So, while branding is important, it is by no means the most important element of a brand. However, I suspect that marketers invest a disproportionately high level of attention to branding (how to help people recognise and understand how to navigate your business’s goods, services and organisation) rather than the operational aspects of the brand (the consequence of how you go about doing what you do) which drive consumption of goods and services, and reputation.
The disproportionate investment of marketing effort in branding is probably one of the reasons why there’s an ambiguity between brand and branding. After all, whenever people within larger businesses dejectedly utter the weather-worn phrase ‘we’ll need to put it through the brand police’ or ‘it’ll need to be signed off by brand’, they generally mean that someone, somewhere is going to check that it looks OK.
In fact, I’ll leave you to muse over the heretical thought that it is entirely possible to have a great brand that lacks apparently exacting aesthetic standards of branding.
To illustrate why I might suggest that, I’ll turn to the example of premium cosmetic brand, Kiehl’s, which I consider to be one of the world’s great brands.
Prior to its purchase by L’Oreal, Kiehl’s had the most haphazard branding imaginable. Its approach to packaging design appeared to challenge almost every apparent luxury branding convention in the world: label information was set out in the form of a type designers nightmare on low-spec black and white printed self-adhesive labels that were applied to generic plastic bottles.
From one purchase to the next, you were never quite sure what the product packaging would look like.
Perhaps cynically, I wondered if it was deliberately done that way but – to be honest – it really didn’t matter. It said ‘Kiehl’s’ on the bottle, the label told you what was inside the bottle and what the stuff inside the bottle was designed to achieve, and, without exception, that’s exactly what the product ended up doing.
So Kiehl’s is a great brand despite its branding, and its branding was great despite appearing to be an afterthought of production. And, yes, there’s always an exception to the rule but that’s exactly the point isn’t it?
So, really, what does branding involve? Tune in to the next post to discover what we think.