The difference between brand and branding: Part One

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.

11 thoughts on “The difference between brand and branding: Part One

  1. Smart post. Branding has to meet expectations at every touchpoint – not just at the level of packaging design/aesthetics.

    I’d be interested to see how you prioritise the different touchpoints – would you have bought Kiehl’s if the packaging was slick but the product was of inconsistent quality? If Kiehl’s provided a great customer service experience, to what extent would that have swayed you?

    Kristian Carter
    http://www.kristiancarter.com

    Like

  2. Smart post. Branding has to meet expectations at every touchpoint – not just at the level of packaging design/aesthetics.

    I’d be interested to see how you prioritise the different touchpoints – would you have bought Kiehl’s if the packaging was slick but the product was of inconsistent quality? If Kiehl’s provided a great customer service experience, to what extent would that have swayed you?

    Kristian Carter
    http://www.kristiancarter.com

    Like

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Kristian.

      I think you’ve headed right to the heart of the distinction between the two ideas with the questions you’ve raised. Hopefully, I’ll be able to address them with the next couple of posts.

      What I can say is that, probably like many people, I’ve been sorely let down by brands whose branding appeared to promise so much – one in particular. As for Kiehl’s, if you wander into any of their stores, their people really know their stuff. If you’re ever around The Royal Exchange in London, nip into their store there where, hopefully, there’s one guy in particular who is a brand emissary par excellence. They strike me as a brand that understands what really matters to consumers of their products. I do wonder if the balance may shift under the L’Oreal regime though. I hope not.

      Like

  3. Cool post Ian – it feels to me that far too much effort goes into trying to put a spin or a sheen onto something that may not itself be very good. Far better to ask, “why are we doing this?”, or “why would anyone want to buy our stuff?” If you can’t come up with a good answer, surely no amount of branding excellence will save you (in the long run). This is why we don’t have a marketing department at Nucleus. It’s a DNA thing.

    Like

    1. Thanks David. That’s all the more true these days where – so long as you have the means to access it – the ability to publish is universally available. The approach you’re taking at Nucleus serves to illustrate the idea that traditional marketing communications functions are becoming outmoded. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a defunct function in most organisations, whereas the principles of marketing should, pretty much, stay the course. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Like

  4. This is really interesting and backs up a basic (self limiting?) belief I have that Brands are made not created.
    That’s not to say that really great marketing can’t make a so so product dominate the market when technically better products fail. This has happened for a number of products which are now considered ‘Brands’ It has to be said though that these products do the basic job well enough so not enough negative publicity to stop their domination.
    Get the product or service right then shout about it until it suddenly becomes a brand

    Like

    1. I think you’re right. Brand reputations are acquired over time and, as a consumer, it all depends on your experience of them. Persistent over-statement of your brand’s benefits or usefulness – whether that’s via branding or promotional communication in general – which is out of sync with consumers experience, is a guaranteed way to put your reputation at risk. Much better to concentrate on the way in which your business makes peoples’ lives better and enjoy the goodwill that flows from that. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and share your view.

      Like

  5. What an interesting read, this reminds me of a debate I once had on a forum many years ago. A great case study of an existing brand too, is it meant to be, was it intentional hmm?

    Like

    1. Hmm indeed! What caused me to think that was the fact that the labelling and bottling reminded me of the kind of labels you get in a dispensing chemist, where typography doesn’t appear to be high on the agenda. That would be a truly contrived branding convention and so, eventually, I just came round to the idea that Kiehl’s had probably stuck to the things that had served them so well since their foundation. But, who knows? (Well, someone does, obviously!). Thanks for taking the time to read and post your comment Elliott.

      Like

  6. Totally agree about the over-importance placed on branding. These days you can’t wrap up mediocrity in shiny packaging to sell it. Your product or service has to be as good as you say it is – or you’ll be found out. In other words, your brand has to be as good as your branding.

    I always think of brand as the sum total of what people say about you when you’re not in the room, as it were. Branding is what cowboys do to cows.

    Looking forward to the next two posts.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Eric Witheridge Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.