The difference between brand and branding: Part Two

Picture: Vittorio Sciosia

If you read my previous post you’ll know that it was suggested that I put together a blog post which helped explain the difference between brand and branding. I set out to address the question by saying the distinction between the two was that

  • 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.

In this post I’ll dig a bit deeper into the suggested definition of branding.

The cautionary note is that I’m attempting to explain the distinction and why I think there’s ambiguity over the difference. I’m not claiming to be providing an exhaustive definition of either or both!

Having said that, let’s clear up one fairly common misapprehension straightaway:

A logo isn’t a brand

It’s a brand mark.

And a brand mark is symbolic; it is applied to visually mark out the boundaries of a business’s territory and clearly distinguish it from alternative providers of similar goods and services.

(In fact, the word ‘logo’ is popularly assumed to derive from the Greek word ‘logos’ meaning a character or symbol which represents a word or phrase.)

No matter how sophisticated marketers like to think that we are these days, it’s a practice that’s as old as the human race itself.

As a species, it seems, we just can’t help marking what belongs to us, whether it’s conveyed as a brand mark on a product or is emblematic of a nation of people in the form of a flag; whether it’s a sheep’s fleece branded with a farmer’s initials (which explains the tenuous connection with the image at the top of this post) or a sign over a shop.

Each of us has also been given our own brand marks by our parents – our names – which we uniquely express via our signatures.

So, for businesses, effective brand marks serve to symbolically represent the provenance of an entity – whether that’s physical, intellectual or virtual – in a manner which is both unique and distinctive enough to distinguish itself from comparable alternatives. It doesn’t necessarily follow that they have to be beautifully designed.

In fact, for a business, what really matters is the capacity of a brand mark to help existing or potential consumers of a business’s goods and services to recognise the business and react to its presence, preferably in a positive way.

Whether they do respond to it positively or not will depend, not on its brand mark or branding per se, but on what that brand mark or branding represents – and that’s the brand thing.

So if that’s a brand mark, what’s branding?

Where they’re used, brand marks generally form part of a suite of branding elements – like the use of colour, fonts, physical materials, pictures and imagery or iconography – whose application to items like packaging, print, stationery, physical space and signage is governed by guidelines.

Despite the fact that application of branding enables businesses to mark out the boundaries of their territory, its principal purpose is to make it as easy as possible for consumers to find their way to a transactional point – whether that’s a transaction involving money, service or information.

Branding translates your business and what it does into something that is meaningful, understandable and useful for the outside world.

If the branding elements are applied appropriately and consistently wherever consumers encounter it, not only will they encourage recognition and understanding of the relevance of a brand but, over time, it may be possible to acquire a branding state of grace – consumers intuitively recognise your branding whether the brand mark is visible or not.

But branding isn’t confined to just one of the five senses, the other four are fair game too.

For instance, have you ever walked past a Subway? It’s got an instantly recognisable and distinctive aroma hasn’t it? In fact, you can often smell a Subway before you see it and recognise that there’s a Subway nearby.

And how about Play-Doh? Or Crayola crayons? (You may not have encountered the last two for years, but you probably just
recalled the smell.)

What about the little Intel jingle? Or the repeated use of music in radio and TV advertising by brands like LloydsTSB or British Gas?

No matter the extent to which individual businesses go to to hammer their point home, the principal functional purpose of branding is to clearly mark out the boundaries and areas of its territory and help consumers find their way to a transactional point.

But in performing its function, branding also has the capacity to convey emotional attributes too. And this is where the muddy waters begin to appear which, I’d argue, contribute to a misapprehension about the difference between brand and branding.

So what were the reasons that led branding to be used in this way?

The changing marketplace and evolution of branding

Once upon a time, businesses were geographically confined and media was all but non-existent. However, in Europe, the industrial revolution changed all that.

Innovation in transport and communications opened up the opportunity to both find new ways of sourcing materials, making and doing things, as well as trade your business’s goods or services in more than one location.

(It’s always worth remembering that businesses like Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco all started out as a single shop or market
stall – Sainsbury’s in Drury Lane, London (right) and William Morrisons’s market stall in Bradford. Jack Cohen’s Wall Street Market stall in Hackney, London, later became Tesco.)

By doing so, you were pitching your business’s stall elsewhere in the midst of established competitors who already offered the same goods and services that you did. At the same time, new names were popping up on your patch in your own marketplace.

That opens up a new front in the competition for attention, even among customers whose patronage you had previously enjoyed.

When that competition for consumer attention extends beyond the boundaries of your physical environment – thanks to the proliferation of both national and international broadcast and print media, and increased trading across international borders – the accompanying commercial clamour and noise presents you with two problems: how to secure a distinctive and sustainable reputation and – if it’s your intention to do so – how to grow your business.

In the face of increasing competition, the recognition of your business via its brand mark is one thing, but helping consumers understand what it represents is something else entirely; it could be the difference between buying or not buying your brand’s goods and services.

The likely source of confusion: The road to emotional branding

Let’s suppose your business couldn’t consistently compete on the basis of price. It had to be able to convey ideas on which it could compete and which consumers would instinctively recognise and value; things like quality, originality, service, support and innovation, for instance.

Of course branding can’t, itself, make the slightest bit of difference to the intrinsic value of a good or service, because it only serves to represent those qualities by helping express what a business does.

(To assuage the designers who will disagree with that last statement, I’m talking strictly about branding here. In the next post I’ll be arguing that a consistent characteristic of great brands is their pursuit of brand principles, of which interaction design is one. But brand identities are a consequence of this and not the catalyst.)

But what branding can do is seek to influence people’s perception of a brand.

It’s how, for instance, the branding approach adopted by Dorset Cereals helps it encourage consumers – based on today’s pricing at, at least – to part with a couple more pence per 100g for its muesli compared with, say, Alpen’s original Swiss recipe product.

On your next trip to the supermarket, why not pick up both brands of cereal and compare the two based just on their respective approaches to branding?

Compared to the Alpen packaging, you may notice that the texture of Dorset Cereals’s packaging is slightly rougher – suggesting an ‘earthier’ quality compared to Alpen’s smoother packaging.

You can’t see Alpen’s muesli but you’re invited to look at Dorset Cereals’s product thanks to transparent windows cut into the packaging – conveying the idea that this brand is both focused on the nutritional content of its product and proud of it too.

Finally, the text mimics a typewritten face and is impressed into the outer packaging (just run your fingertip across the type) which – whether you realise it or not – suggests each box is carefully packaged and not mass produced.

Admittedly that’s a pretty cursory analysis of the packaging, but do you think the branding of the Dorset Cereals product pulls its weight in conveying what’s distinctive and unique about the brand? Is it enough to contemplate parting with that extra couple of pence per 100g?

Whether you like muesli or hate it, the example serves to show that branding design possesses the capacity to roam beyond its functional role and encompass an additional role – employing the senses to convey emotional ideas about the brand it represents.

The use and abuse of branding as a means of conveying personality

It’s this capacity of branding to convey emotional ideas that’s given rise to the idea of ‘brand personality’.

And, since a brand’s personality is a fictions of its parent business’s imagination, it’s also where the worlds of fiction and reality either harmoniously converge or discordantly collide.

Throughout this post, I’ve been careful to say that branding serves to help convey functional and emotional ideas about a business in order to translate and articulate how its brand of goods and services help a waiting world. The problem is that branding can also be used to portray its brand of goods and services.

The moment a business lays claim to human qualities like ‘values’ and ‘characteristics’, and seeks to reflect those qualities through its branding, it is treading a fine line between conveying the characteristics it really possesses and portraying the ones that it wishes to be seen to be associated with.

The only problem is that the way people seem to be, and the way they really are, can often be poles apart. And businesses can be just the same.

The temptation within businesses is to articulate a brand reputation to which they aspire and immediately deploy all elements of their marketing communications armoury – including branding – to portray acquisition of that position without even embarking on a strategy to change the way they do business.

But changing the way you appear doesn’t change the way you are.

And its the superficial application of branding to portray one thing rather than convey another, that is probably where the confusion over the distinction between brand and branding stems from.

It’s been compounded by the fact that – in the scrap for consumer attention that is intensified by the scarcity of available space in traditional media – businesses opt for promotional content which carries claims that are littered with hyperbole and neologisms: to be first, to launch something new, to improve on something, to be award winning, to claim superiority over a competitor.

So I’d argue that – until recently – it’s been all to easy for businesses to let its branding do the legwork and portray characteristics of, for instance, originality or innovation, rather than go to the effort really being original and innovative.

But branding does not maketh the brand. Consumer experience is the ultimate judge of the way brands really do business.

And the shift in the communications landscape – which I’ve illustrated previously in this presentation at Slideshare – is already changing the ability for businesses to fall back on presentation to do the heavy lifting for sub-optimal operation.

Branding can no longer be relied on to sustain reputation.

And, in the next post, I’ll pick on a brand in order to illustrate exactly how its branding appears to promise more than its brand is really able to deliver. By doing so, I hope to conclude the epic journey to explain what I consider to be the difference between brand and branding.

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…

Continue reading “The difference between brand and branding: Part One”

Are you motivated by what you think motivates you?

We’re currently working on the design of an employee communication programme so, perhaps selfishly, this animation of Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA in January 2010 is remarkably useful in considering the configuration of communications in a way which delivers a sense of fulfillment and purpose for an internal audience.

But if you take a look at the video of the talk, Mr Pink offers some stark conclusions about the role of financial incentives as a means of motivating people; conclusions which seem counter-intuitive to the way incentives within brands and businesses are organised today.

For instance, Mr Pink points to plenty of evidence demonstrating that financial incentives tend, over time, to lead to lower levels of productivity and performance. In contrast, however, when software developer Redgate trashed the traditional financial bonus scheme, sales actually rose. And how can it be that Wikipedia and Linux have proved so successful when their very existence is due to the time and goodwill invested by individuals who receive no financial compensation whatsoever?

Continue reading “Are you motivated by what you think motivates you?”

Do marketing communications teams have a future?

I was intrigued to read this post by Paul Worthington at Wolff Olins blog earlier today. Especially the idea that he raises in the third and fourth paragraphs where he poses two questions: what is it that really makes Google Googley (to paraphrase the idea) and, if its usefulness does the brand trick all on its own, does this challenge presumptions about the elevated status of brand?

(Focusing on those two paragraphs doesn’t reflect a lack of interest in the whole purpose of the post, by the way. I’ll be very interested to see the outcome of the exercise that Paul’s describing and the conclusions that Wolff Olins draw from it.)

It’s a similar train of thought to my post a year or so ago on signature interaction and chimes with ideas like Alex Bogusky and John Winsor‘s Baked In.

However, the reason I was all the more intrigued by Paul Worthington’s post was because, yesterday, I delivered a lecture about Bringing a brand to life to an inspiringly sparky group of final year students at Kingston University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture.

During the course of the lecture, I ran through my favourite model of brand dimensions offered by Wally Olins – whose name still adorns Wolff Olins’s own business although, these days, Olins is chairman of Saffron Consultants – in his brilliant book The Brand Handbook.

I’ve posted the relevant visuals from the lecture at the top of this post but the gist of it is that I introduced the group to the model, then took a look at the things that were affecting the traditional process of manufacturing marketing communications – the financial crisis and the loss of consumer confidence in general corporate behaviour, the rise of mobile platforms and devices, and the advent of the social web – and then came back to the Olins model again.

In the process of doing so – both in preparation for the lecture and during it – it struck me that the status of marketing communications teams as an organisational function is not just fragile; instead, the prognosis for them appears to be terminal.

So too is the traditional nomenclature for product or proposition marketing.

It seems counter-intuitive to me that traditional organisational structures can persist in the face of a radically changing communications environment in which the consumers of their products or services exist. That’s not to say that specific expertise in communication or product design isn’t required, it’s the general approach to organisation of that expertise that isn’t required.

In other words, it strikes me that if – as Bogusky and Winsor suggest – we are entering an era where marketing communications and product development are ‘baked in’ to a product or service, then the only thing that organisations need to concern themselves with is cradle-to-grave interaction design. Gone is the need for permanently embedded professional cohorts and in comes a flatter, more agile, mash-up of multi-disciplinary approaches resembling project management methodology – in terms of gathering and dispersal of expertise – but with its focus on outside-in experience rather than inside-out requirements.

So it is difficult to see how, as organisational entities, the disciplines of marketing communications and product marketing can avoid convergence with customer service and information technology; especially when – to consumers of their products and services – the boundaries between those functions are indistinct and irretrievably intertwined.

For instance, is a response to a comment posted by Joe Public on a brand’s Facebook page promotional? Or is it simply a question for customer service? Or one for PR, or even a web team? The reality is, it’s likely to cut across each of those disciplines in one way or another.

In fact, it is already becoming difficult to see the join between products and services among leading brands whose reputations have, historically, been as product manufacturers.

Where, for example, does the iPhone stop and its functionality as a service start? And at what point in the consumer journey does Apple stop being a product manufacturer and transform into a retailer?

To use the well-worn comic device: ‘How many marketers will it take to change a lightbulb?’.

‘Possibly none.’

Not a joke, though; potentially a truism.


Why Starbucks is crafting the perfect branded blend

Starbucks. Now there’s a business that knows where it’s going.

The latest evolution of its brand visual identity – revealed late yesterday evening (as far as the UK is concerned, that is) – is the kind of project I really admire.

Not just because I like the elegance of the design thinking that is evident in the latest brand visual ID, but because this identity is the consequence of serious and significant reflection within a business seeking genuine synchronicity of its business and brand strategy. (In fact, I’d be very surprised if people within Starbucks even make a distinction business and brand strategy; Starbucks business is its brand and its brand is its business.)

This evolution of the brand visual identity is not about Starbucks branding, it’s about what Starbucks’ brand stands for for millions of consumers, worldwide, now and in the future.

Clarity of conviction and purpose

As a business, Starbucks has clearly considered its future role in the lifestyles of global consumers – or the ‘Third Place’ referred to in the Looking Forward to Starbucks Next Chapter post by chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz – and the capacity of its brand to be sufficiently adaptable to earn the right to play a role in those lives.

That’s why the statements from the business and the initial design visuals ooze strategic conviction, confidence and consensus. I believe that they believe what they’re saying. And what convinces me of that more than anything else is the fact that the redesign was executed primarily by its in-house design team; a team which dared to drop the text off the logo. That’s evidence of a business navigating a strategic route of stunning clarity.

The decision to go in-house has been rewarded in spades. What Starbucks design team has been able to produce is both decisive and carefully considered, expansive in ambition and sensitive to its heritage.

Any brand consultancy would have loved to have been associated with work that resulted in such a clear sense of direction.

The simple but smart idea to release the Starbucks ‘Siren’ from its cell-like roundel and restrictive ‘Starbucks Coffee’ text not only begins to realise the potential of the Siren as an iconic branding device, but it also offers deft nod to the brand’s Seattle seaport heritage. (Yes I know it may not seem so ground-breaking but, trust me, it is a stroke of design genius.)

Of course it may strike many people as odd to drop the reference to Starbucks Coffee from the logo altogether, but that reaction tends to reflect general understanding of where the brand is positioned today. I’ve no doubt the Starbucks name will appear as text in close proximity to the Siren brandmark but, overnight, the business has given itself the freedom to roam simply by taking a subtle but symbolic step.

What will be very interesting, is what other words become associated with the brand mark in the future – and that’s what this change is all about.

And besides, Starbuck’s decision to drop its name as an integral part of the brandmark may be bold but it does have positive precedents: Apple’s decision to drop ‘computer’ from its brand visual identity in 2007 (thanks to Tim Baker for posting that link on Quora, by the way) was a move intended to achieve a similar outcome to the one that Starbucks is aspiring to. In order to reflect the changing nature of its business and to give its brand the best possible shot of fulfilling its potential, Apple subtly but symbolically shifted its emphasis.

As well as elegantly seeking to resolve the constraints of Starbucks brand association with coffee shops, this latest evolution of the Starbucks visual identity has all the characteristics necessary to prove both a resilient and adaptable branding device for myriad media formats. The strength and simplicity of the Siren design will translate beautifully as a hallmark in print and packaging, an ident on web video content as well as an illuminated sign above a store.

Addressing a new communications landscape

In November 2009, I published a post at MRM’s blog that made five predictions as far as the state of brands and branding were concerned. I suggested that, by 2012:

  1. Only three communications disciplines will matter: live events, interaction design and conversation
  2. Momentum behind ‘storytelling’ will gather, ousting traditional ‘campaign-led’ push promotional marketing
  3. Sustainable reputations will be built on the quality of interaction with a product or service; conversation about interaction will drive new adopters of your product or service
  4. As they become micro-media channels, ‘other people’ will become at least as influential as traditional media commentators
  5. Debranding will gain popularity as brands seek to create characteristic brandavatars – a means of creating a signature brand interaction akin to human personality traits both online and offline

Starbucks brand has a considerable stake in each of these five disciplines. And while the latest incarnation of its visual identity is not debranding of the order of its 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea style store, it is, nonetheless, evidence of a further shift away from rigid branding conventions towards new and more adaptive branding traditions. Ironically, the net effect of loosening the grip of the branding is likely to be an enhanced brand in terms of scope, scale and reputation.

Frankly, Starbucks is pursuing a fascinating strategy that has served as a catalyst for a beautifully crafted evolution of its brand identity. It’s the synchronicity of the pursuit of business and brand strategy that gives the business every chance to more easily adapt to whatever the future holds in precisely the way it hopes.

Is the ‘new’ Gap logo a PR double bluff?

Here’s a thought.

What if the uproar about the Gap logo redesign (above) that’s occupying the blogs and tweets of the design community – and beyond – is an elaborate ruse to buy Gap more attention?

It’s an idea that my colleague at NewTradition, Maxine Cameron, was musing about earlier and I floated in an exchange of tweets with Crispin Heath of Team Spirit.

Here’s the thinking: Let’s accept that the brand visual ID refresh and rollout really is a car crash in slow-motion. Why would a brand as experienced as Gap make that kind of misjudgement?

Now consider the attention that the brand is beginning to gain by releasing the logo, sporadically, world wide and allowing it to be ridiculed, lambasted and – in some instances – alternatives being offered up. (I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek sideswipe by id29 (pictured below) posted at Under Consideration’s Brand New site earlier today.)

Then you add into the mix the curious post by Gap at its Facebook page where it says:

Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.

What if Gap are just seeking to build anticipation and then reveal to the world a brand spanking new ID which the designers of the world fall in love with?

Risky, but it might just work.

And, even if it’s not the strategy that’s in play, there’s still time, Gap. There’s still time.

What do you think?

One minute sentiment tracking survey: BP and you, Round Two

You may remember that, a couple of weeks ago, I invited people to contribute to a survey about sentiment towards BP and politicians associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Before I publish the results, I thought it would be interesting to ask the same questions once again to see how sentiment may have shifted.

Given the fact that BP are cautiously optimistic that it has capped the leak, today seems like a pretty good day to pose the questions.

So, if you’ve got a minute (because that’s all the time it should take to complete), I’d be grateful if you could click here to take survey.

Thanks very much.