The important differences between brands and branding

by Kelly Hobkirk

Businesspeople often get confused when talking about their marketing, particularly with regard to brands and branding. Items and actions in the English language often have niggling little differences that fail in some way to provide clarity, instead causing confusion. People who know and use the words each day know their meanings like the back of their hand, but people who don’t know them use the words in confusing ways that limit everyone’s understanding and learning.

The confusion of branding, illustrated
I was checking out a newly rebranded Seattle bank a couple years back, and watched a manager trying to help a woman understand the differences between personal and business accounts. As the prospective customer asked her questions, the manager handed the bewildered woman a brochure, saying “Here, let me give you a copy of our new branding,” and walked away leaving her to figure it all out on her own. (The woman placed the brochure on a table and left without opening an account.)

Brand is not branding

The difference between brand and branding is that one is a marketing tool and the other is an action.

Perhaps the biggest mixerupper I hear in business is the use of brand and branding as interchangeable words. Some people also call advertising branding (it’s not even close). Branding is about defining, while advertising is about promoting.

The fact that many graphic designers don’t know what branding is or how to accurately describe it, makes matters worse, particularly because businesspeople expect them to know. Some designers use brand and branding interchangeably, reinforcing confusion instead of providing clarity.

A brand is a thing (noun). Branding is an action (verb). This is more than just persnickety semantics—it’s about fundamental understanding of a core marketing tool.

What is branding?

Branding is the act of creating a brand. The process involves positioning your company or product in the market (carving out your own place), devising brand strategy (how you will reach your goals), creating your name (your verbal identity), designing corporate identity or product identity (your visual identity), writing brand messaging (verbal and written tone), and setting brand standards (how you keep your brand consistent and strong).

When branding (also called brand development) is completed, most businesses (when they’ve worked with an experienced professional) will not have to undertake the branding process for roughly 10-20 or more years. In the life of a 50-year business, branding the company occurs only 2-3 times total.

When a company’s brand becomes outdated in 20 years, then you may once again need to take on the branding process. If you create new products or launch new companies, you get to enjoy the exciting process of branding on a more frequent basis.

Once the branding process is completed, the word ‘branding’ has no continuing relationship to your brand (unless you work with cattle).

What is your brand?

Your brand is the result of the branding effort. Your brand describes who you are and what you do by use of visual identity, verbal dialog and tone of actions. It is utilized for virtually all of your marketing communications. It is how people identify, know and remember you.

How knowing the distinction helps your business

A critical branding concept to embrace is that we are not creating a made-up story or spiel. We’re creating a real marketing communication tool which, when wielded articulately, can empower your entire organization to communicate with greater purpose and clarity. Knowing this enables people to be well-informed, and to impart better understanding, which leads to less confusion, clear communication, and better customer service.

Understanding the difference between brands and branding helps you net a stronger brand because you will be more personally invested the brand development process. Your understanding also helps your employees grasp the full significance of the brand, so they learn how to best utilize it in marketing, selling, and supporting your goals and initiatives.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • March 9, 2012 • Tags: ,