What is Brand Marketing?

Branding overview | Marketing Donut

To answer this question, perhaps we should first define “brand” and “marketing” at a very basic level—they are intertwined, but very different things.

Marketing is your message, and your brand is who you are. You can tell people that you’re the best at something, but unless they believe that’s really who you are, they aren’t going to listen. For instance, rather than just telling people that Colgate toothpaste will keep their teeth clean, Colgate has worked to become the clean teeth expert, with a whole section on their website featuring education resources for families, teachers, and dentists. They also do work around the globe to teach oral health through their Bright Smiles Bright Futures program. Colgate could just tell people they are the clean teeth expert, but by actually becoming the expert in people’s minds, they not only increased sales but improved their brand equity as well.

Marketing is controlled by you, your brand is controlled by your audience. You can work to control how people feel about your brand, but who your brand IS, is ultimately decided by your audience. Dove has been running ads for over 15 years in its “real beauty” campaign, with the idea that Dove is an inclusive, supportive brand for women. But after a few racist ads came out on social media in 2017, this no longer rang true for customers (especially when people found out that the parent company, Unilever, also sold skin-whitening products in other markets). Dove can put out as many marketing campaigns as it wants about being inclusive and accepting, but if customers don’t see this as who they are, then it’s not really their brand. It’s just an attempt.

Marketing is short-term focused and quantitative (sales, numbers), your brand is long-term and qualitative (stories, emotions, intrinsic value). And you need both! McDonald’s has had countless marketing campaigns over the years, all wildly different from one another, but the brand has remained the same: they’ve maintained a consistent brand identity and product for over 60 years. They’ve always been about the same thing: we make you happy. All of their campaigns have obviously worked to drive sales, but they’ve been slowly driving something else as well: who McDonald’s is in people’s minds. Brand marketing, when done well, should do both of these things.

So what is Brand Marketing? It’s tying who you are into your marketing efforts. Brand marketing weaves your identity, values, and personality into all of your communications. Spending on brand marketing is an investment in building a brand’s value, and like all things brand-related, it’s got its eyes on the long term.

What Brand Marketing is Not

For a deeper understanding of brand marketing, it may also help to understand what brand marketing is not, and the mistakes people make.

Pursuing short-term sales vs long-term brand equity. The opposite of brand marketing is direct response marketing (i.e. infomercials), where the customer is encouraged to “buy now.” There’s no fear of losing the relationship with the customer, as that’s not the goal; the goal is to get them to buy the product... and that is all. Brand marketing is the opposite of this—it works to build the relationship over time. One piece might make you aware of the brand, another introduces the product, the website is a resource to learn more. Colgate isn’t going to generate direct sales from its education materials, but it does create trust and a relationship with the brand.

Being inconsistent in your messaging, creative campaigns, or products. Casper differentiated itself in the mattress market through its fun, illustrated campaigns that appealed to younger audiences, who probably hadn’t thought much about their mattresses before. Suddenly buying a new mattress seemed fun and appealing. But if Casper were to start rolling out Tempurpedic-style ads geared toward older audiences looking for high-end back support, who Casper is would suddenly feel less clear in people’s minds, lowering the brand equity. People would be unclear on what the brand was all about, and Casper would be leaving the niche they so expertly carved out for themselves.

The same goes for products. Make sure what you’re offering aligns with your brand as well, as this can create similar ambiguity for people. To go back to Colgate, in 1982, they actually introduced a line of frozen dinners. This inconsistency was jarring to people—associating toothpaste with dinner is not appetizing, and associating frozen food with toothpaste does not inspire confidence in Colgate’s line of oral care products. The plan might have worked if Colgate hadn’t already been so well-known for toothpaste. The product launch created dissonance and confusion around the brand and was quickly abandoned.

Not differentiating yourself from your competitors. You could technically roll out a brand marketing campaign that is just like your competitors, but you’d be disappointed in the results. Differentiation is key to having a successful brand—part of defining who you are is defining how you are different. Many years ago, we at Elixir Design brewed up our North Star process out of necessity. Too often, we were asked to create designs based on strategy documents from branding firms that distilled a client’s essence beyond the point of pasteurization. Frequently, the attributes described–though accurate–could just as easily apply to the closest competitor(s). The documents left no trace of idiosyncrasy (the most valuable differentiators) from which to tailor the most fitting solution.

But First, Branding.

Brand marketing won’t work without a brand. You have to know what you’re aiming for, who you are, what you want people to think about you. Find your brand value in the marketplace, then develop a brand strategy, and then you can move on to brand marketing. It’s a lot of work, and a rather long road, but it’s one we’ve gone down many times with our clients over our 28 years working in the brand identity world.

About the author: Elixir is an award-winning brand identity firm. We are a team of brand strategists, writers, and designers, unified by a shared spirit of purpose and possibility.

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