We’ve been thinking (and writing) about brand a lot lately. Not just because it’s the heart of what we do, but because so many really smart people we encounter misunderstand or misinterpret the concept. They interchange the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding,’ mistaking the thing, a strategy-driven business asset, for the activity, the tactical approach of deploying that asset via marketing.
(Remember, we define a brand as first, a promise, and second, the way in which your company keeps that promise.)
As a result, many people misdirect the ownership of the brand. Worse, they skip past the strategic brand foundation and go straight to marketing.
We often meet with marketing executives who think they’re solely in charge of the brand. They’re not. Instead, they are the stewards and architects of how the brand plays out in the world.
Rather, the organization owns the brand.
The Relationship Between Brand Strategy, the Business, and Marketing
Because our culture is built on consumerism, it’s difficult to elegantly unpack business, brand, and marketing from one another as they are so intertwined. Each cannot exist without the other, but there’s a distinct hierarchy. Brand strategy must underpin the business and inform marketing efforts.
Brand strategy touches all aspects of the business: HR, sales, R&D, operations, merchandising mix, real estate acquisition strategy, vendor preferences, and more. It unites often competing business units behind a single goal. In a marketplace of equals, it gives consumers a reason to buy.
Marketing needs to help the business identify strategic opportunity, and the business needs marketing to keep and communicate the brand’s promise.
The Role of Brand Strategy in Modern Marketing
Modern marketing is a holistic, adaptive methodology that connects brands with real customers and drives business results by blending strategy, creative, technology, and analysis. It’s a process of measurement, testing, and refinement until you get a combination yields a measurable increase in sales.
This all sounds like 20th century tactics, so what is the difference?
Modern marketing no longer revolves around the traditional 4 P’s: product, price, place, promotion. Today, consumers expect the brands they favor to have morals and values beyond merely great products. We call this the 6 P’s of Modern Marketing: purpose, people, planet, passion, personality, and profit.
You might summarize the old approach to marketing by citing a movie line: “If you build it, they will come.” Modern brands have to tell customers why they need to come. The competitive landscape now is so crowded that simply having a product is not enough.
To paraphrase author and speaker Simon Sinek, that means thinking about your why, not just your what. Why do you do what you do? Why do employees and customers align with what you do? Why are your products, your brand, and your organization essential to the world?
If marketing has pivoted beyond product, then the underlying brand strategy is more essential then ever. Brand strategy no longer an exercise in features and benefits that move SKUs, but an exercise in cultural anthropology that helps customers understand why a product is uniquely different and especially suited for them.
Brand strategy helps ensure that marketing is driven by the heart and soul of your purpose rather than focusing on commoditizing attributes such as flavor and function. It provides a framework to ensure that your marketing efforts are supported by an established, purpose-driven vocabulary. It guides you to authentically communicate with your tribe, instead of just broadcasting a lot of noise.
Based on a brand strategy, one that’s shared across the entire business, marketing is all about deploying that strategy and using real data to determine successes and opportunities. We’ll say it again: Marketing requires a test, learn, and refine mentality.
Brand Purpose Practically Applied for Impact
Your brand — your purpose, your social benefit, your reason for being — is a valuable business asset. Edelman’s Earned Brand Report suggests that brand purpose is as powerful in driving sales as a multimillion-dollar advertising spend plus earned media, combined.
When we engage with our C-suite clients, we talk about brand strategy as a form of organizational development. It helps you know what business you should be in, who should be on your team, what opportunities you should go after, what partners you should align with, what needs your company should solve, what products you should develop. And, yes, what marketing channels you should pursue.