Last week, a very bright, hard-working and bright-eyed new entrepreneur came up to me and asked me point blank: so what’s the difference between marketing and branding? I was caught off guard for a moment but then realized that despite the inundation of experts telling small business owners and newbie startup founders that they must have a solid marketing and branding strategy, very few of us actually know what the difference is.
To start off, your brand is your company’s long-term identity. It’s what will make your company stand out in that sea of bright lights – the swarm of other competitors trying to get your customers. Reputation, naturally, is central to your brand. Think of how BP’s reputation changed after the Gulf Coast debacle in 2006 and how it deeply and negatively altered its brand. Now think of how BP has tried to rebuild its reputation, its brand, by starting an initiative to promote tourism along the Gulf Coast and to restore the environment in that region. Brands can be changed, for the better or worse. The strength of your brand represents how much your target customer trusts you to provide them with value.
Marketing on the other hand, is all the activities – promotions, events, advertisements, social media, public relations etc. that you’re doing to craft your brand and build the level of trust adequate to convince customers of the value you’re offering.
What are the core elements of both branding and marketing, meaning what are the steps to take to solidify successful strategies for both? The steps are actually integrated into this seemingly easy yet actually difficult to execute set:
For example, let’s say your Uncle calls you up one day and asks you to help him rebrand and market his salt company. Salt? you say. Pretty boring stuff, how are you going to “sell” salt so that people actually want to buy?
1. Identify your brand: Let’s repackage your Uncle’s salt as boutique gourmet culinary salt. You do your research with different salt mines and interview cooks in your local city as to what “quality” means in the salt market. You then reach out to vendors and find the most top-notch cooking salt you can find.
2. Strategize: You and your uncle sit down to plan out your marketing strategy. You make a list of things to do in order to vamp up your brand: new packaging, start selling at upscale distributors and markets, offer to give local restaurants samples to try out, maybe reach out to a local news station and ask them to do a cooking segment where your Uncle’s salt is featured as an ingredient.
3. Implement: Follow the steps in your marketing strategy but make sure not to over reach your goals. Also make sure you establish goals and timelines to track your progress. As you hit “low-hanging-fruit” (setting up a stand at the local farmer’s market), aim for bigger marketing goals (getting a celebrity chef to test drive your salt and do a video interview that you can post up on your social media).
4. Reiterate: Marketing strategies change often and sometimes without notice. Your brand may actually change without your control or foresight and if it’s in a positive direction, think about incorporating the changes into your brand. For example, let’s say after months of marketing your gourmet salt, a local holistic practitioner realizes that the salt is great for soothing baths. This may be an added plus to your brand since you can now market your salt products for all types of uses, from cooking to healthcare.