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Brand is the network of relationships that surrounds a business or product, including all its touch points.

I once spent the better part of a year convincing the CEO of a marketing organization that brand was not a subset of marketing, but instead, the reverse. To my surprise, during that year, I noticed his perspective is fairly common, even among marketing folks.

To many people (especially direct marketers and finance folks), “brand” associates with really fluffy connotations. In reality, brand is much bigger than marketing. In fact, it’s bigger than the products brought to market and even bigger than the companies that make the products that go to market. Why? Because the brand includes not only the company and its products, but relationships among its people, all its functions, channels (distributors, etc.), customers and even – to a degree – its competitors. It encompasses values, purpose, beliefs, and ultimately, identity. Essentially, brand is about that precisely dicey issue of “what you stand for” and what that means to people in the context of their lives. Finance guys often get heartburn from brand discussions mostly because they can’t easily and accurately prove out ROI on brand investments. An operationalized approach to brand investments can quench the heartburn. This means placing strategic metrics among and between internal operations, customer touch point metrics, marketing results, and financial results.

The difference between Marketing and Brand

Click image for a larger view.

Marketing builds and measures transactions. Brand builds and measures relationships. Even though marketers refer to building relationships through marketing, the goal is transactions, so technically, there’s a little brand blended in with the marketing mentality.  Brand relationships continue after marketing has delivered products to customers. The goal of branding is to build relationships as a pipeline for transactions.

Where marketing is about all the intelligence and activities it takes to drive transactions, brand focuses on the underlying relationships and expectations among stakeholders around the transactions. When positive relationships exist and expectations are met, the stage is set for a continuous stream of transactions (i.e. successful sales and marketing campaigns).

This sets into motion a chain of operational implications, both internal and external. Brand-aligned organizations use this as an opportunity to examine the dynamic and causal relationships among employees, customers, and operations. Identifying cause-and-effect among these forces builds business value – the goals at the core of business operations. To do this successfully, an operationalized brand metrics program should first be in place (for more on this, contact Gropartners).

The truth is, most people feel more comfortable gaining a level of trust before they take the leap into a transaction. Until they experience a level of satisfaction or value as “compensation” for the currency they trade, customers experience anxiety and feel vulnerable. But they may not even take the leap until they feel they can trust the seller (kind of “chicken-or-egg” first). So whether an ad campaign puts a friendly face on the brand, a sampling campaign lets you “try before you buy,” or a recommendation from a trusted friend disarms you, some level of pre-transaction relationship is usually required to help minimize the feeling of risk and start the flow of transactions. This, and it’s post-transaction counterparts (“customer care,” etc.), wrap the transactions up in “relationship wrappers.”

Brands are relationships between people and products, services, or ideas, which are made of three fundamental elements: focus, distinction, and trust. The word “brand” should be distinguished from  ‘branding.” “Brand” focuses on the strategic dimensions of a relationship while “branding” refers to execution. “Branding” is a term that broadly defines the scope of activities that bring the brand to life for stakeholders –- creative application of brand values, identity and communications (logos, taglines, guidelines, messaging, etc.). These activities “voice” the brand to stakeholders. And while these are certainly essential elements of brand, they are usually products of creative execution under strategic direction.

So when you hear or use the phrase “brand marketing,” it generally relates to issues about customer relationships and delivering on the promise. In contrast,”product marketing,” issues are mainly about transactions and delivering the product. That’s how brand marketing and product marketing work hand-in-hand to build business value. And that’s why you find many high-profile CEOs personally driving brand conversations and initiatives. The big picture guys get it.

Your thoughts? Post them below!

### GF

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