Branding was the top objective of 42 percent of digital ad spending in 2015, according to eMarketer. This reflected an increase from 40.9 percent the previous year, showing the increasing emphasis marketing agencies are putting on branding.
So what is branding? What role does it play in marketing, and how does it relate to positioning? Many marketers tend to use these terms interchangeably, and there is indeed a great deal of overlap, but there are also some important, subtle distinctions. Understanding these distinctions can help clarify your marketing, branding, and positioning efforts to better achieve your campaign’s sales goals.
Marketing is the broadest of the three terms. It covers a full range of activities for communicating the value of a brand, product or service to a target audience. These activities include market research, development of sales themes, optimization of distribution channels, pricing, promotion, and sales.
The foundation of effective marketing is using market research to listen to your target audience and identify who they are and what they need. For instance, after Old Navy president Tom Wyatt used market research to redefine the chain’s ideal customer as busy, working mothers aged 25 to 35 who earn $50,000, Old Navy applied this new marketing emphasis to redesign its selection, promotional campaigns, and store designs to rejuvenate sales.
Another key to effective marketing is promotion. Disney’s Lucas film branch is currently running one of the biggest promotional pushes in film history for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Variety reports that Disney’s campaign is receiving promotional support from seven high-profile brands: Covergirl & Max Factor, Duracell, FCA US, General Mills, HP, Subway and Verizon. These partners have developed customized campaigns to promote the new film and associated merchandise to engage their target audiences.
Branding is the aspect of marketing that focuses on identifying and influencing how a brand’s identity is perceived by a target market. The term “branding” stems from the traditional practice of identifying a company’s product by using a logo or slogan.
A good example of this is Nike‘s use of its trademark swoosh. Nike’s logo symbolizes its branding mission to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. This mission is emphasized directly or implicitly on the company’s website and in all of its ads and marketing campaigns.
Branding seeks to communicate what is distinctive about a brand and the value it delivers to its customers. Starbucks built its brand by emphasizing what company founder Howard Schultz described as the Starbucks “experience.” This is associated with the sights, sounds, smell and taste of the coffee chain’s distinctive atmosphere. When customers step into a Starbucks, they know what to expect from their brand.
Positioning is another aspect of marketing that relates closely to branding, but it focuses more on how a brand stands in relation to other competitors in the same market space. For instance, Apple Rubber distinguishes itself in the o-ring industry by doing more than its competitors. The company delivers custom designs to meet a wide variety of needs from general purposes to specialized areas, such as engineering, housing seals and medical seals.
Walmart is another good example. It built its brand by focusing on low pricing, in contrast to brands that emphasize the shopping experience or club affiliation. Overall, positioning lets your customers know why they should buy from you instead of someone else.