Are you Branding or Positioning?

Two interesting observations I’ve found over the years during discussions with B2B companies about Branding and Positioning:

  1. There always seems to be some confusion about what constitutes Branding versus Positioning
  2. Too many seem to want to start with Branding or do a Branding exercise.
A Brand is a visual, emotional or cultural identity in the minds of your buyers. Branding is the promotion of this identity in the market to place the visual, emotional or cultural association of your brand in your target buyers’ minds. However, Branding actually comes from Positioning, which must be developed before you even consider doing Branding.

According to Al Ries and Jack Trout in their seminal book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, “Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind [and context] of the prospect.”

Both deal with placing something in your buyers’ minds. The key distinction is that Branding is an identity whereas Positioning is the promise of the value you create for your customers.

Here’s an often cited example to illustrate the difference – Volvo set out many years ago to build the safest vehicles on the road – that was an intentional position they wanted to claim in the automobile market. Volvo did not set out to brand the name, they focused on delivering on their positioning promise and proved it was real, not just some marketing eyewash. Today when someone mentions “safe vehicle” they think “Volvo”, or vice versa. The positioning, and delivering on the promise of value created the brand – not the other way round. That’s where the confusion arises, people look at companies like Volvo today and see a brand, but don’t realize how the brand identity actually evolved from the original positioning.

Branding takes many years, lots of money and consistent delivery on your positioning. When people think about great brands, it’s mostly consumer products like Coke, Nike, Starbucks, etc. I would argue that very few B2B companies qualify as great brands when you don’t confuse brute-force name recognition with branding.

“Nowadays, branding is often what you do when you cannot differentiate. So much of current marketing communications is shouting but with nothing special to say.” – Steve Johnson, Pragmatic Marketing

Most B2B marketers don’t have the resources, time or wherewithal to do a thorough job of branding. Successful B2B companies have great positioning and focus on delivering the promise of that positioning. Positioning is where you should start and spend your time as a successful B2B marketer. Branding will come from good positioning and delivering on your promise.

Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC.


Bev McDonald said...

This is a great article that makes it easy for someone to understand the differences. I plan to pass it around.

Craig Conrad said...

You're right on target. Can't create a brand until you've done the heavy lifting of estblishing the positioning.

Unknown said...

My friend Kristen Zhivago has a wonderful way of explaining this. "Branding is the promise you make; a brand is the promise you keep."

Make a great product and that'll create the brand that you need!