Products and brands share common ground, but distinguishing these two vital areas of marketing will improve your business. Mostly, products are a tangible deliverable because they have physical and functional features, whereas brands represent the identity of the company based on imagery and emotional perceptions.
It cannot be apparent because popular products such as Coca-Cola can become brands and have their names associated with generic products within their markets. However, once you understand that companies make products and consumers make and buy brands, you will discover the key to successful and profitable sales.
Some less experienced businesses make the mistake of prioritizing products at the expense of branding, which I understand as the integrated process of creation, development, communication, sales, and after-sales of goods or services. It’s understandable enough since products form a tangible, easily identifiable function to fulfill a customer’s needs.
If the product is reliable, unique, and has instantly recognizable and valuable features, it can become synonymous within its category of business. Jacuzzi, Band-Aid, and Xerox have all befallen this fate, which has positive and negative effects. An advantage of having an instantly recognizable product is that your company becomes the market leader and the first name that pops into people’s minds before shopping. The downside is that customers can buy an inferior product and mistakenly label it as yours.
Once a company’s name becomes generic in everyday use, a previously unique and valuable trademark may be undermined by the full benefits of copyright infringement laws, as it is costly and challenging to combat imitations. Considering also the growing practice of worldwide counterfeiting continued product innovation and smart communication turn out to be the keys to highlighting your brand as positively different from all other similar products available in terms of value, design, quality, and excellent service.
Brand managers need to convince themselves and their peers to focus less on product features and more on emotional benefits to the consumer. Brands are established when they can create a base of customer-valued perceptions and manage those perceptions to foster a greater emotional connection with products. Product features should be reported as easily identifiable benefits. Still, brand images formed in the minds of audiences end up being more reliable and more recognizable than an objective list of features and functions.
Shifting the focus from product to customer connects audiences to brands in a more meaningful, lasting, and economically sustainable way. What kind of person uses your brand? What can she offer that the others still do not do? Brands are underpinned by personal identity.
If there is a way to engage your consumers by identifying their beliefs and aspirations and reflecting those values from your business identity, you will have a significant advantage over your competitors. Products with low emotional involvement are more comfortable to replace, so your brand is worth distinguishing. Products can be copied, but brands already perceived due to their uniqueness are more challenging to supersede.
Admittedly, there is no room for everyone to be the first brand in all business segments. This aspiration often leads many quality organizations to make significant investments that later proved disproportionate. Due to the profusion of brands in all categories, the key today is not to have the first position, but to fight for the second or third position, while learning in practice how to exploit and deal with the ever-changing consumer behavior changes in times of word-of-mouth communication of social networks.
Brands are built on trust and take longer to build followers than products. It takes time to make an audience believe in your brand, but it’s an effort that will be well rewarded. Products tend to offer instant gratification because they meet an immediate need or fulfill a specific function. Still, brand recognition does more than that by establishing a relationship and favoring repeat purchases.
A brand is built on the accumulation of hundreds if not thousands of years of personal and third-party experiences – sometimes from childhood. Coke is not just sugar-flavored black water; It’s the red logo that millions of people see in a kiosk fridge on a hot day. It’s a reminder of children’s birthday parties and a cute polar bear announcement that you associate with Christmas and the good times of innocent sins. It’s hard to fight it if you’re in this market and can’t develop superior positioning for your product and services.
A combination of product attributes defines the intangibility of the brand, such as packaging, history, price, quality, communication, and reputation. If ignored, these factors can affect brand image and brand value. Similarly, focusing on one element over the others can cause irreparable damage to the brand.
Pricing is important, but it should not be the emphasis of the brand because poorly communicated discounts and concessions can have adverse effects and damage brand reputation in the long term. The important thing is to create a sense of brand loyalty with truth-based communication, so you don’t have to change the product marketing formula too much.
In conclusion, products are different from brands in one essential way: products fulfill a consumer need while brands, on the other hand, satisfy an aspiration. Consumers may need to buy a new mobile. Still, since the functional features involved are almost equal among many different suppliers available, the seller will need to go beyond the consumer’s face to make the sale. The chosen one will be the name, which was previously efficient in communicating a message of high emotional impact on consumer’s minds, such as social prestige, youth, design, and so on.
Consumers’ relationships with their favorite brands form an alliance that is hard for newcomers to break. Thus, the recommended strategy of establishing a well-planned positioning based on innovative products and services turns out to be the best way to gain the pole position by forming consumer bases that believed in the advantages and the real benefits of new offerings.
©2020 Roberto Martins, author of The Journey of Branding – Align With the Best Global Brands