Marketing Vs Branding: 5 Ways Marketing & Branding Dance

We’re answering a marketing question a day on Quora. Today’s question points at two related ideas – Marketing and Branding. This post builds on our answer sharing 5 Ways Marketing and Branding Dance Together in a connected, social and collaborative time.

  • Marketing Listens over Time
  • Branding Evolves over Time
  • Alignment where US (marketers) and THEM (customers) become WE is the goal
  • The “Sweet Spot” of “perfect alignment” never lasts
  • Wobbles create separation & leave the “sweet spot” to rinse and repeat the marketing and branding dance

Marketing & Branding #1: Marketing Listens

Imagine a quiet pond on a sunny fall day. Above the pond fall colors, a growing chill and shortened days speak to winter’s arrival. Under the pond, a vast unseen network of life grows interacts and readies for winter. You select and cast a lure under a promising tree.

Marketing is knowing why the tree holds promise, selection of the lure, tying the knot and throwing your offering. Marketing is the listening and learning each action contains to inform “fishing,” the archive a fisherman accumulates over time as he or she learns to catch fish.

Some lures swim on the surface with no impact on life under the water. Some bait brings large fish up curious to know what is happening. A few casts and lures produce strikes, and a few attacks become landed fish.

When you catch a fish, you learn something about fish on this day. The length and value of what you’ve learned are tested by the next cast after your picture and returning your catch back to his friends. When you catch more fish faster you’ve found a pattern, a pattern that is working on this fall day and at this pond.

As time goes by the efficacy of your model may wobble or diminish. As the number of casts with the same lure increases and the number or size of fish go down, a pro fisherman knows the point of diminishing returns on their intricate pattern may be behind them. Some will continue to insist on their pattern’s efficacy long after the decline is evident.

Others will switch lures compulsively with little or no understanding of why or what they are doing. Fishing for this group is serendipitous and hit-or-miss. Knowing when to continue a pattern and when to search for a new pattern is the difference between great fishermen, the pros you see at a Bass Masters tournament, and everyone else.

Pros calculate weather, experience, current data such as where fish are holding (provided by a “fish finder” radar), and twenty or thirty other data points to create an offering (a lure). They evaluate the efficacy of the current offering calculating their cast to strikes and landed fish ratio.

When the ratio of fish caught to casts made is in their favor, they throw with confidence. Questioning assumptions never end. Assumptions made five minutes ago can be changed by weather, data from the radar or reactions.

Bass Masters don’t question for long, but they test, re-test and test again until a pattern is found and until a strong pattern reaches a point of diminishing return. If marketers are fisherman and fish customers, then the experience of fishing is branding.

Branding and Marketing diagram image

Marketing & Branding #2: Branding Is The Experience

Branding is the collaborative dance between fishermen and fish, brands and customers. Think of “branding” as the experience of fishing. As you fish, you begin to understand what fish need and want on this day at this time.

Fish react based on instinct and today’s needs. If a storm on the way fish may frenzy feed before the now clear water becomes muddy. Customers may hear a recommendation for your brand from a trusted source, Oprah says, and “frenzy feed” too.

When your marketing tunes your brands to be aligned with customer expectations, beliefs and “pain points” an Oprah frenzy is possible. When your marketing and brand is confused or dissonant with supporters and clients connection and conversion is unlikely.

Brands evolve over time. Sometimes “your brand” is more known and understand by “them” (your customers). Other times your brand is rejected by customers, think BP after the spill, in large numbers all at once. Marketing’s goal is to create alignment. Branding is a journey from the US (marketers) and THEM (customers) to We.

Brand Path over Time image

Marketing & Branding #3: Us & THEM Become WE

Marketers like to talk. Talking used to be how marketers made money. Watch Mad Men for hyperbolic demonstrations of the P. T. Barnum, “Sucker born every minute” marketing used to dominate popular culture and shape consumption. Good luck with that business model today.

Today’s mobile, global and connected world seeks collaboration and affirmation. Brands need to listen more than they talk, take real actions based on what they learn and be present on and full-fledged community members of at least three social networks.

Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus are today’s conversational hubs – where US and THEM begin to become WE. Finding ways to make your website more social, accepting and collaborative is one of the most significant marketing challenges.

Ways Your Website Can Be More Social & Collaborative

  • Ask for and value comments
  • Include social shares widgets
  • Feature User Generated Content and your customers regularly
  • Gamify so rewards and examples are recognized in public
  • Ask for Help and be vulnerable enough to accept it

“I have reviews, and no one is giving us a review,” a friend stated after several months of what they considered sub-par community reaction. When I asked how they asked for help, “We put up the review form,” came the answer.

When asked how they valued reviews I was met with a blank stare.

  • If you don’t thank, use and share reviews, you won’t earn reviews
  • If you don’t create a game where reviewers can learn from each other you won’t earn reviews
  • If you don’t hold up examples of great reviews and the brand “Ambassadors” who wrote them you won’t receive reviews

Trust builds over time. Getting to a give and take relationship may mean you GIVE and GIVE some more. Giving is “fishing”, and you need to be sensitive to reactions each “gift” or marketing campaign create. When conversions such as subscriptions or purchases go UP do more of that. When heuristic measures such as time on site, pages viewed, likes, links and shares go down do less of that.

Don’t become a marketing zombie only looking for leadership from your community, but align your leadership and language with customers to move from US and THEM toward WE.

Branding sweet spot image

Marketing and Branding #4: The Sweet Spot

Even the most trusted brands are subject to entropy or the slow decay of their brand’s power and alignment with customers. HP, Blackberry and Yahoo were powerful brands, brands aligned with customers.

Over time alignment slipped and once-powerful brands became beggars and zombies. No brand stays in “the sweet spot” of alignment forever or for long. Even beloved brands such as Apple have wobbles. Wobbles can become dissonance, confusion and separation between brand ideals and customer aspirations.

Wobbles often begin where strength once lived. In Apple’s case overly strict standards with somewhat random enforcement have put open source Android and Samsung in business. CLOSED and EXCLUSIVE doesn’t work as well as OPEN and INCLUSIVE these days, so Apple’s wobble may already exist and, is so often the case, Apple’s wobble comes from a previously perceived strength – Steve Jobs’ closed systems.

Apple doesn’t listen well. Apple likes to talk. I love and use Apple products, but we don’t passively consume anything anymore. Even when watching TV we have second screens (laptops and phones) running with commentary and searches.

Apple’s app network is “listening”, but the barrier is high and the amount of NOISE in the channel, there are over 1 million apps now, is reducing what little efficacy and “listening” was possible. Even the all-powerful Apple has a wobble, so to┬ámost brands because no brand stays in the “sweet spot” forever:

Branding and Marketing diagram image

Marketing & Branding #5: Rinse and Repeat with Marketing

Once your lure pattern stops working what should you do? Depends. If it is late and you’ve had enough you may decide to stop fishing. If it is early and you haven’t had the level of expected success you tie on a new lure and begin testing for a new pattern.

When wobbles knock brands out of alignment marketing is a way to bring back the “sweet spot”. Marketing is testing your “lures” to find a repeatable pattern. Even when you find a “repeatable pattern” repetition may only be for a few minutes, hours or days. Testing is what tells your web marketing it is time to move on or stay for another try.

Everything you do as a web marketer is a test. When you add new content, change colors or share a new idea you are testing to see if alignment gets better or worse. There is no “neutral” online. Every day your brand and marketing either moves customers closer or pushes them away.

Closer is better, so learn what YOU do that wins hearts, minds and loyalty. Do more of that, those things that create alignment and win hearts, minds and loyalty online, is our best advice.