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Brad VanAuken Brand Strategy

Marketing Communication Is Not Brand Strategy

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Brand Strategy Brand Positioning Consumer Mind

I have found that a common error advertising agencies commit is equating brand strategy with brand messaging and marketing communication. While brand messaging is an important part of brand strategy, it misses many other potential components of brand strategy. Think of the types of decisions FMCG brand managers need to make – product, product range, bundling/unbundling, packaging, pricing, sourcing, distribution, trade agreements and communication decisions…to name a few. If the brand exists at an organizational level, add to that business and business model strategy (including business philosophy, vertical and horizontal integration, business portfolio, erecting barriers to entry, amount of investment in R&D and innovation, etc.).

Remember, brands are whatever people think they are. Put another way, companies can try to position brands but ultimately brand positioning occurs in customers’ minds. And these positions are the result of ALL of the experiences that customers have with the brands – those that occur from messaging as well as those that occur from the product itself, the environments in which the product is sold, how the organization stands behind its products, etc.

So, when positioning the brand, brand owners must think much more broadly than “What should we say about our brand?” One must think about “What are all the things that we should do so that our target customers prefer and are loyal to our brand?” This requires experience and thinking that is broader than creativity in images and words. It requires a systemic understanding of what contributes to a brand’s perceptions and at least an adequate knowledge of marketing and business strategy.

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5 Comments

Peter Thomson on February 21st, 2012 said

Fair point that brand strategy rightly includes all of the factors that could impact on a perception (and thus the brand). But you’re wrong that advertising agencies miss this point.

It’s simply that ad agency brand strategists and planners are attacking the problem from the easiest starting point… marketing. They know as well as anyone else that the brand strategy needs a holistic organisational grounding.

Regine Wilber on February 21st, 2012 said

I guess part of the problem is that companies will happily spend money on an advertising and communication strategy yet hesitate to commission the above mentioned deeper analysis and understanding of their brand – especially in the SME sector where many won’t have a brand manager as such.

Perhaps part of the reason is that at the end of the day, an advertising agency will provide tangible results whether or not they take an in-depth brand strategy into consideration and there is a lack of awareness on the client’s side concerning the ability of a brand strategy to enhance and add value to all aspects of advertising and communication.

I agree that the advertising planners are probably well aware of the difference – but are their clients?

Brad VanAuken on February 21st, 2012 said

Interestingly, I just finished facilitating an educational workshop on brand management for Malaysian business executives. Two different companies were trying to solve product problems with brand repositioning. Brand management includes marketing but is much more than that and marketing includes brand management but is much more than that. The trick is to get companies to address the real issues rather than reflexively turning to their ad agencies for new logos, taglines or marketing campaigns. And, I am flattered that more and more organizations turn to brand management to solve a host of problems; however product, organization design or internal systems problems cannot be solved via brand identity or messaging. They need to be solved at a deeper level.

@Kaleb_Francis on February 21st, 2012 said

“What are all the things that we should do so that our target customers prefer and are loyal to our brand?”

When I try to think like the consumer I build a customer journey map, often I’ll find the pain-points that will point me in the direction to help place the brand above the competitors.

Obviously there are many other insights but being able to make the consumers life better is a major puzzle to solve.

Why is it that marketers are so willing to spend hundreds of thousands on an above the line campaign that has a short life cycle where as they baulk at the cost of brand strategy?

Jussi P on February 23rd, 2012 said

Exactly. Couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately the narrow perspective on marketing and brand management doesn’t limit itself to many advertising agencies (thankfully I also know a few agencies, who also see brand strategy or marketing strategy in their broader context). The same perspective is is apparent in many companies up to the CEO level. Especially if discussed outside of the consumer goods industry.

I always try to emphasize that marketing and marketing is thinking about how to sell more and then doing it: link to theoutsideviewblog.com. Just to keep it simple enough. To me brand management goes to the same domain, as the only reason for a brand to exist is to further the cause of the company (profit) or organization (other gains).

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