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Brand Education: What To Learn First


Brand Education Brand Seminars Brand Management

Today on Branding Strategy Insider, another question from the BSI Emailbag. Gabriella, an instructor of marketing and branding in New York, New York writes: 

“I am an instructor of marketing and branding at the Art Institute of New York City. We are revising our curriculum for our fashion merchandising department courses. We are considering some of our students’ comments that they’ d like to take the branding course first before the marketing course. Some instructors like myself feel that learning marketing comes first, then they can study branding, PR, etc. Other instructors seem to think that that is the traditional approach and that today, branding has become its own entity, and functions separately from marketing. Perhaps they are confusing corporate branding with product branding that can go on at the same time? Would you kindly clarify so we can better tweak our curriculum if necessary.”

Gabriella, that is a very interesting question. Historically, brand management was taught as one element of marketing. I have told people that if marketing and brand management were two sets, they would largely overlap but each would include some things that were not in the other’s set. As one who sees things through a brand management lens, I like to look at marketing as just one piece (a very important one, albeit) of brand management versus the other way around. In brand management, one starts with customer and competitive research to not only understand customer wants and needs, but more importantly to understand customer values and customer emotional responses to various value propositions.

This is done in the context of competitive offerings. From that information, one positions the brand, creating its essence, promise (unique value proposition), archetype and personality. This then leads to the creation of the brand’s identity (name, logo, tagline, type fonts, colors and other identity elements) and its marketing messages and campaigns. It also leads to the brand’s “elevator speech,” which is embraced and internalized by its employees. And, it can lead to customer touch point design, including product design. The brand positioning may also dictate, or at least imply, a pricing strategy and a distribution strategy. So, mostly everything can be driven off of the brand concept and positioning. By the way, the most successful contemporary brands tend to stand for something important to their target customers, making them admirable to those customers, who then want to use or wear those brands as badges to express who they are and what they believe in (or who they would like to be perceived as being). So, allot of this involves consumer psychology and deep customer insight and the marketing research necessary to gain that insight.

So I tend to think about brand strategy as the high level marketing strategy that drives everything else in marketing, but again, I have lived and breathed branding for the past 27 years so this would be my bias. Certainly, marketing components and tactics still need to be taught, everything from product design, package design, pricing, distribution, advertising campaign development, media planning, sales promotion, direct marketing and social network marketing to public relations, trade marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), marketing research, retail merchandising, guerilla marketing, publicity stunts, loyalty programs, website design, search engine optimization (SEO), marketing plan development and more. These are the nuts & bolts of marketing as I see it, or to use another handyman analogy, the set of tools one needs to be considered a true marketer.

So teaching marketing and brand management are both very important. I view one (brand management) as more strategic and the other (marketing) as more tactical, but others might disagree with me. So, does one teach the “nuts & bolts” first or the big picture design first? I could make an argument either way, however my gut tells me that students will become more energized when they understand the branding concept first. However, they then need to learn the “nuts & bolts” of how to actually execute marketing in support of the brand’s promise. As someone once said, “the devil is in the details.” If they don’t understand marketing mechanics, they will never become exceptional brand strategists.

Thanks for your question Gabriella.

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Jan Bond on May 18th, 2012 said

You have touched on a very interesting topic here. I understand your point of view completely, especially as you admittedly view things through a “branding lens.” When you refer to marketing, it seems you are writing about “marketing communications” which, as you know is just one arm of marketing. There is, in my opinion a great deal that goes into an offering before the brand is developed. If you think of a company that wants to develop a new product for instance. An analysis of the market, the potential customer, competition, etc. needs to be assessed to determine if, where and how the product will present itself. The product may even be tweaked to adapt to where the firm believes it will perform best. Somewhere in that process a brand will emerge but marketing is so much more than “branding.”
Of course, as I said in the opening, this is a very interesting topic and I welcome debate! Thank you.

Brad VanAuken on May 18th, 2012 said

Jan, I think this is a very interesting question. I first learned much of what I know about branding through new product development. I did a fairly long career stint in that area. We usually started by creating concept statements and testing them against a national normative database for consumer need, marketplace gap, etc. Eventually, we conducted focus groups, refined the concept, tested it again, built a prototype, developed the business plan (including the marketing plan) for the product, test marketed it, and if it was able to leap all of those hurdles, launched it. My point is that positioning a new product is almost identical to positioning a new brand (or repositioning an existing one). And many, but not all, of the same decisions need to be made for each. A complicating factor is whether one is operating in a “house of brands” or a “branded house.” Marketing takes on different roles vis-à-vis branding depending on whether one is talking about an organizational brand or a product brand.

Gabriella Pannunzio on May 21st, 2012 said

Brad, Our fashion department Chair liked your suggestion and will now have Branding taught before Marketing in our curriculum.

Thank you so much for all your help! We really appreciate it!


Gabriella Pannunzio

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