Over the years, I’ve consistently been asked this question by most entry level marketers, entrepreneurs, startups, small and mid size business owners, product managers or even advertising trainees for years. And, I’m still being asked this question!
So, I thought I should write an article to layout how I have defined the differences in a short, simple and concise manner.
While there are many similarities between a product and a brand. However, when you dig a little deeper, there actually are significant differences. But, if you had to use just one word to differentiate the two – I think it’s best to use ‘emotion’.
Simply put, Products perform a function AND, Brands offer an emotion.
So, while you may need a product, you will want a brand.
Having thought about this often for decades, I have found the best – and easiest way to ‘crystalize’ the differences, is to respond by referring to one or all the following points:
- A product is something that is made in a factory; a brand is something bought by the consumer. A product can be copied by a competitor; a brand is unique. A product can be quickly outdated; a successful brand is timeless.
- A product is made by a company and can be purchased by a consumer in exchange for money while brands are built through consumer perceptions, expectations, and experiences with all products or services under a brand For example, Toyota’s product is cars. But the brand perception is “Oh, what a feeling!”
- In simple terms, there is a difference between company and brand. Company refers to the organization that markets or produces products or services; brand refers to the image and “personality” a company applies to its products. In reality, the two can overlap.
- A strong brand protects a company’s share price, it helps sustain higher margins and helps build customer loyalty.
Competitive advantage – if a brand is the market leader or has built a high level of trust, it is likely to be the brand of choice. After all, no one will get fired for buying Microsoft software or Apple computers today.
- Brands protect against competitors and creates barriers to entry (i.e. tactical promotions, own label, etc.)
- Brands help insure ideas are not “hijacked” by some irrelevant and incongruent piece of promotional work, packaging, etc.
There are fewer mistakes and misinterpretations in the development and assessment of the creative produced:
- Brands make choice easier
- Share price tends to be more stable
- You can leverage off the brand equity into other continents to achieve greater profitability. Just look at the P & L reports for organizations like: Apple, Unilever, Nestle, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Amazon, etc.
- Typically, brands deliver higher margins, allow greater product development, which in turn leads to leadership
- Consumers are willing to pay more for brands
- Brands create economies of scale because they communicate a unique set of values (i.e. trust, innovation, competitive) more quickly and less expensively than brands less strategically planned and developed.
- Importantly, a brand is the strongest asset a company can own
But why do so many people and companies confuse Brands with Products?
Part of the problem is that senior executives at both the Advertising Agency and the clients’ offices quite often use the two words interchangeably (and incorrectly) when trying to articulate product dimensions. Brands and products have numerous differences, but both are equally as important. So, here’s a straightforward way to understand the differences
- An object and tangible. (You can taste it, you can smell it, etc.).
- Made in a factory
- Can be copied by competitors
- Can become outdated, superseded and irrelevant
- Has a physical attribute: model, feature, price, style, size, etc.
- A product is at the heart of every brand BUT having size, features, etc. is not sufficient to make it become a brand.
Brands on the other hand:
- Exist in consumer’s hearts and minds and are defined by them
- Are unique, proprietary and differentiate
- Transcends the rational and moves into the emotional sphere
- Are bought
- Are timeless and enduring
- Brands save the consumer time
- Brands are easier for the consumer to process mentally
- Trigger memories and associations
- Generally become part of the date to day vernacular
- Brands can hold a position of power as long as they are properly managed
Importantly, Brands allow customers to feel Trust, Confidence and bring to mind the words, colors and associations that the Brand meets. Brands are unambiguous and trigger stored attitudes and stimuli attached to ever past contact.
Within every Brand, there is a product, but not every product is a brand.
Some examples are:
- A product is a cigarette BUT a brand is Marlboro.
- A product is a sports car BUT a brand is Porsche
- A product is blue jeans BUT a brand is Levi’s
- A product is a soft drink BUT a brand is Coca-Cola
- A product is an antiglare sunglass BUT a brand is RayBans
- A product is a coffee drink BUT a brand is Starbucks
Advertisers weren’t buying Game of Thrones or Roseanne for how many people were watching it, advertisers bought it to be associated with its ‘attitude’.
Additionally, I’ll convey points like this to demonstrate the differences:
- Brands improve customer forgiveness and tolerance.
- Stronger basis for line extensions i.e. Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Classic, Zero, Life, etc.
AN INTERESTING HIGHLIGHT: COCA-COLA UNDERESTIMATED THE STRENGTH OF THEIR BRAND
In 1985, Coca-Cola launched a new flavored Coke in the US, after conducting concept testing to 2,000 “blind” taste tests in 10 major American markets PLUS product testing about 200,000 consumers in a dozen cities, they quickly learned that despite 55% of the participants preferring the “New Coke” in research – when launching the “New Coke” – they were “unceremoniously” dumped by their customers as selling out the brand.
So, despite over two years of extensive testing and finding a new formula that outperformed the original formula and Pepsi convincingly in “blind” taste tests, Coca-Cola executives weren’t prepared for the emotional bonds that they had been building for generations. Massive protests spread across the US and the press condemned the product launch as “the marketing blunder of the century”.
In retrospect, the researched conducted was flawed because they did not factor into the research anything about the emotional and “heart felt” bond, that Americans had with the brand. After all, Americans have grown up going to the Baseball and grabbing a hot dog and Coke, Coke has been highly involved with sports sponsorships, etc.
Coke executives promptly reintroduced their original formula and called it “Coke Classic”, while retaining the “New Coke” as a line extension. To Coke’s delight, by 1988 Coke Classic was outselling New Coke by approximately seven to one. Additionally, their market share against Pepsi had also risen as well.
Lesson learned by Coca-Cola:
- Consumers build deep and meaningful emotional bonds with brands. Bonds that must not be disregarded.
- Concept testing and product testing must be pushed, probed and debated extensively before dramatically “overhauling” a brand.
- A brand cannot ever be a substitute for another brand. One brand = one set of brand values and experiences.
- It is vital that all aspects of the Coca-Cola brand reflect the brand values of confidence, coolness and aspiration.
TYPES OF TANGIBLE ELEMENTS THAT BUILD THE DNA OF A INTERNET & DIGITAL BRAND TODAY
- Point of Sale
- After Sale Service
- Direct Mail
- Inbound and Outbound telemarketing
- Staff Uniforms
- Delivery van livery
- Letterhead and stationary
- Brand lore
- Signs or symbols
- Product elements
- Office design
- Sales Literature
- Interface design of web site
- E-commerce facilities used on web site
- Complaint handling/Customer care
For example, “Nike is about understanding the roots within their souls that give people the energy and fire and the appreciation for competition and sport… the passion… its like a cult, but a good one.”
~ Phil Knight
Factories do not make profits, relationships with customers make profits. Brand names, and their images, strengthen these relationships. They also enhance authenticity and are timeless too!
Bottom-line, I think this is a concise way to view there two words/concepts: Products equal functions. Brands equal emotions.
Hopefully you can now see that products are basically at parity to each other, they fulfill the same needs. Brands are what differentiate ‘a product’ because of how they uniquely make people feel.
Products can be copied or replicated easily BUT Brands are unique!
And, factories do not make profits, relationships with customers make profits. Brand names images strengthen these relationships.
In conclusion, I certainly hope you better understand the differences between a brand and a product now. Stay tuned for my upcoming articles.
To your continued success.
About Geoff De Weaver:
Super strategist who directs Fortune 500 clients to define their vision, create a strategy, and harness their internal innovation to grow their business or reinvent their products. Expert at building and transforming brands, businesses, and digital and physical customer experiences at scale.
History of success developing and executing cross-channel global marketing campaigns to drive brand positioning, equity, and awareness while increasing engagement and sales.
Innovative entrepreneur, author, speaker, and advertising executive with vast expertise driving business growth, reinventing brands, and implementing global marketing campaigns.
I get results! Visit me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/geoffdeweaver/