What does “brand” really mean and what is the difference between brand strategy, marketing strategy and comms strategy

Even the most seasoned marketers sometimes get brand terminology wrong. On the one hand, some terms are incorrectly used interchangeably (e.g., brand strategy and communications strategy), on the other hand, some concepts are being unnecessarily differentiated (e.g., brand strategy and brand positioning).

In today’s post we make an attempt to clarify the most essential brand strategy-related definitions and explain the difference between the most commonly confused terms.

Brand vs. logo

Probably the most common misconception, in particular among people that are not brand or marketing professionals, is that brand is the same thing as logo (or visual identity in general). Even Investopedia defines brand in such a narrow way.

This is particularly dangerous (and not particularly uncommon) when senior management in an organization has such an understanding of their brand. This could lead to a number of bad business decisions being made, like assigning inadequately low budgets to brand building or relying only on the marketing team to drive the brand’s performance.

Our favourite definition of a brand is that coined by Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
The reason why this explanation is so accurate is twofold.

Firstly, it assumes that brand is created by the entire experience your company delivers – from big things like your products, people, processes, your company’s values, pricing policy, visual identity, and tone of voice, to smaller details like your leaflets or how you answer the phone.

Secondly, it highlights the fact that what ultimately matters is what other people (your consumers, shareholders, employees etc.) think about your company and your products, not what you say.

In other words, whatever you do as an organization, you are building a brand. Every single activity contributes to your brand’s equity and influences the opinion people have about your business.

Brand strategy vs. comms strategy vs. marketing strategy

In the simplest terms, brand strategy summarizes what your brand stands for.

Brand strategy can be captured using one of the popular positioning models (we wrote about them here), explained in a form of brand guidelines or simply described in just a few words. The form doesn’t matter as long as the content is understandable to all employees and easily applicable.

Who you are as a business and how you position your product is a high-level strategic decision. Therefore, at the most brand-centric companies, brand strategy constitutes part of the business strategy. What that means in practice is that brand strategy is being brought to life via all functions in the organization, including product, marketing, legal, technology, HR and others. However, even though implementation of the brand strategy should be a company-wide effort, most frequently it’s the marketing department that is responsible for defining and executing it. As a result, marketing and brand strategies often get confused.

While the brand strategy should be a starting point for any marketing strategy, the scope of the marketing strategy is much wider. Marketing strategy focuses on how brand can be brought to life via product, price, communication and distribution (4P) in such a way that it will directly or indirectly generate revenue for the company. For different types of organizations marketing strategy means something different, but a commercial aspect of it is absolutely key. A marketing strategy which doesn’t help the company’s top line should always be questioned.

Communications strategy constitutes part of the marketing strategy. It defines the key messages of the brand, key audiences (e.g., end users, influencers, consumer press journalists, etc.) and key communications tools and channels. Surprisingly, in many companies comms and marketing departments are two separate entities, which often leads to working in silos and consequently, brand inconsistencies.

Ideally, the brand strategy should stay the same for years (e.g., Nike’s and Coca-Cola’s brand strategies have been the same for decades), while the comms strategy might change more frequently as the market evolves.

Let’s use Evian as an example to clarify the difference between brand, marketing and communications strategies.

Evian’s brand strategy positions Evian water as a source of youth.

Its marketing strategy (for a particular period) focuses on widening the brand’s target audience and exciting younger generations about the brand via a number of activities, including comms.

Its communications strategy is based on the main message “Live young”, which in the past was mostly executed through TV advertising and more recently via more contemporary channels such as Snapchat or Instagram.

Brand strategy vs. brand positioning

These are the same concepts. However, some people use the term positioning, when describing the brand’s “position” in relation to its competitors. For example, if Coca-Cola is a timeless brand standing at the emotional level for optimism and happiness, Pepsi is into the here and now, focusing on younger people and promises of fun. 

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