The terms brand and branding get thrown around on a daily basis in conference rooms throughout corporate America. “Brand” is sometimes too narrowly defined as little more than the logo (it’s a lot more than the logo). Branding is frequently seen as designing that logo and maybe throwing in a tagline. And while both those definitions are the start of understanding the two terms, they are just that—the beginning.
To understand brand and branding by way of analogy, think of an old-fashioned, four-masted sailing ship. A vessel like this has dozens of sails, thousands of ropes, a crew of 25 or more. As they head out on a voyage, they will typically have a clear destination in mind, a general timeframe they would like to complete it in, and a definite sense of why they want to get there. In this analogy, the ship is the brand and sailing of the ship is the branding. If the captain of the ship and his leadership team have prepared the ship well and plotted a clear course for the voyage, the brand is in excellent shape to set sail.
Now comes the branding. Sailing a ship this big in even normal weather can be challenging. The numerous sails have to be set properly for the current wind conditions, sailors have to execute the commands of their superiors precisely, all manner of ropes require constant attention and adjustments. If the crew is lax, or a few members think they have a better way to set the sails, the sailing of the ship will begin to falter. The ship can go off course and waste valuable time trying to make it to its destination.
So the ship is the brand—it’s well defined, it doesn’t change, and it’s intended to get you and your crew to your goal. The sailing of ship is the branding—it’s everything it takes to keep that ship moving quickly and safely on its journey. It demands highly coordinated continuous action, or it (and your team) may fail to achieve your goals.
A textbook example of brand versus branding is provided by GEICO insurance, whose steady growth is driven by its multifaceted advertising campaigns. The GEICO brand position is clear: Easy. They recognize that most people don’t like dealing with insurance and want to pay a reasonable price for their coverage. But, the key is, most of us will avoid reviewing our policies or shopping for rates because we see it as complicated and time-consuming. So GEICO built its brand around being easy. “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance.” If you don’t know that line, you are a cultural anomaly in this country (and probably well-read). GEICO has taken its very simple brand that hasn’t changed in a decade and puts about $800 million a year in branding behind it.
And, while it may seem like running multiple campaigns at once featuring their gecko mascot, cavemen, a bundle of cash with eyes, faux trivia, or goofy analogies to happy customers hilariously evoked by a camel on Wednesdays, GEICO’s ship is sailing very efficiently in one direction. It’s about being easy. Their brand and their branding are in harmony.
What GEICO also shows, is that the branding part can be creative, it can evolve, it can appear in many forms. But it consistently drives home the same message about the core brand.
Now, what if your journey as a brand isn’t going so well? Here is where the distinction between brand and branding can be critical. If your company and its brand aren’t achieving the results you would like, it can be very helpful to analyze it via brand versus branding. Is the brand concept a sound one, or does it need to be rethought? Does your audience still respond to the basic premise? If you’re fairly sure the brand is sound, take a hard look at the branding. Is everything you are doing—not just your advertising, but everything, including customer service, website, employee communications and company culture—on track with your brand? Or are they sailing in different directions, knowingly or not?
Sailing a ship requires a combination of many factors to be successful. So does sailing your company. But taking the time to ask these questions about your brand and your branding can result in much smoother trip. Brand voyage!
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.