Which comes first – the marketing or the brand?

Every now and then I see a little spat on LinkedIn with marketing and branding people declaring why their job is the more important. Every time I see those kind of articles my heart sinks a little, as it seems to me that by pitting marketing Vs branding it somehow denigrates the importance of both. Instead I firmly believe they are both vital and when things work well should be totally integrated. They are two sides of the same coin: without good branding a marketing plan won’t be as effective and without a marketing plan, however great the brand is no-one is going to hear about it.

So which comes first?

I’m going to declare self interest here – I’m a marketeer and I see branding as part of the marketing mix. When I work with a client I look at what they need to do to grow their business as a whole and whether a new brand should be part of this – or if not I’ll build a strategy and plan around the current brand.

The first step I will take after the briefing is to research the category and brand (usually including primary research among the brand’s current customers if they are not new to market), and this helps me to agree a target audience, positioning and messaging for the brand with the client. The positioning is a statement of what the brand stands for and how it benefits its’ customers, and is used to brief other people working on the brand from designers to web developers to SEO companies. At this stage if a new brand is required I will agree a brief with the client and bring a specialist branding agency in, or talk to the client’s incumbent agency if they have one.

If I am bringing an agency in, my first choice is to work with the brilliant ‘The Flint’ as they are happy to work with this process and indeed I have been asked to conduct this vital research phase with a number of their clients.

However I am not naïve enough to think that the process has to work this way every time. Some branding agencies will offer customer and category research as part of their offering, and as long as they are helping their clients to understand who their target customer should be and what the brand needs to represent to them then I can see that this is a process that can work too. Personally if I am going to be working with a client ongoing I do prefer to conduct this research stage myself, as I will be building a marketing strategy and plan based on this knowledge. If I’ve not done the work myself I would worry that perhaps I didn’t understand the nuances of the market & customer feedback. Or maybe that just means I’m a control freak!

Questions to ask if you are briefing a new brand

If you are briefing an agency on a new brand, it is worth asking them the following:

  1. What research do you do into the category before starting the branding process? You want to see evidence that they will look at the market as a whole and other brands within the category to be sure you will stand out.
  2. What customer research do you do? If the answer to this is none, this probably means they are relying on you for customer insight. Ask yourself the question whether you really have this knowledge or are you making assumptions? The amount of research I do which contradicts a client’s view of why their customers buy from them is significant.
  3. What is your process when developing a new brand? What will I see and when? A good agency will be able to explain exactly what you will see at which stage, so you will know that they are not going off track.
  4. Can you show me examples of branding work you’ve done and demonstrate the process you went through with the client? This is actually for their benefit as well as yours. Every brand developed by a good agency will be a product of insight, creativity and client preference. Yes you read that right, people ‘like’ different things so that will feed into the final name and/or creative chosen. That means that you may not always like some work that an agency did on another brand, but that does not mean it’s not right for that brand. If you trust in the process and an agencies creativity then you should get something you like and that works for your brand.

Always happy to chat

I love talking about marketing and branding. If this blog has sparked some interest and you’d like to chat more, please give me a call on 0117 911 7337 – if you buy me a coffee I’m there!

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