When it comes time to develop a marketing strategy or advertising campaign, it can feel like you’re faced with a weird chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: which comes first, the product or the brand? You know the two work together to advance your business, but exactly how can be a bit confusing. Understanding what separates your brand and your product is the first step to better understanding the respective impact each has on your company, helping you confidently decide which to leverage and when. Below, we discuss the key differences between the two, and offer some advice for how market research can help create a winning combination of both.
Brand: A Distinctive Idea that Becomes an Identity
When a consumer is flooded with choice, it is the brand that ultimately catches attention. Brand attraction is subconscious, grounded in emotional connection and cultural relevance: it’s what compels a consumer to gravitate towards what feels right. Consumers make your brand, imbuing it with meaning over time as it relates to your products, the market, and society at large; so it is the job of branding to manage that consumer perception. You can tell consumers what you want your brand to be, but it is the customer who determines its meaning in the context of everyday life. A brand is a powerful idea that can last forever but easily escape the hands of its creators, so it’s crucial to monitor and shape it as much as possible. Because if two products perform the same functionally, it’s the brand that steps in to make the distinctions.
Product: Form and Function—With an Expiration Date
A product is much more tangible: usually an item you can hold or a clearly defined service. A product’s positioning is all about its function, particularly how it answers an identifiable consumer need. Unlike brands, a company has complete control over a product, determining its value by the materials and labor involved, rather than through consumers’ interpretation. But their tangible form also means products can be copied and duplicated, so they rely heavily on marketing—and branding—to communicate value beyond economic worth. And as functional as a product may be, it inevitably becomes obsolete, like cassette tapes and floppy disks (remember floppy disks?). Products are things you need, but are replaced over time; brands are what distinguish these products by desire, and can last forever.
Optimize Their Impact Through Research
Now that we know the key differences between our product and our brand, we can focus on making them work together. Though one does not necessarily precede the other, branding is a more continuous, abstract process than product development, so it may take up the bulk of your efforts.
Whether building, maintaining, or growing your brand, it’s crucial to keep the context of your messaging in mind. Brands that attract customers to their products are those that are culturally relevant, so you need to understand culture in order to figure out how to orient your brand. People change their behavior and decisions as culture evolves, usually parallel to the economy, so the best way to maintain your cultural market intelligence is through regular qualitative research. It can be hard for consumers to identify the broader social and personal motivations behind their purchases, so asking them to go into detail about their attraction to a brand will help you build one that is unique and connecting with consumers.
Similarly, market research can help keep your product innovation and development cycles relevant and responsive by grounding them in consumer feedback. Staying abreast of what products fit into the cultural landscape and the lives of your consumers will not only help you better address changing needs, but also ensure your products a longer shelf life and stronger resonance with customers.
Aside from two halves of a great marriage, brand and product can also be thought of as two halves of the brain that is your company. Brand is the right brain, creatively appealing to consumers through emotion and context, while product is the left brain, logically and functionally satisfying needs. Both must resonate with consumers in order for a business to thrive, and companies can make sure they do so by performing regular research that validates decisions and spurs change. But we were so intrigued by the idea of right vs left brain, we conducted a little investigation of our own into which theme of sustainability taglines would resonate with consumers more: emotional caring for the environment, or practical protection of our future. Check out the report results below!