The difference between branding and positioning

We’re often asked “what is the difference between positioning and branding?” Some think they are one and the same. Others get them confused, thinking positioning is branding and vice versa.

At Messages that Matter, we define positioning as a mental space that you can “own” with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in that mental space where the product’s benefits and the customer’s most important needs meet, and hopefully stick.

Branding is the complete set of associations you have when you hear a company name or a product. You can’t make up a brand as some might lead you to believe. Rather your brand reflects the truth about your company and product.

Joe LePla has written three books about branding, and knows more about the subject than just about anyone. He advocates that your brand helps everyone in your company know how to react to any situation with customers, partners, prospects and fellow employees.

“Branding is the promise that you keep as an organization,” say LePla, principal strategist at GreenRubino, a marketing/advertising firm based in Seattle. “It’s about understanding your unique core value which is at the intersection of what you do well, what your customers value and what you can own.”

While marketing has traditionally been the user and driver of a company’s brand, LePla’s approach elevates brand responsibility to your management team. Branding reflects who you are as a company, its personality, values and expectations for daily actions.

Thus positioning is not branding. Instead, positioning sets up a brand in the same way a strong foundation makes it possible to build a house.

Branding should be used as a strategic management tool to help drive corporate strategy. It becomes the driving force behind what you do, why you do it, and how you do it. This means that everyone needs to feel ownership and believe in your brand because your brand promise guides day-to-day actions and activities.

“Your brand is expressed through every employee action (whether customer-facing or not),” LePla says. “Because it is a result of employee actions, a brand is only effective if it is integrated into the DNA of the organization. Effective brands can be measured and correlate with high levels of loyalty, peer recommendation and price premiums.

“To be in the DNA means senior management has defined a brand promise, i.e. what customer experience it will consistently deliver. In the case of the Mayo Clinic this is “finding answers.” For the Ritz Carlton, this is “anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s unexpressed needs.” Note that because the promise is an experience, it is at a level above product—this allows each organization to pursue a unique strategy and align every product or service offering and customer touch point to it.

“Once defined, fulfilling the promise becomes the basis for an organization’s strategic plan and how the organization will measure success. It underpins all functions including culture, employee performance, management and operations. To be successful, the CEO and senior managers must hold themselves and the organization accountable for delivering their brand promise.

“The digital explosion that has resulted in social media and multiple new communications channels has greatly increased the need for a clear brand focus, strong organizational alignment and differentiated positioning.”

LePla’s books on branding, positioning and employee alignment are well worth reading. “Integrated Branding: Becoming brand-driven through company-wide action,” “Brand Driven: The route to integrated branding through great leadership,” and “Create a brand that inspires: How to sell, organize and sustain internal branding” are available on the Amazon web site.

“Integrated Branding,” co-written by Lynn Parker, use the term “brand tools” which are what make up your brand promise and guide your business strategy:

• Your strategic role is the heart of your promise and plays a key role in positioning.
• Brand values are beliefs that are most important to your company. They drive employee and company actions.
• Brand principle is your unique approach to what you do. The principle is for internal use and rarely is repeated word-for-word to a customer or prospect. Your employees use your brand principle as a guide for every decision that has a significant impact on your company.
• Your company’s brand personality is the emotional bond you have developed with your customers. Brand personality guides your public voice and the way you act.
• Brand associations are memories of experiences customers have had with your company, and help you develop deeper relationships with them.

For more information about branding contact Joe LePla by email at josephlepla@gmail.com.