Branding vs. Positioning. Is there a difference and why does it matter?

What is the difference between branding and positioning? Some think they are one and the same.

Others get them confused, thinking positioning is branding and vice versa. I will never forget the presentation I made many years ago to the new ad agency tasked with branding the company I was working for in Europe. I explained the framework the team used to position one of our products, including the position for it. After our agency team huddled for a few minutes, they came back and said we had already done branding.

Their assertion surprised me because I knew the product team had not done branding or at least not my definition of branding.

I believe your brand reflects who you are as a company, its personality, values and expectations for daily actions. Positioning explains to the market why your products are the best choice for their business.

Branding drives employee actions

Branding 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,” says Joe LePla, who has written three books on the subject; see below the titles and links. “Your brand is expressed through every employee action (whether customer-facing or not).”

In contrast, positioning is a mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can “own” with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your product’s benefit and the target’s most important need meet and form a meaningful relationship.

Positioning drives marketing communications; brand drives decisions company-wide

Your position is the foundation for all marketing communications. You use it as the theme for everything you do in marketing, and by doing so, it’s easier to deliver the same message across all marketing media including websites, social media, digital advertising, brochures and presentations to investors, industry analysts and prospects.  Your positioning strategy has the ingredients you need for all marketing communication. Use some or all of the ingredients according to the situation and you get a good story, one that you can easily repeat over and over until your target audience listens and takes action.

Your brand is 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.

“Because branding is a result of employee actions, a brand is only effective if it is integrated into the DNA of the organization,” LePla says. “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.”

Branding is internally focused; Positioning is externally focused

I like to think that branding is like a company’s personality. It is internally focused which doesn’t work when you are positioning your company or product.

Effective positioning is externally focused on your target buyers and solving their pressing problem. It expresses a benefit that solves your target buyers’ No. 1 problem.

Since positioning is the foundation for marketing success, you can measure effectiveness by whether you are achieving your marketing metrics or not. Brands are measured differently.

“Effective brands can be measured and correlate with high levels of loyalty, peer recommendation and price premiums,” LePla says.

While marketing has traditionally been the user and driver of a company’s brand, LePla’s approach elevates brand responsibility to your management team. He advocates that branding should be used as a strategic management tool to help drive corporate strategy.

“For branding to be your company’s DNA means senior management has defined a brand promise, i.e., what customer experience it will consistently deliver,” LePla says. “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.’” These brand promises drive employee attitudes, behavior and actions. In contrast, positioning drives all your marketing communications. Here is a summary of the differences between branding and positioning:

Read LePla’s books to learn more about branding

Joe LePla’s books on branding and employee alignment are well worth reading. They are available on the Amazon website:

I highly recommend “Integrated Branding,” co-written by Lynn Parker, LePla’s long-time business partner.  It is one of the most logical, rational approaches to branding I’ve been exposed to. In the book, Parker and LePla use the term “brand tools” which make up your brand promise and guide your business strategy:

  • 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.

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