Even some of the most enlightened and cool people I know talk about marketing as ‘getting the crayons out’ which, with the exception of one case, demonstrates that they don’t really get it. Then there is the even more esoteric area of marketing known as branding, which brings a far away stare to the face of many a senior leader in pharmacy.
Not surprising that branding is poorly understood. It is both very complex and very simple all at the same time. It isn’t something that is taught to, well, anyone really, unless they go looking for it. Why would it be? Everyone is too busy learning about practical things like how to vaccinate vulnerable people or how to properly don PPE.
I did go looking and found much to be interested in. For many, I think, the far away stare stems from the fact that they can’t clearly articulate what branding is. It’s hard to get hold of let alone to know what it does and why it’s useful. I think that’s why it appealed to me.
While developing my understanding of branding I have learnt that there are many definitions of what it is as there are many nuances and some are more useful than others. People debate and disagree, like they do in all academic areas. For that reason it’s for each of us to choose how we would describe branding based on the prevailing thinking and how we perceive it’s value and use.
Whooa… Hang on there I hear you say. I’m not reading this to be told to go away and think about it. I’m reading it to learn something I can use.
OK. Fair enough. A good starting point is to think of branding existing on a continuum in any sector. At one end is the commoditised product. You pay your money, it does a job. That’s it. At the other end is a branded product. You pay your money and it also does a job. The successfully branded product will also have meaning in the minds of the target market. It is that meaning that is the difference between a commodity and a brand.
So what? I hear you say (I think lockdown is getting to me – I keep hearing voices). It costs a lot and takes lots of effort to fill a product with meaning through branding. Is it worth it? Well, here is a definition of branding that can help us here.
‘A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that taken together, account for a consumer decision to choose one product or service over another.’ – Seth Godin
Seth’s definition, in summary, tell us that branding is giving a customer a reason to choose your product. It’s about influencing human thinking (which is why it’s hard to pin down and define) and directing that thinking towards purchasing your product. Let’s say that again, purchasing your product. No matter what business you are in the purchase decision is the key to everything, so influencing it is a prime, if not the prime goal, of your organisation. The more people who choose to purchase your product, the higher the sales. Wonderful. You can earn the right to manage your costs by driving your sales and what falls out of the bottom? Profit.
Choice, sales and profit
There you have it. Brand is about influencing customer choice to drive sales and profit. It is big (covers every single thing you do and how you do it) and slow (takes months and years not hours and days) so it isn’t a quick fix but when done well it is a giant irresistible tortoise. The detail of how branding does that is the work of a lifetime but comes after understanding what it is and what it does. Hopefully you are one step closer.