There are many business owners who get confused about the difference between marketing, advertising and branding, so let’s start there.
The foundation is really the brand, which has two sides. There is the “brand promise” that the business makes to its customers, which is simply what it “promises” to deliver — another term used here is the USP or “Unique Selling Position.”
On the other hand, there is the “brand image” that the company tries to shape and control, but at the end of the day, the brand image is truly established by the perception of the consumer. You can tell people all you want that your product is of the highest quality, but if the consumer sees it as cheap, then to them, you have a cheap product. This is why many marketing experts will say that the brand is actually owned by the customer!
Marketing is all of the ways you sell and promote your products. Traditionally, marketers have focused on the “4 P’s” — product, price, place and promotion. These answer the questions what will we sell, who will we target, where will we sell it, how much will we sell it for and how will we let people know about it. Having a focused, thoughtful and strategic marketing plan is key to product and business success.
Advertising represents all the different “channels” you use to tell your story to the target customer. It is the part of the marketing plan that “promotes” the brand promise as well as your unique, differentiated value to the target customer. There are lots of ways to tell your story: print advertising, radio, TV, social media, billboards, sponsorships, spokespeople, blogs, podcasts…and about two zillion more.
The key to advertising is to be in the places your target customers typically go to learn about products and services. What do they read, watch and listen to, and who do they trust? If you can understand how your customers consume information and what they are looking for in your type of product or service, you have a great advantage in mounting a successful advertising campaign.
So, how do you figure out how to do all of this for your business? Well, if you have a new business, you have the opportunity to create a lot of these things from scratch and significantly influence both how your brand will be perceived and how the market will learn about your products and services. The best way to do that? Homework! Study your potential competition, study your market, do focus groups, look at advertising trends, talk to potential customers…do some really solid homework and base your plans on reliable facts and data. Then, give it your best guess and test, test, test.
Now, if you have a business that has been around for a while, my strong suggestion is simply this: listen to your customers. Ask them why they buy from you. What do they love about your products and services? Why, specifically, did they choose your company? If you ask a lot of these sorts of questions and listen very carefully, your top target customers will tell you exactly how your brand is perceived, how to market it, how to price it and where to advertise. To me, it is awesomely simple: Whoever owns the voice of the customer owns the marketplace.
Gather a small group (4 – 6) of your very best customers, and ask them these four questions:
1. Why, specifically, do you do business with us? What is it about our company, products and services that makes you want to give us your money?
2. What frustrates you about doing business with us? What can we stop, start, change or do differently to make it easier and more enjoyable to work with us?
3. What would it take to win all of your business — for us to be your only provider of our type of products or services?
4. What would it take for you to stop doing business with us? What would cause you to leave and go to our competition?
I promise that if you ask these questions (or very similar ones), you will get an absolute gold mine of valuable information to make your business more successful.