Moving a Business Forward Takes Paddling on Both Sides

April 26, 2023
Look at the illustration above. What do you see? Is it an oar or a paddle? Does it matter?

Right Words = Right Actions

As a strategist at a Minneapolis design agency, words matter deeply to me. Words represent concepts that facilitate our understanding of the world and each other. And using the right words leads to taking the right actions. For example, if I ask someone for an oar instead of a paddle, I will have to work harder to propel my kayak forward.
Often, the terms branding and marketing are swapped or lumped together. So, many businesses fail to take the right actions by not appreciating their differences. And, just like a kayak paddle’s left and right blade can’t be interchanged, neither can branding and marketing; both are needed to move in harmony to go forward.
For a business to grow, it ultimately needs to attract more customers and for those customers to spend more, more often. Branding and marketing play distinct and complementary roles in achieving those ends. Working with a branding company can help businesses develop the right strategies.

Distinct and Complementary

Essentially, branding’s role is to connect with prospects and customers relationally, and it’s marketing’s job to monetize those connections. To work, they must be in sync like a kayak paddle; left, right, left, right, left, right, etc.
Male in orange life jacket kayaking with a pink sunset
Balancing funnel-top branding with bottom-spout marketing has been championed by renowned researchers Les Binet and Peter Field for decades. Their research showed that a business experiences growth when its share of voice outpaces its market share. Many top B2C brands get this notion, while B2B brands are slow to adopt it under the misbelief that business purchase decisions are rational and not emotional.
Because measuring the return on branding requires a longer view than, say, email campaigns or sales promotions, many brands tend to overuse the marketing side of the paddle; right, right, right, etc. They think they’re going places, but they’re just paddling in circles. A creative branding and design firm can help businesses strike the right balance.
Let’s take a look at how branding complements marketing.

Brand is Identity

Simply put, a brand is an enterprise’s identity. And, like our own identity, a brand is a beautiful swirling mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic attributes. Again, as words matter, comprehending identity’s meaning helps us understand the role of branding in marketing.
At its essence, identity exists to cultivate relationships. Without identity, it’d be hard to find those people who are like us or those we complement. So, it stands to reason that branding’s chief aim is to relate with prospects, customers, and team members meaningfully.

Person-to-Brand Relationships

The same dynamics that cultivate rewarding person-to-person relationships are similar to person-to-brand relationships.
Like good friendships, branding doesn’t sell; it shares (think: content). Branding meets others like them by participating in the things it’s passionate about (think: activations and sponsorships). Branding stands for something bigger and supports others (think: advocacy and social good). Branding is interested in what others think (think: user-generated content).
And most importantly, good brands aren’t posers. They know who they are and strive to be true to themself because people are attracted to others who are authentic and are likely to end relationships with those who are not.

The Modern Customer Journey

Line graph showing the modern customer journey

Connection is the Starting Point of the Modern Customer Journey

Traditionally, ‘awareness’ served as the trailhead to the customer journey. Today, raising awareness isn’t enough to successfully start a prospect down the path to purchase. In this digital age, a business must cut through the overgrowth of brands competing for awareness to connect with the prospect
meaningfully. Connection, not awareness, moves brands to peoples’ top of mind. When it comes time for the prospect to buy, successful branding puts a business in the pole position while expertly-tuned marketing takes it across the finish line. A branding agency can help develop memorable and impactful brand awareness.

Marketing Monetizes the Middle Journey

Along this modern customer journey, successfully connecting with prospects leads to searching (see the above graphic). Searching leads to selecting. Selecting leads to interacting, and interacting leads to sharing. Marketing shines along the journey stops of search, select, and interact—always showing up in the right place at the right time with the right offer.

Branding Spreads the Love

As you can see in the model above, branding bookends the modern customer journey. Naturally, brand identity permeates just about every aspect of the enterprise. At each stop, the brand identity shapes every experience—culminating in a newly won-over customer eager to share and facilitate brand connections with their friends and family.

Five Ways to Add Branding to the Mix

Executing marketing-only initiatives will have you paddling in circles. Add branding to the mix to move your business forward. Here’s a partial list of high-impact branding initiatives.
  1. Non-selling Content: I love the word ‘content’ because it liberates brands from legacy media and thinking. Content’s main job is to connect with an audience by delivering news, information, and entertainment of note or value over various formats and channels, whether that distribution is through paid or earned means.
  2. Owned Branded Experiences: A business’ physical presence offers a prime branding opportunity. Headquarters, offices, and retail locations provide spaces to emotionally connect with guests and customers by integrating what I label a club room, classroom, or showroom experiences.
  3. Brand Activations: Brand activations employ compelling experiences to encourage your audience to engage with you without the pressure of having to buy something. Cultivating a shared experience enables your brand to leapfrog to the customer’s top-of-mind.
  4. Sponsorships & Events: Event sponsorship provides a low-effort way to connect with your target audience by sharing involvement in the sports, music, and interests they are passionate about. That affinity is amped when your brand shows up with an interactive exhibit. Or, like Red Bull, you can go to the next level by producing events.
  5. Advocacy & Social Good: Championing or integrating a social cause that deeply aligns with your brand fosters shared meaning between you and a customer in a way that will endure.

One Piece of Advice

Before adding branding to the mix, ask yourself, “Is my brand identity clearly defined?” Creating brand experiences without a brand identity strategy that is simple, memorable, actionable, and compelling leaves you prone to perpetuating what I call, ‘Random Acts Of Branding.’ RAOB happens by creating one-off brand experiences that don’t ladder to a consistent, singular brand idea. So, if your brand identity isn’t clearly codified, seek the help of an expert who paddles on both sides of the kayak, like a Minneapolis design agency.

Glenn Deering is Executive Director of Strategy at Latitude--a strategic design firm in Minneapolis.