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Growth Marketing

Product vs Brand Marketing: What Works Better In 2016?

Written by Ashley Gwilliam / August 31, 2016

Ashley is a content writer and brand developer. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from the bizarre world of on-camera acting to the practice courts of NBA basketball players to the virtual meetings of inbound marketers. Today she specializes in building memorable brand voices online, with a focus on the travel & tourism, e-commerce and tech industries.

Republicans have Democrats. Americans have Canadians. And product marketers have brand marketers. Oftentimes, the groups that love to debate one another have more in common than initially realized.

And that's especially true in the field of marketing. Both sides passionately feel they are right – yet, as is often the case, no one is definitively right. In recent decades, marketers have debated between two ideologies: Putting the product front and center OR telling stories that build brand reputations.

Product vs. Brand Marketing in 2016

While the distinction between what connotes a product versus a brand is straightforward – products are objects or services that can be sold for money, while brands are the embodied personas of the companies that sell them – the strategies for promoting the two can get convoluted.

Here's how the dichotomy goes:

The Product Marketers: These guys operate under the assumption that the best product always wins. That's not to say, you don't have to put work into marketing your product (that would put them out of business). But it does mean emphasizing the product's inherent awesomeness in oftentimes large media campaigns that highlight superiority.

Reasons for superiority could be as diverse as a soft-drink that has more fizzle, a shoe company with renowned customer service or a smartphone with waterproof capabilities. Regardless, a product marketing campaign would emphasize features and benefits.

The Brand Marketers: This camp is more about storytelling. They may create an entire marketing campaign that has absolutely no direct correlation the product being sold. Kate Spade New York is a perfect example. The company's #missadventure YouTube campaign takes viewers through "the fabulous" life of a fictional character played by Hollywood darling Anna Kendrick.

Though the company's handbags are featured throughout the series – and that is product marketing - they aren't the primary focus. Instead, the marketing campaign builds interest by inviting customers along for a sensory experience.

What Type of Marketing Is Right For You?

Historically, global brands have operated from a product-marketing perspective. And that's because they have large budgets to do so. Television ads, radio ads and product placements all cost money (lots of it). Conversely, smaller businesses and grassroots organizations have embraced brand marketing. But the popularity of the Internet kinda changed everything.

Since companies of all sizes now have more control over creating customer experiences online, you'll now see everyone experimenting with a little bit of everything. Although the pendulum appears to be swinging back to product marketing for larger companies like CocaCola in 2016.

With that said, there's no reason to stick to one method. Let's review the unique benefits of each:

Benefits of Product Marketing

  • Great for quickly introducing yourself to a large audience.
  • Easy way of re-introducing yourself to your target market.
  • Beneficial for promoting products that "speak for themselves"
  • Ideal for promoting never-before-seen features, benefits and services.

Benefits of Brand Marketing

  • Great for uniquely positioning yourself in a crowded space.
  • Effective way to organically build customer loyalty over time.
  • Effective at changing perceptions and introducing new ideas.
  • Ideal for companies with interesting founding stories and backrounds.

The reality is it's much easier to position yourself as different than it is to be first. And that requires building a stand-out brand. But since this is the Lean Labs blog, you may be wondering:

Where Does Inbound Marketing Fit In?

Imagine attracting the right customers, at the right time, instead of competing with several other purchasing options for attention. That's the potential of inbound marketing. Studies show inbound marketing generates 54 percent more leads than outbound marketing – at 61 percent lower costs. Pair that with rock-solid brand marketing and you've got a highly effective combo.

In case you're new around here, inbound marketing is the practice of drawing leads and customers to you by regularly distributing targeted content online. Content can include blog articles, white papers, social media post, videos, slide-shares and more. The key guideline of inbound is creating content that answers the questions your prospects are already asking themselves – via search engines.

Depending on your industry, simply answering those questions may or may not be enough. If you're trying to stand out in a crowded space, you may need an extra boost. That's where branding comes in. Say a prospect is considering doing business with you and someone else. Who will they choose?:

The business they believe has the better product or service. But what if both offerings are seemingly identical? They'll go with the business they like the best. If this is taking you back to high school, don't worry – it doesn't have to be a popularity contest! It's simply a matter of determining what's unique about your perspective and translating that perspective into story.

Those stories may be expressed as case studies, behind the scenes or something highly creative (like the Kate Spade example above). Though initially creating them may be challenging, they will become the gift that keeps on giving when paired with strategic lead acquisition funnels.

So, Which Works Better?

As we've shown, both product and brand marketing have a place in the world. Though proponents of each may passionately defend their viewpoints. there are clear situations for utilizing each option. From our admittedly biased experience, inbound marketing is good for every situation!

Free Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

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