What is Branding?

What do I mean by___________?

In every discussion, it’s important to agree on use of words; or, if there is not agreement, to at least define terms.

Marketing, branding, positioning, identity, promotion….these terms all get thrown around, often without a clear understanding of what is being conveyed.

So, without pretending to be some kind of oracle, here is how I define these terms. I wish I could guarantee that I’ll use them consistently, but we have to start somewhere!

Of the 4 P’s of Marketing (Product, Place, Price, Promotion), my sweet spot is Promotion. When I use the term Marketing, I’m generally thinking of Promotion.

The starting point for any organization/company/person is Identity. I see Identity as the philosophy, culture, offerings, people and promised value of the organization (which may be anything from one person to a global corporation).

Identity answers the questions, “Who are you?” and “What can you do for me?”

Next comes Branding. Branding, in my view, is the expression, projection, and experience of the organizational identity and its promised value. It has at least these three components:

– The Brand itself is the inward perception, in the mind of the customer (user, prospect, employee, member), of the value of the organization and its offerings.
Brand image is the construct and projection of the identity; the names, symbols, words, messages, and other images that express, and attach to, the organizational identity and its promised value.
Brand experience is the accumulation of validating or invalidating interactions with the organization and its promised value.

Branding answers the question, “Why should I be attached to you?”

Closely related to branding is Positioning. I see the main distinction as one of context: positioning has to do with how a specific brand or offering is perceived within the context of the marketplace. There is a reality to positioning – a brand or offering can actually occupy a specific space in the market – and a perception of that positioning in the mind of the customer. Positioning is defining one’s place relative to the overall landscape, and effectively gaining mindshare as, hopefully, the best provider of value in that space.

Positioning answers the question, “Where are you?” or, “Where do you fit?”

Establishing Identity is hard work. It takes a strong dose of self-awareness, keen appreciation of core competencies (and humble awareness of non-competencies), and, usually, some external and objective assistance to provide analysis and help define the value proposition. When talking to clients and partners, this is always my starting point. It doesn’t make much sense to come up with a promotional campaign when there is no foundation on which to rest the message. Positioning actually comes next. Assuming there is a valid value proposition, how does it “fit” within the marketplace of other offerings and brands? Finally, (if there is not a pre-existing brand), the brand image can be developed and rolled out.

The goal of all of this is four-fold:

Brand awareness – getting the attention of the customer(s) in an effective manner

Brand engagement – interaction of the customer(s) with the brand leading to a positive result

Brand attachment – ongoing usage of the brand by the customer(s) with settled positive feelings

Brand evangelism – customers motivated to share the positive brand experience with others

. . . all leading, of course, to world domination in some form or fashion!

Anyone who has read books and articles on marketing/branding/positioning will quickly recognize that these concepts are not original or unique; I’ve simply tried to paint a more comprehensive picture that gives each term a sensible place.

Impactiviti’s core competencies in this value chain (solo or in concert with other marketing providers) include Identity definition, Positioning strategy, and the early stages of Brand image creation, along with some levels of on-line strategy and tactics. The actual execution of most tasks related to a promotional initiative are best handled by other specialized providers, within or outside of Impactiviti’s network of partners.


Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

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