Branding is For the Big Boys, Right? Wrong

Hiren Panchal
by Hiren Panchal  |  19th Apr, 2013 in Buzz

Branding is for everyone, irrespective of company size. If you don’t yet have a strategy for branding, you could be wasting your most profitable, most loyal and easiest to work with customers

Whoever thought that branding is only for the big boys; can’t be more wrong. In today’s media fragmented, product-cluttered world, what separates men from the boys is good branding.

A friend, outside of the industry once stumped me with the poser, “What’s the difference between branding and advertising?”

“Doesn’t advertising lead to brand-building? And if you are already a brand, aren’t you a walking-talking advertisement of yourself?” he inquired.
My stock answer was, “Advertising is a one-off activity. But branding is a big promise about what to expect from a brand.”

My friend appeared happy with that answer, yet I went on to explain that branding builds a strong community of your most profitable, most loyal and easiest to work with customers because they are already sold on your promise. Therefore, they very easily buy into your advertising.

In other words, the medium for making a promise could be advertising, but your customer won’t buy into that advertising (no matter how much you money you invest on the campaign) if your brand does not finally deliver on that promise. In other words, even the best of advertising won’t work for ineffectual brands that gradually phase out of the market.

Now let’s look at the flip side of my friend’s statement: Can a brand be its own advertisement? and my most emphatic answer is “yes.” Once again look at Apple, Microsoft, Nike, or closer home, at Amul, Colgate and TCS – they are all big brands. They advertise, but, let’s imagine for a moment that they decide to take a small break from advertising – will their brand suffer?

Nope. It will still stay in the consumer mind because it’s already a brand.

This raises the classic chicken and egg dilemma – what comes first? – Branding or Advertising? Here, I would surprise you by saying Advertising because we live in the Age of the Hyperbole. Several years ago, when branding was not yet a market buzzword, we did not need a strong image, a visual identity, content, news event, much less a celebrity to endorse a product and provoke a strong recall for a product. Today, with information converging from all sources, at all consumer touch points, branding necessitates creating the right buzz about your business, not just through one medium – say a print advertisement or a radio campaign – but in a strategic, planned, sustained and effective manner. Today, successful branding comes with the coming together of a lot of elements – the product, the pricing, perception among channel partners, user experiences, after-sales service, listening in to the brand buzz on social media, and all other forms of internal and external communication.

Today, branding calls for a lot of careful strategizing to create a year-round interest in your product. At Litmus, we assign a dedicated team to carefully handle each brand, throughout the year. At Litmus, we also believe that the purpose of branding is to SIMPLYFY. A customer doesn’t care if your product is “the best in the market,” but HE would care if it’s the best for HIM. Period.

In all branding activities that Litmus does for its clients, we keep this consumer insight central in our thoughts. We realize that branding today has become far more complex. It takes a 360-degree approach to creating a lasting value for a product and this can’t happen with a one-off print or outdoor campaign.

We begin by helping our customer define his target audience. We take pains to tell a client that his brand has to mean SOMETHING to SOMEONE and that it can’t mean EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. Though several sessions of our brand consultations, we help our clients identify whom to engage BY DESIGN and not by default.

At Litmus, we’ve learnt that branding is a fine art of trying to change consumer perception and advertising is just one means of doing so. Simply declaring, “Hey, you know, I’m cool,” isn’t going to work the magic, if, God forbid; the customer later finds out that you are extremely dowdy in real life. Then all those pious declarations will begin to fall on deaf ears.

Advertising is a sharp instrument. It can cut deep. Used effectively, it can be a great sales tool. Used thoughtlessly, it can fall flat and get you zero RoI.

Branding is contrast is more subtle. It takes far more strategy and time investment before you can hope to see the results. Advertising and Branding can co-exist and both can value-add to your business but since they are placed at the two ends of the marketing continuum, the twain don’t always meet.

The good news is, they also don’t have to.


Hiren Panchal

Director, Litmus Branding Pvt. Ltd.
Ahmedabad, India
A designer at heart, marketer by temperament; technology freak and knowledge-seeker by design – that’s me.

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