While we content marketers tend to focus on selling a product, that measurable, trackable goal that justifies our salary and makes us feel good about ourselves, we're often told to take a step back and think about establishing a brand on behalf of our clients or employers.
But what exactly does it mean to establish a brand? What is branding, exactly? And, even though it may be as trackable and directly connected to the bottom line as sales, why is branding ultimately much more important than closing sales?
In the book Principles of Marketing (by Philip Kotler and Gary Amstrong), this simple definition for brand is given: Brand is a "name, term, sign, symbol (or combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product."
This is a good definition, at least as a start, but we know that brand means more than the identity of the manufacturer of a product. In this social, connected, high-tech world, branding has come to mean so much more.
Personal branding expert Gary Vaynerchuk explains brand as reputation. "Whenever you hear the word brand," he says, "just think of 'reputation.' They mean the same thing!"
Obviously, in the 30+ years since Kotler's book was published, branding has evolved quite a bit.
Adding to that, Patrick Hanlon's book Primal Branding helps us to see that modern brands have the potential to create communities, to gather people to a cause.
Thinking of brand as a reputation, let's look at the three types of branding we marketers need to be thinking about and be prepared to master.
The Three Types of Branding
What are the three types of branding? Think of the different things or people that could gain a reputation. These might be:
1) A corporation or company brand
2) A product brand
3) A personal brand
Many companies may have all three of these brand types, so we want to make sure we understand each of them.
A company or corporation may have a brand of its own.
Strike that. A company or corporation *should* have a brand of its own. Any company has a reputation of some kind, be that good or bad. The trick is in crafting a positive reputation and helping as many people as possible know about it.
When you think about the following companies, what kind of reputation comes to your mind?
4) US Navy
The reputations these companies and organizations have don't exist by accident. They are purposeful, the result of smart branding.
And, yes, even organizations like the Navy have a brand.
Your company needs to have a specific brand they want to put out into the world, a reputation they want to have. This brand can be reinforced through your content.
Even within a company, individual products may also have their own brand.
McDonald's has a brand, but the Big Mac or McRib have their own reputations, for better or worse.
A car company, Ford, may have one brand, but a specific car, the Mustang, will have its own reputation.
So there are Ford fans that don't much like the Mustang and vice versa.
In your company, you may have several products or services that you market through content. What brand do these offerings have? What reputation do they have? How would your entire company benefit if some products developed their own brands, related to but separate from the overall company brand?
Within a company or organization, there may be anywhere from one to many people that also have personal brands.
Think of Apple and Steve Jobs. Two brands, related but separate, and each brand had its own followers and fans.
In much the same way, your company may have a leader, a CEO, or even a lower-tier member with a brand of their own. How can your content help boost that personal brand's reputation?
One or All Three?
So far, we've been looking at each of these brand types as connected aspects of the same company. But it may be that your job as a content marketer is to only support one type of brand.
You may be hired by a celebrity, social media influencer, or CEO that wants to further develop their personal brand. So your only concern is boosting that person's reputation.
Gary Vaynerchuk, mentioned above, or Gary Vee, as he's often called, is the CEO of a marketing firm, Vayner Media, but he has a growing team of full-time employees that focus exclusively on his personal brand, which he keeps (mostly) separate from his company's brand.
Certain products within a company, like the Mustang, may have their own marketing team, as well. This is also true with the iPad Pro and individual movies Disney produces.
The key, then, is to understand what methods and content work best with each type of brand.
You won't talk about a person the same way you talk about a company or a product, for example. You'd use different methods and techniques in each case.
Learning those differences and subtleties defines a marketing master.
Become a Brand Type Specialist?
Because the three types of branding are related but different, a content marketer has to decide if she will become specialized in just one of such types.
A content marketer that works only with personal brands, for example, will pick up tricks over time that other marketers won't have. So will a marketer that only crafts content for products.
Conversely, there is a great advantage to working with all three types of brands at once.
The different brands within a company may have separate content strategies and campaigns, but they all need to be kept in mind. For example, let's say you're creating content to push the Big Mac's brand. Everything you say or write will also affect McDonald's because the two brands are intrinsically linked in the consumers' minds.
So, instead of specializing, could you learn the tricks of each type of branding and use the intersections of different brands to your advantage?
Certainly, whether you specialize or work on all three brand types, you'll be sharpening one of the most important aspects of marketing in 2020 and beyond: Not sales, but branding.
By learning to build stronger reputations for companies, organizations, products, product lines, and people, you'll be proving your worth in this brand-focused environment.