I read an article recently, aimed at giving guidance to independent retailers in these unusual economic times. Among other things, the article declared that “A recession is no time to focus on branding”. I actually had to stop to make sure I read it correctly. A recession is no time to focus on branding? Hmmm…
Was the author implying that a more appropriate time for brand-building is when the economy is strong? Let’s consider that for a moment. Actually, before we get to that, let’s see if we can first agree on what the heck branding really is?
Webster’s says that branding is “the promoting of a particular product or service by identifying it with a particular brand.” If we accept that definition, then branding would seem like something you’d always want to be doing, wouldn’t it? I mean after all, shouldn’t you always be working to promote your product or service? And shouldn’t you always be trying to identify your product or service with your brand? It seems logical.
I think the problem is that in many companies the term branding has become code for things that aren’t sales focused. There are those that actually believe that branding and sales are mutually exclusive activities and that you can focus solely on one or the other. I think that’s like saying that breathing is more about inhaling than exhaling. You can’t do one without doing the other.
For example, in an effort to bolster sales during the current recession, luxury bridal clothier Vera Wang reportedly cut the average price of her wedding gowns by about 30%. So, is this sales or branding? Sure the move is aimed at generating sales in the short term but will it have an impact on the brand in the longer-term?
Changing your pricing structure is a brand statement. I’m not suggesting it’s wrong. I have no idea what the situation is at Vera Wang and I’m sure they know their business better than I ever will. What I do know is that a price cut is branding.
I used to work for a company where Marketing and Sales were two separate camps. Marketing firmly believed its job was to build advocacy for the brand by building an emotional connection with the consumer. They felt strongly about avoiding price promotion to drive sales and loyalty. The Sales group believed that their role was to win space and increase market share. They saw their job as winning customers over by offering dynamic product features at compelling prices.
Sales would accuse marketing of creating high priced “fluff” that didn’t drive revenue and Marketing blamed Sales for commoditizing the brand by focusing customers solely on product and price, which they felt in time, would lead to the company’s undoing.
Consequently, the company would go through this schizophrenic sort of business cycle where we’d spend boat loads of money on brand building activity in the first 6 months of the year and when sales weren’t immediately forthcoming, any remaining budget would get handed to Sales. Sales would promptly use it to stage “dollars-off” promotions and other discount schemes, which not only didn’t win back much ground, but also tended to have an adverse affect on overall brand positioning. Each year we’d do the same thing, somehow expecting the result to be different. It wasn’t.
What we didn’t recognize at the time was that everyone in both Sales and Marketing was absolutely correct about their roles. Yes, Marketing should be working to build brand and product awareness and an emotional connection with consumers and yes Sales should then leverage that brand awareness and loyalty to gain consumer acceptance and win market share. It isn’t about sales or marketing, it’s about sales and marketing. The truth is, branding and sales are inseparable functions and the best retailers truly understand that.
Wait a minute. Did I just say that Sales and Marketing are the same thing? Absolutely not. Sales and marketing are two very different roles. What I am saying however is that in order for either to be successful, they have to be performed in concert with one another. Like two halves of the whole.
As for the idea that “a recession is no time for branding”, it just doesn’t make sense. Even no branding is branding. Perhaps what they meant to say is that a recession is no time for ineffective branding and with that I agree wholeheartedly.