Content vs. Branding

June 29th, 2007 by Bob Bly

My colleagues Michael Stelzner and David Scott Meerman are, like me, advocates of marketing with content.

But a recent article suggests that our approach is all wrong.

The author said that branding is more effective than ever today.

Reason: prospects are suffering from information overload. They don’t have time to process product information. And so they make purchase decisions based on brand reputation rather than product facts.

Well, hey, if that’s true, then prospects don’t want — or have time to read — more content, right?

So which should a marketer concentrate on?

Becoming a thought leader by publishing valuable content?

Or branding?

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11 responses about “Content vs. Branding”

  1. Susan Martin said:

    Another great question Bob. I think that there may be different answers depending on what you’re selling and the size of your business.

    But ultimately aren’t we achieving the same thing just approaching it differently?

    I’m sure that apple will sell many iphones because of the incredible brand they’ve built, and that marketing with content will not play a large part in it, if any, although all of the buzz that’s been created does create content, even if it’s not generated by apple themselves.

    It doesn’t have to, they’re already there and will stay there as long as they consistently support the brand they’ve built with new, unique products and maintain a certain level of customer service.

    But if you’re selling a service, marketing with content can be very effective, by helping to position you and your firm as experts.

    I think when someone is having a problem and they seek out information on how to solve it, it’s different than when someone is being bombarded with excess information. It’s all about how you do it.

    But isn’t establishing that “expert” reputation just another way of building your brand?

  2. Deborah Chaddock Brown said:

    Bob,

    I love branding messages. I laugh with the commercials that are fun and memorable. I chuckle over who is wearing the milk mustache. But when it comes to making a buying decision – the cute and clever messages based solely on branding don’t give me the information I need to change my behavior or part with my money. I may think the caveman commercials for Geiko are memorable but would I switch insurance companies based on what I see in the commercials? No.

    And the words have to connect with me. I don’t want to hear about quality, price and selection – frankly those are a given – the price of admittance. I want to know that you GET me, that you UNDERSTAND my pain, you CONNECT with my needs and you’ll PROVIDE the solutions to make my life easier, better, safer, whatever.

    You aren’t going to do that with a branding message alone. Not in my book. When I think successful branding image, I think Target. Seeing the red circle connects with my prior shopping experiences. I see the red circle and I remember a clean environment, helpful employees, nice selection, reasonable prices.

    I can’t think of another company as successful with a branding message – bottom line – I need words.

    Deborah Chaddock Brown

  3. Kevin Behringer said:

    Bob:

    Very interesting question.

    I don’t think that strong content will ever go away as a preferred method of marketing. I think branding is critical, but often built BY strong content. To use Susan’s example of the iPhone, yes it gets a lot of press from the fact that it’s an Apple product…part of a strong brand. But, if it didn’t do all of the things it does (in my mind…that’s the content) would it get the same press. I doubt it. If it was simply a cell phone with Apple’s name on it, it wouldn’t do.

    I think there needs to be a strong connection between branding and content. In fact, brands are often built by the content…at least the good ones. The days of hiding poor content with fancy branding are over (or should be!). Thank God!

  4. Bobby Lehew said:

    Both. It’s not an either/or proposition, they are not mutually exclusive. I think Susan is right: establishing that expert reputation is another way of building your brand, both play a part in the process. Branding is intriguing; thought leadership is inviting.

  5. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    I heard someone calling my name…

    Bob, I would have to agree that prospects are suffering from information overload…

    HOWEVER, that makes the job of copywriting ever MORE important.

    “Me too” writing will drown in the sea of excess.

    I think now what matter is relevance more than brand.

    It helps to be known, but in the BtoB world, often businesses buy from people/other businesses they have never heard of.

    AND, good content can actually help a business become a thought leader and improve branding.

    Thanks for pulling me in.

  6. Riel Langlois, writer of Canadian comic books said:

    Right now, I think branding is more important. You’re right about information overload – I tend to focus on brand names I trust rather than compare reviews of similar products.

  7. Leslie McKerns said:

    Branding has become popular because it is seen as a higher level of commitment. (We will ALWAYS do thus and so–freshest, fastest, most compassionate, you name it.)But once you do name it – you had better deliver. Branding is ultimately about the customer experience. You create a set of expectations and then deliver on it. If you don’t, the brand is dead or dying, no matter how cute the logo. When a brand delivers on expectations it has created it becomes memorable and recognizable (because it has consistently delivered on those expectations). Here a few examples:

    Let’s look at Ron Popeil’s Ronco Company. What is he saying? He’s saying: Come on live a little; have some fun with gadgets. And he gets that customer to be engaged–to buy into the experience as well as buy the product. His Showtime Rotisserie–Set it and Forget it. Set it and…what? And the audience roars…forget it!!!

    This is a far different experience than the sophistication and culinary seriousness of say, a Williams and Sonoma or a Sur La Table. They are saying, You can’t possibly attempt to do this properly without this stainless steel masterpiece. And you believe it because the outcome matters to you–it is your boss or mother in law coming for a sit down dinner party or Thanksgiving.

    So, you think what is the outcome I want them to have? (with my product or service) and you deliver on that in everything you say or do–your newsletter, your catalog.

    Are we serious or are we fun? If you are BMW and branding yourself as the Ultimate Driving Machine…you better have some sophisticated experientials to back that up–the showroom, the brochures, the ads…as well as a smooth driving performance vehicle. Or the first time I pull out in front of a truck on I-95 and I barely beat it–I’m going to be more than disappointed, I’m going to be returning it to the showroom.

  8. Lori said:

    I’m from the old school – words sell. Yes, branding works, but without words, whaddya got? I don’t buy M&Ms because they added blue to their “menu” – I buy them because they promise to melt in my mouth, not in my hand. That and the fact that I like chocolate…

    I have to agree that branding requires more attention to copy than at first glance. Case in point – I was asked recently to review a new product being considered for the market. They were tired – scented tires. The copy was shmaltzy at best; “You demand the best perfume, ladies! Why not the best smelling tires?!” Uh, how about because I don’t go around sniffing tires like a beagle with a full bladder? It was the case of a ridiculous product that was made worse by copy that insulted its intended audience. Why the hell would we women care if our tires emitted a lovely lavender scent? We want to know if the damn things are going to last!

    Sheesh.

  9. David Fideler said:

    “Branding” and “content” are not necessarily two different things. The most effective branding is just an abbreviated version of content.

    Look at the iPhone. The actual selling points of the iPhone are embodied in its very design. You don’t need a long explanation of why the iPhone is desirable, because the selling points are built into it. From a marketing perspective, nothing could be better!

    When you read about the iPhone, you are getting a more in-depth explanation of what is built into the brand.

    Branding and content can be two different expressions of the same thing, so I don’t think it’s a case of one being better. In the end, there is no brand without content — so content is always primary, at least in that sense.

    David Fideler
    Concord Communications and Design
    http://www.concordcd.com/

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