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Wall Street Steward Blog

Marketing vs. Branding

Over the past 2 years, I have done plenty of branding. This is in stark contrast to my first 15 years in the investment business, when marketing was my flavor.

Honestly, I never knew the difference until recently. Now, I am not sure I will ever “market” again. These are only my opinions and observations, so if you vehemently disagree with my definitions, go tell someone that will listen.   

Marketing is all about trying to sell a product. Identify a target market, or prospect, and use different mediums to accentuate the features and benefits of the product in an attempt to persuade the prospect to make a purchase. Marketing doesn’t care if it is an impulse buy or a well thought out purchase. Marketing only cares if there is a sale. If so, it has done its job.

Obviously, if you continue to buy, the marketing entity is thrilled that they have created some sort of loyalty. But, in my opinion, that loyalty only happened by accident when built using a marketing approach.

Customer A has a NEED, our product can fill that NEED, so explain to the customer HOW our product fills that NEED, and they will buy. Needs based. That is marketing.

Conversely, branding, to me, is occupying space in the prospect’s subconscious. Rather than focusing on a specific product, branding is more about building an image. Solving a problem. Whether the prospect has an immediate need or not is irrelevant. Who cares if the person needs your service at the moment? Eventually, down the road, the person might need the service, and if you have branded correctly, your entity is the FIRST thing they think of.

Customer A has a current PROBLEM, our practice can solve that PROBLEM, so describe to the person how your practice will make their life easier by solving their problem. Problem solving. That is branding. 

BUT, what if the person has no immediate need? In that case, marketing is dead, but branding is just warming up.

Let me give you an example from the finance world. Married couple. Husband works at Williams & Fudge in Rock Hill, SC. Wife is a stay at home mom taking care of their 5 kids. Smokey (he had to have a cool name) does well, but those kids like to eat, so it takes a lot of coin to maintain their standard of living. Smokey does save money out of each paycheck that goes into his 401(k), but other than that, the family does not have any investments.

Marketing: “We have a 10-year corporate bond paying 6 percent, would you like to buy $10,000 worth, or would $25,000 be more your speed?”

Selling a product. Smokey walks away. He has no money to buy at the time. 

Instead of taking a direct, full frontal approach, branding occurs over the course of a couple of years. Like this:

Smokey hears XYZ financial advisor on the Rock Hill news and is impressed. Later, he receives an invitation to an educational seminar held at XYZ’s office – he doesn’t have any money, but he likes the fact that the person is offering to teach him something, as opposed to trying to sell him something. Six months later, he receives an e-mail from a friend that has a piece of research that his friend’s advisor sent him. Same advisor. Wow. He is everywhere!

After reading the e-mail, Smokey goes to yahoosports.com to check the scores, and a picture of the same local Rock Hill financial advisor pops up on the right hand side of the screen. 

Smokey doesn’t have a need currently. So, he ignores the image.

Nine weeks later, Smokey’s firm decides to downsize and he loses his job. He is in shock. He is embarrassed. He is scared. Not the optimal frame of mind to be in to make a sound financial decision, right? 

Smokey wants to ask his friends for a referral, but he feels that he doesn’t have time to have ten different conversations. Also, he doesn’t want to have to rehash the depressing story of being fired. He logs onto Facebook and asks his friends if they know of a good financial advisor that can help him with his 401(k) rollover. 

Sammy, one of Smokey’s closest friends forwards him a link to his advisor’s Facebook page. It is the same person Smokey has seen all over town.

BRANDING wins. Smokey did not have a need originally, so he resisted the marketing. However, there came a point in time where he had a need, and the branding campaign had occupied enough space in his subconscious that his friend’s referral was more of a confirmation than a recommendation.

That, to me, is the difference between marketing and branding.