Companies compete for our attention. They must compete with other companies around the world for our limited attention. The big debate within these companies is always whether to spend their funding on the product or the brand.
As a Sales and Marketing practitioner in the automotive industry for the past 20 years, I would rank brand as marginally more important than product. Marketers try to establish a strong brand so that the products they are trying to sell are top of mind with potential customers.
Let’s consider the question of being product-focused versus brand-focused in some detail.
What Comes First, Brand or Product?
Companies consist of employees of different departments, all working towards making the company financially viable, socially responsible, and financially sustainable. Typically, a company will have the following departments, each with a key role:
- Market Research – Seek to understand the needs of consumers and identifies potential products
- Product Development – Engineer products to meet the needs identified by market research
- Purchasing – Buying the raw materials, equipment and utilities needed to make the products
- Production – Manufacturing the products using manpower, machines, materials, training, and processes
- Warehousing & Logistics – Receipt, storage and distribution of raw materials and finished products
- Sales and Marketing – Creating the brand message for consumers and selling the products
- Finance – Providing the funding and budget controls to ensure the financial success of the company
- Human Resources – Providing people with the talent and skills for each department. Paying these employees and keeping them healthy and happy.
The debate of the most important aspect, brand or product, rages in all companies. Ask a Product Engineer, and they will say that the product is most important. Ask a Sales and Marketing practitioner, and they will say that brand is the most important. Brands are built up over time and are a combination of product, price, promotion, and place often called the 4Ps of Marketing.
In most cases, products come into existence before they become linked to a brand. The need for a product precedes the development of the product. Entrepreneurs identify the need for a product by listening to the voice of the customer (Market Research) and then defining a product brief. Engineers use the product brief to develop a product and the process required to produce it.
Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and SpaceX
Consider how Elon Musk established brands like SpaceX and Tesla. Musk saw that our planet is under severe strain due to the pollution of 7.5 billion people. Musk identified the need for Clean, Renewable Energy and a second planet for humanity to live on. The Tesla Brand is the premium brand in the world for electric-powered cars and solar energy. SpaceX now provides NASA with low-cost transportation of cargo to the Space Station and soon to Mars.
Ray Kroc, the Father of McDonald’s
The brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald started a restaurant selling Hamburgers and Milkshakes in 1948 in California. When McDonald’s Founder Ray Kroc visited them in 1954, he was astonished at how many hamburgers and milkshakes they could produce at meager costs. Kroc identified the simple and efficient process to make and sell fast food to the public in a very profitable yet appealing way. And so, the McDonald’s fast-food franchise was born and has since spread around the world.
Understanding the 4Ps of Marketing
What is meant by the terms Brand, Product, Price, Promotion, and Place? Consider the diagram below?
What is a Product?
A product is something that you can sell for money. For people to buy the product, they will have to need it. Without a need, people will not be looking for the product. This is where the brand becomes important. The presentation of the product must be attractive to consumers. The brand provides this “Attraction.”
What is a Brand?
A brand is a promise to a customer of what to expect from the product experience. The brand communication will inform potential customers of what the product will do for them, where they can find the product for sale, what the price is they can expect to pay, how the brand will make their lives better or add to their personal brand.
Why is the Price so important?
The price of a product is the amount of money that customers are willing to pay for a product or service. The stronger the brand, the higher the price is that the product can command.
Premium brands can charge a lot more as customers know what to expect or want to be associated with the brand. The price of a MacDonald’s Big Mac Burger in different countries is often cited as an example of market development. It is referred to as “Burger-nomics” and compares the buying power of consumers in various parts of the world.
What is meant by Promotion?
The brand promise is communicated to the mass market via print, radio, and television advertising. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be used to communicate to a target market. The goal is to get the brand seen by as many people as possible. The brand message must lure the customer into looking at the product more closely. Marketers talk about creating a fragrance for the brand that can capture the attention and lure people into the sales funnel.
What is meant by Place?
The place is where you can find the product. Where the product is sold to the customer. Shopping malls, car lots, drive through’s and increasingly, online. A MacDonald’s can most often be found on busy roads where the Golden M is clearly visible. Amazon offers its products on its website and delivers directly to your doorstep. Consumers must know where to find your Products.
The Product Life Cycle
When considering our original question, what comes first, Product or Brand, it is useful to look at the product life cycle and the four distinct phases.
The Introduction Phase
During the introduction phase, the market needs to define the product. Early prototypes are made and tested. Feedback from these tests is used to make improvements to the product until it is deemed market-ready.
The Growth Phase (Launch Phase)
The product is then launched to the market via the brand communication strategy. This strategy will comprise the media mix of mass marketing and targeted marketing.
|Mass Marketing platforms||Targeted Marketing platforms|
|Print Media – Newspapers, magazines Television and Radio Outdoor Billboards Sport Branding||Brand Websites Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Direct Mailers via Post or email|
The media mix will be based on the product launch budget. The strength of the brand message will determine how strong the product sells during the growth phase. If the brand message is weak, it could lead to poor sales and short product life. The brand and product experience must also be good for the sales to grow and ensure a long product life. How the consumer experiences the product during purchase, use, and even resale or disposal can create the strongest marketing, customer advocacy, or word of mouth.
Strong brands will enable companies to have a profitable lifecycle allowing them to invest in new generation products based on new technology and eliminating the negative feedback from customers during the product life cycle.
What happens during the Maturity Phase?
Successful brands engage with their customers during the purchase process or when product maintenance is required. They provide the customer with the support needed during ownership. When the customer considers buying a new product or upgraded product, their brand will be top of mind. This adds to the brand value as the company already has an existing relationship with the customer. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a way to manage the relationship between customers and brands.
Eliminating the Brand Decline
During the maturity phase, great companies use the feedback from customers to design improved products that can be launched to the market and replace their first-generation products. Thus, the brand is always maintaining good sales and ever-growing popularity. No brand can afford to wait until competitor products erode their sales and steal their hard-earned customers.
The top brands in the world offer great products that make life easier or more enjoyable and have a direct relationship with their customers.
Top Ranking Brands in 2020/21
- America Express
- Johnson & Johnson
In conclusion, what is more important, the product or the brand? One could argue from both perspectives, but ultimately, it is what the world’s consumers think counts. The evidence would place brand strength above all else. Ever evolving and great products are expected.