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Nov 23, 2021 Ashley Gwilliam

Product vs Brand Marketing: Which Works Best? [Updated for 2022]

Republicans have Democrats.

Americans have Canadians.

And product marketers have brand marketers. Oftentimes, the groups that love to debate one another have more in common than initially realized.

And that's especially true in the field of marketing. Both sides passionately feel they are right – yet, as is often the case, no one is definitively right. In recent decades, marketers have debated between two ideologies: Putting the product front and center OR telling stories that build brand reputations.

Product vs. Brand Marketing

While the distinction between what connotes a product versus a brand is straightforward – products are objects or services that can be sold for money, while brands are the embodied personas of the companies that sell them – the strategies for promoting the two can get convoluted.

Here's how the dichotomy goes:

The Product Marketers: These guys operate under the assumption that the best product always wins. That's not to say, you don't have to put work into marketing your product (that would put them out of business). But it does mean emphasizing the product's inherent awesomeness in oftentimes large media campaigns that highlight superiority.

Reasons for superiority could be as diverse as a soft drink that has more fizzle, a shoe company with renowned customer service, or a smartphone with waterproof capabilities. Regardless, a product marketing campaign would emphasize features and benefits.

The Brand Marketers: This camp is more about storytelling. They may create an entire marketing campaign that has absolutely no direct correlation to the product being sold. Kate Spade New York is a perfect example. The company's #missadventure YouTube campaign takes viewers through "the fabulous" life of a fictional character played by Hollywood darling Anna Kendrick.

Though the company's handbags are featured throughout the series – and that is product marketing - they aren't the primary focus. Instead, the marketing campaign builds interest by inviting customers along for a sensory experience.

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What Type of Marketing Is Right For You?

Historically, global brands have operated from a product-marketing perspective. And that's because they have large budgets to do so. Television ads, radio ads, and product placements all cost money (lots of it). Conversely, smaller businesses and grassroots organizations have embraced brand marketing. But the popularity of the Internet kinda changed everything.

Since companies of all sizes now have more control over creating customer experiences online, you'll now see everyone experimenting with a little bit of everything. Although the pendulum appears to be swinging back to product marketing for larger companies like Coca-Cola in 2016.

With that said, there's no reason to stick to one method. Let's review the unique benefits of each:

Benefits of Product Marketing

  • Great for quickly introducing yourself to a large audience.
  • Easy way of re-introducing yourself to your target market.
  • Beneficial for promoting products that "speak for themselves"
  • Ideal for promoting never-before-seen features, benefits, and services.

Benefits of Brand Marketing

  • Great for uniquely positioning yourself in a crowded space.
  • An effective way to organically build customer loyalty over time.
  • Effective at changing perceptions and introducing new ideas.
  • Ideal for companies with interesting founding stories and backgrounds.

The reality is it's much easier to position yourself as different than it is to be first. And that requires building a stand-out brand. But since this is the Lean Labs blog, you may be wondering:

Where Does Growth Marketing Fit In?

Imagine attracting the right customers, at the right time, instead of competing with several other purchasing options for attention. That's the potential of inbound marketing. Studies show inbound marketing generates 54 percent more leads than outbound marketing – at 61 percent lower costs. Pair that with rock-solid brand marketing and you've got a highly effective combo.

We've been an inbound agency for a long time, but we're no longer "inbound." 

Recently, we realized that, regardless of whether you're marketing products or brands, the problems and roadblocks are the same.

We're living in a world of "me too" messages from brands who want to be a unique success story.

Why is that so ironic?

Most brands have one differentiator: price.

They promote a bunch of different things, but their competitors say the same thing. The only thing that's different is the price... thus begins the race to the bottom.

Marketing agencies aren't the answer either. Marketing agencies are "me too" agencies as well. There's nothing unique or different about 99% of them.

Think about it: You ask an advertising agency how to make your business grow and they'll tell you to run more ads.

Ask the same question to a content marketing agency and they'll tell you to create more content.

They apply the same "strategy" to every single company that comes along.

We used to do it, too. But, we realized it stopped working so well about 3 years ago. 

Inbound marketing worked for more than a decade because doing inbound marketing was the differentiator. Now, everyone is doing it. So, it's no longer a differentiator.

Today, it's not about inbound vs. outbound, or product vs. brand. It's about applying the right marketing strategies to accomplish the right objectives. And, if you reach the right objectives in the right order, your brand crushes all your competitors.

Even better, if you do Growth Marketing right, your brand ceases to compete with your competitors, and you render them obsolete. 

Yes, there are still different "kinds" of marketing. But, the growth marketing methodology needs to permeate all the way through your organization.

How? Watch these videos.

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Published by Ashley Gwilliam November 23, 2021
Ashley Gwilliam