Brand or Branding? Why the semantics matter to you.

I have been in several conversations recently where we’ve discussed the topic of brands and branding, provoking questions like “What is your approach to branding?” or “How do you develop brand strategies?” Often the people asking have different perspectives on what, at first glance, are seemingly similar questions. Does the semantic difference between “brand” and “branding” matter? I believe that it can have a huge impact on how you think about an important marketing subject.

Let’s start with “brand,” the noun, as in “What does your brand stand for?” Brands are ultimately what consumers (or business buyers) perceive them to be, so engaging consumers as participants in the brand building process is important and logical.

However “branding,” which derives from the act of stamping a brand on a herd of cattle, implies something you do. Calling what you do “branding” is okay, if you are naming products or developing marks. But the idea that you are emblazoning your brand on the minds of consumers is no longer the right way to think about building your brand.

Many marketers are falling into this trap and it can be seen in their approaches. Instead of engaging customers as co-creators of the brand experience, they are treating them as recipients of their “branding message,” via television or Twitter, for example. They communicate uni-directionally (brand to consumer) and ignore the power of interacting bi-directionally (brand with consumer) or multi-directionally (brand with consumer and consumers with their networks).

So what is your dominant orientation, brand or branding? And how does that shape the way you engage with your customers?