This is one of those questions that divide opinions between the two marketer groups, product school of thought and brand school of thought.
Product marketing is great for exceptional products, new innovations that speak well for themselves or when you want to reintroduce yourself to your current target market. On the other hand, use brand marketing to position your business in a crowded space and build customer loyalty over time.
Many entrepreneurs believe they have the best product/ service, but is it enough to compete with the market leaders out there? Historically, global brands like Coca-Cola 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).
Just ask yourself a couple of questions.
- What’s the best energy drink? Red Bull, of course.
- What’s the best coffee? Starbucks, of course.
- What’s the best smartphone? The iPhone, of course.
If you want to become market leaders like Red Bull, Starbucks, iPhone and many others, you need to develop the better product or service. Then hire the best advertising agency you can find to communicate your superiority message. (Sounds like a lot to do)
So here’s an advice for small-scale entrepreneurs, a better product alone will not guarantee success. Very few people can tell the difference between a beer, juice, cup of coffee, chicken, fruits, rice, flour, spices etc., if you serve it to them without the brand name. But stick a brand name on them and preferences will suddenly stuck. If two business offerings are seemingly identical, they’ll go with the business they like the best.
This might not be the case with higher risk; more considered choices like financial services, cars or durables. Before making a purchase customers might want to find out more about the product and make sure they make the “right” choice. However, they might be strongly influenced by advice from friends and expert or peer reviews. (Perceptions come into play again!)
A lot of entrepreneurs wonder; how can anyone believe the brand is more important than the product. Well, that’s easy, perception. There are no facts. Everything in life is “perceptions.” There are no superior products. There are only superior perceptions in consumers’ minds. And so it is with many other “facts” we assume to be true.
Developing better wheat flour than Azam is a simple task compared to developing a better perception than Azam in consumers’ minds. In fact, it’s almost impossible — unless Azam does something stupid and things go horribly wrong.
So how can you compete with such a leader? The brand school has an answer for that question; be different. First, make sure your product meets the needs of your target audience. It does not have to be the best at everything but it does need to be good enough. Then figure out makes your brand meaningfully different to the target audience and make your brand as likeable as possible, influence people to want to buy it.
With all the debate going on about whether to use product marketing or brand marketing, one thing is clear. The popularity of the Internet is changing everything. Small businesses can use the Internet to do both; spread the message and educate customers more about their products and also create a huge following to build their respective brands.