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Marketing products vs brands; How to market to the max?

Evolution of products vs brands

Product recognition is a marketing fundamental. But what really is the difference between products vs brands? The early brands used marks like the red triangle of BASS beer. This was actually a symbol of strength similar to Castlemaine XXXX or Wadworth 6X (Figure 1). Others from Ford to Kellogg to Boots used the simple signature of the owner. These were the first differentiators that enabled products evolve into brands.

Beer brand logos - Bass, CastlemaineXXXX and Wadworth 6X; illustrating how brands evolved from products

Products that are named and recognisable in design and packaging can then be recalled by their qualities, properties, and attributes and benefits. This is all very logical so far ….

Brands add ‘values’ and value

Yet brands also convey ‘values’ – the importance, worth, utility or usefulness of something (1). They build an image or perceptions in the customer’s eyes. In turn they also build a relationship based on emotions of trust and care, responsibility, and respect. Elevating products to brands involves working out what makes them different and better. This process is called brand positioning.

Benefits of brands

Compared with products, brands are more distinctive, and build stronger relationships with customers. In turn they are more valued and valuable. Simply adding more products under the umbrella of the brand also has many attractions. We call this brand extension. In today’s particularly fragmented and targeted media environment, it adds weight to messaging, and scale to business.

Pitfalls to avoid

So make sure that brand values match product performance. Especially in both technical and service sectors. A single poor experience in a restaurant will lower the brand reputation across the entire chain.

This is a problem that befell airplane manufacturer Boeing. When their much-vaulted new plane, the Boeing 737 Max, fell out of the sky it took two years to sort out. The planes underwent final stages of airworthy certification. And Ryanair have now ordered over 200. However, they are no longer named Max (Figure 2). They are now named the Boeing 737-8200.

Illustration of the Boeing 737 Max and Boeing 737-8200 nose cones showing the use of product vs brand names as a differentiator. Yet there is no difference in the products

Marketing Inspiration

So to summarise the difference between products vs brands. Brands are a value-added subset of products and services. All brands are either products or services. However, not all products and services are brands. This is because products and services are typically more generic. Whereas brands have a good awareness, a distinctive image and a stronger emotional connection with consumers. Thus they command premium prices and the strongest brands command higher share prices, reflecting their higher earnings multipliers over the also rans.

So be clear about the difference between products vs brands. And manage the risks and invest accordingly.


(1). Oxford English Dictionary. While the word ‘values’ is useful to a point, it is also a somewhat vague term. And thus we prefer the more specific concepts of benefits, personality traits, beliefs and behaviours to understand and describe brands. They are more powerful to develop brand strategies.

Guy is Chief Marketer at The Marketing Directors and Chief Researcher at The Market Researchers. He helps research and market brands and businesses in consumer goods, services, media, technology and business-to-business. Successes include the BBC, GlaxoSmithKline, First Ark, Global Switch, McDonald's, Scott Bader and Paypal. After graduating with a degree in Chemistry, he started-out in brand management at Boots and Procter and Gamble, then managed business planning at Reader’s Digest, before becoming Group Marketing Director, responsible for 13 countries at media producer Softvision. As a consultant, and then Board Marketing Director he worked for KAE, PricewaterhouseCoopers and New Solutions (Omnicom) before founding The Marketing Directors in 2005. He is co-author of The Marketing Director's Handbook (volumes 1 and 2). Guy plays tennis, water skis and supports #HCAFC.

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