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 product differentiators.
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. We call this brand positioning.
Benefits of brands
Simply, adding more products under the umbrella of the brand has many attractions. In particular, in today’s fragmented and targeted media environment. It gives weight to messaging, and scale to business. We call this brand extension.
Pitfalls to avoid
So take care that brand values are well aligned to product performance. Especially in both technical and service sectors. A single poor experience in a restaurant will lower the brand reputation across a chain.
This is a problem that befell 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 are now undergoing final stages of airworthy certification. And Ryanair have now ordered over 200. But they are now named the Boeing 737-8200. No Max (Figure 2).
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. Not all products and services have a good awareness, a distinctive image nor a strong emotional connection with consumers. Nor the massive share price over earnings multipliers of the strongest brands.
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.