Brand or Product - What Is the Difference?

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Posted Sep 23, 2011
Susan Gunelius

How do you name a brand or product? How do you market a brand or product? You can’t answer those questions until you understand the difference between a brand and product. In upcoming posts here on the AYTM blog, I’ll teach you how to name a brand or product, but first, let’s analyze the differences between them.

There are several fundamental differences between a brand and a product (or a service). If you can make the distinction between the following differences, you’re on your way to understanding brands vs. products.

Of course, it's important to understand that popular products can become brands unto themselves and brand names can be used to refer to products. While it can get a bit confusing, the fundamental differences between products and brands identified below should help you clear up some of that confusion.

Companies Make Products and Consumers Make Brands

A product is made by a company and can be purchased by a consumer in exchange for money while brands are built through consumer perceptions, expectations, and experiences with all products or services under a brand umbrella. For example, Toyota’s product is cars. Its umbrella brand is Toyota and each product has its own more specific brand name to distinguish the various Toyota-manufactured product lines from one another. Without a product, there is no need for a brand.

Products Can Be Copied and Replaced but Brands Are Unique

A product can be copied by competitors at anytime. When Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader device, it didn’t take long for competitors to come out with their own branded versions of an e-reader product. However, the brand associated with each e-reader device offers unique value based on the perceptions, expectations, and emotions that consumers develop for those brands through previous experiences with them.

Similarly, a product can be replaced with a competitor’s product if consumers believe the two products offer the same features and benefits. Products with low emotional involvement are typically easily replaced. For example, do you really care what brand of milk you buy or do you primarily just care that the milk you buy is fresh and includes the fat percentage that you want?

Products Can Become Obsolete but Brands Can Be Timeless

Remember VHS players? With the introduction of DVD players and more recently DVR devices and streaming video services, VHS players have become obsolete. The same thing happened to 8-track tapes, vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs. Today, most people buy their music in digital format and listen to it on their iPods. The Elvis Presley brand is timeless, but no one buys Elvis music on cassettes anymore.

Products Are Instantly Meaningful but Brands Become Meaningful over Time.

When you launch a new product, it’s easy to make that product instantly meaningful and useful to consumers because it serves a specific function for them. However, a brand is meaningless until consumers have a chance to experience it, build trust with it, and believe in it. That’s why the 3 steps to brand building include consistency, persistence, and restraint. It takes time and effort to convince consumers to believe in your brand.

Consider Google as an example. When Google first hit the Internet scene it offered a simple product -- a search engine. That product was instantly meaningful to consumers because it helped them find information online quickly. However, the Google brand didn’t become meaningful to consumers until people had a chance to use the Google search engine product and see for themselves that it really was a better search engine. Through those experiences, consumers began to trust that the Google brand could deliver faster and better information online. Today, when Google launches a new product (like Google+ recently), people are quick to try those products because they trust the Google brand.

Now that you understand the differences between a brand and a product, stay tuned for my upcoming articles on about how to name a brand and how to name a product.

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Images: afreeta, ratnesh

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