Marketing, Branding and Sales – what are they, and how do they lead to money?

A few weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a colleague of mine about the difference between Marketing, Branding and Sales; or to be more precise, which of these I thought was the most important for a small business. I was arguing that all three are intrinsically different business functions, and that small businesses often get the three confused, or pursue one and expect the results of another.

Any business focused on revenue generation will be interested in sales. How many people they are able to sell their product or service to, and for what price. Without being able to generate sales in the correct quantity, or for the right price, the business is dead in the water.

As a small business owner myself, I’m well aware of the limitless ways in which businesses can spend money, but I’ve also got a keen awareness for what the end result of this expenditure needs to be. If I spend my hard earned pennies on a service, I want those pennies to return with their friends, and preferably plenty of them!

Service providers will talk all day about how high quality their service is, or how big their previous clients have been, but unless I can see clear evidence in the pitch, I’m unlikely to take a discussion past early stage talks. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a talk where the speaker was advocating for the importance of branding – consistent use of language, font, colour palette and all the various aspects of public presentation. This speaker was talking about the importance of brand, and how they were engaged on a number of assignments to ‘re-brand’ an organisation.

I can’t think of many entrepreneurs that would argue that a coherent presentation platform is a bad thing to have, and whilst the consequence of having an inconsistent and poorly thought out brand can be detrimental to our end goal of sales, I’m not sure I’d directly attribute branding activities to sales.

In my opinion, the vast majority of ‘branding/rebranding’ activities are akin to selling snake oil, as to everyone I’ve ever met, a brand is simply a reflection of four things;

  1. The quality of your product or service.
  2. The way your interact with your customers.
  3. The way you treat your employees (and what how they say about you).
  4. How financially healthy your organisation is.

If you manage these four things correctly, if your organisations utilises well paid staff to sell a worthwhile product, in a polite and helpful manner to customers that want it, and you’re not facing profit warnings every six months then your brand will be 10x as valuable as any amount of ‘branding’ exercises can possibly be.

Marketing on the other hand, comes in a range of forms along a directness scale, running from ‘direct marketing’, which is specifically aimed at you as a prospect identified as part of a target market. On the other end of the scale, you’ve got indirect marketing, which attempts to develop a rapport with potential customers rather than hitting them first with a sales pitch, through demonstrating value and creating ‘brand evangelists’ who advocate and believe in a product/service through interactions with the selling organisation.

In my opinion, good marketing is about finding new ways to introduce value to potential customers. You could have the best new widget in the world up for sale, or the most effective new process for X, but if the value isn’t being identified and presented correctly, no-one will show the slightest bit of interest.

Having a clear and consistent marketing message is all about understanding why your service is valuable, and telling potential customers in a way that they not only understand, but believe. We’ve all fallen prey to that pushy salesman, the one who wants you to know that this is the best product on the market, and after half an hour of sales rattle still hasn’t asked what it is you’re looking for.

A good marketing pitch is completely the opposite of this. A good marketing pitch is firstly targeted at an interested potential buyer – it’s no good trying to sell a 4×4 to an eco-warrior, for example, no matter how powerful the engine!

Secondly, a marketing pitch makes the benefits relevant to the buyer – if I use a mobile for phonecalls, and am primarily interested in getting a quantity of minutes included in my contract, it doesn’t matter how many texts you offer – it makes no difference. Talk to me about minutes however, and we’ve got a ball game!

Finally, a good marketing pitch is aware of when to back down. If I’m considering my options, I don’t want a heavy handed pitch, telling me that I’ve got ONE DAY LEFT to buy this exciting new widget – it just makes me feel as though the only thing you’re interested in is commission, rather than helping me with the problem I’m looking to solve.

In my opinion, most branding activities should be carried out as an extension of activity. Yes, you need to decide on a logo, and it’s important to stick to professional and consistent use of colour and font, but these things along will not generate sales. Instead, you need to be thinking about how you’re engaging with your market and focus on the needs of your audience, rather than the need to sell your product or service.

If you can do that, consistently, and with genuine interest for your customers requirements, sales will be an awful lot easier to generate. So if you’re not sure where to start with branding and marketing, start with your ideal customer, and focus on how you can help them.

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