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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

Product Marketing vs. Brand Marketing: Which Should Your Startup Focus On Most?

Updated: Feb 19

We’ve all either participated in or at least have our own theory pertaining to the centuries-old debate about which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, amongst many founders in the Silicon Valley startup community, there is also an ongoing debate. And the topic of that debate consists of which spectrum of marketing that a startup should focus on most, product marketing or brand marketing?

As a brand director as well as a product marketer, I’ve seen firsthand just how both viewpoints of the debate could make a very strong case.

However, as with the chicken or the egg debate, there is no middle ground when it comes to which spectrum of marketing between the two is most important in regards to helping a startup scale the fastest. Only one could be the right answer when it comes to this debate.

The case to be made for product marketing

In the bestselling book, Purple Cow, author Seth Godin, writes, “Creators of the purple cow must measure; every product, every interaction, every policy, is either working—persuading sneezers and spreading the word, or it's not.” Unfortunately for those on the brand marketing side of the debate—there isn’t a sure way to measure the effectiveness that resources devoted towards brand marketing has on a brand.

That’s not to say that you cannot see the impact that brand marketing has on a brand. But in Silicon Valley, where every startup founder seeks to create their own purple cow—measurement is how C-Suite executives keep track of what is working and what isn’t.

The best case to be made for product marketing is that it’s measurable. Which means that you could track each process of your product marketing campaign and see the impact that it had on sales. And needless to say that when it comes to scaling any business—especially startups—if sales aren’t everything, they certainly are a close second.

The case to be made for brand marketing

Sales legend, motivational speaker, and author, the late Zig Ziglar, famously stated that, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” From my experience as a founder, marketing manager, and brand director—I can say that without a doubt, Zig’s statement was 100% correct. When it comes to the vast majority of consumers, the mind takes a backseat to the heart at the point of purchase.

Speaking of the heart, the same way that people cannot control what attracts them to others, when it comes to ideals that consumers are drawn to and eventually find themselves loving—it is brands that consumers fall in love with more so than products (think about it, you’re far more likely to see someone with a tattoo of the Chevy logo than a tattoo of a Chevy vehicle).

One of the best things about brand marketing is that when executed correctly—it sells your products for you.

For example, for over the last 90 years, French luxury brand Lacoste, has been an iconic brand in the world of fashion. Yet contrary to the success of their products, Lacoste doesn’t focus much on product marketing. Choosing rather to focus more instead on influencing the brand’s perception of prestige.

By focusing more on brand marketing, rather than product marketing—Lacoste has created its own community of loving followers that'll buy just about anything that has an alligator (the brand's logo) on it. The best case to be made for brand marketing is that if you allocate the majority of your startup's resources towards building a great brand—consumers will emotionally buy whatever it sells as a byproduct of their love for your brand.

The final verdict

Before ruling on the final verdict of this debate, I’d be remiss if I did not emphasize that in order to scale your startup, both product and brand marketing are extremely important. Especially in the initial stages of your startup.

As it pertains to which particular spectrum of marketing that your startup should focus on most between product marketing and brand marketing—brand marketing is the winner.

The reason why brand marketing indisputably wins this debate is because great brands transcend the products that they sell. Great products cannot make a brand great. But a great brand can make products great.

“When we buy Nike products for example, we’re not buying shoes, shirts, and other gear—we’re buying a dream.” Says author Denise Lee Yohn, in her book, What Great Brands Do. “As a purveyor of dreams, Nike enjoys the flexibility to introduce new products and reinterpret its brand values through them.”

Great brand marketing does the job of product marketing, not vice versa. Which is why as Yohn says, “Great brands avoid selling products.” Instead, great brands focus on presenting an ideology that consumers can get behind emotionally. That emotion is what leads to people desiring products so much, they’ll gladly sleep in line in front of retail stores to purchase the latest iPhone, PlayStation console, or pair of Air Jordan sneakers.

While great products appeal to the mind, great brands appeal to the heart. So, if your goal is to scale your startup as fast as possible—it’s best to place most of its marketing efforts towards becoming a great brand. That means focusing most of its resources towards brand marketing.


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