When I work with clients to create or reinvent their brands, I start by helping them understand one critical concept: “Branding” and “marketing” are not one and the same. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, even by professionals in both fields, they are actually separate practices. Understanding the difference between marketing and branding is important because it provides clarity around what we’re setting out to do — and what we're not trying to do — as effective communicators.
So what is branding? My favorite definition comes from Marty Neumeier in his book “The Brand Gap.” There, he defines branding as a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. He notes that companies aren’t able to control this feeling but that they can certainly influence it by consistently communicating what makes this product different from that product. How? You guessed it: marketing. Marketing is the series of tactics you use to deliver on your brand, including social media campaigns, advertising, every interaction your employees have with your clients, and, of course, your content.
So if we’re taking a look at how your brand — this feeling you hope to influence in the mind of your audience — should show up in your content marketing, I find that it’s easiest to provide examples through the use of one of my favorite branding elements: brand archetypes.
Every brand has a personality. These personalities commonly fall into one of 12 archetypes that are already recognizable and deeply embedded in the subconscious of individuals and our culture.
We can look to some popular brands for examples of the 12 brand archetypes. The North Face fits into the characteristic “explorer” archetype. Old Spice — and “The Man Your Man Should Smell Like” — certainly fits into the “jester” archetype, sometimes referred to as the “comedian” or the “entertainer.”
The 12 brand archetypes each look (via their design and color choices), sound (via their tone and the specific language they use), and behave (what mediums they post in, the products they sell, and the causes they back) in ways that make sense for their common personality types. And the archetype is a reflection of how a brand wants to be seen by its audience.
So how can you use your content marketing to deliver on the feeling that you’re trying to inspire within your audience (your brand), and what are some examples of brands doing it well?
After I’ve helped clients understand the difference between branding and marketing, the next thing I do is guide them in exercises around their values. To me, values are the most foundational element of any brand because, whether you define them for yourself or not, your company's values will drive your organization's behavior (both internally and externally).
When we’re thinking about values as they relate to your brand archetype and how they should show up in your content marketing, let’s look at Patagonia. Outdoor, gear, or adventure brands tend to fit into that “explorer” archetype. What do explorers value? Things like curiosity, ambition, achievement, individualism, and even awe. In Patagonia’s case, its exploration comes with a deeply held value around a commitment to sustainability and the preservation of natural resources. For years, those natural resources have included not only advocating for land and water protection, but also increasingly high standards around supply chain management and labor practices.
To that end, you can see how its content marketing often revolves around these values, including its response to COVID-19, its statements around migrant worker standards, how it speaks about “rampant consumerism” in the outdoor gear industry, and its related company offshoot specific to that topic, “Worn Wear.” While I can’t speak to how well the company delivers on these values in actual practice, you can certainly see how its values undergird everything it does and exactly how much focus it devotes to these values within its content.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on COVID-19:“Social distancing is the best way to slow the spread of #COVID19, but it may make new & expecting parents feel stressed or isolated. Learn how to cope with stress and anxiety.”
MoonPie, on COVID-19:
“Reasons to keep staying inside:
1. Air conditioning
2. We got MoonPies in here
3. You know, the obvious reason
4. Umm idk snakes?”
This, my friends, is the concept of voice in practice. As a national health protection agency, the CDC necessarily must maintain a voice that falls somewhere around the “sage” archetype. It must cultivate its perception as a well-researched, objective organization that’s here to guide us in making wise choices concerning our health. You won’t catch the CDC using vernacular like “umm idk” or creating hilarious Zoom backgrounds that look like memes. MoonPie, on the other hand? The snack brand has no regard for decorum and seeks to make you laugh in every single post.
Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, the voice you choose can communicate your brand's personality and values to your target audience.
If you're a research organization, you likely don’t need a Pinterest or TikTok account, and if you’re a youth advocacy organization, you probably want to partner with sites like Teen Vogue. The reason? The channels you use reflect your brand and its personality as much as anything else.
This is good news because it means you don’t, in fact, have to do your content marketing everywhere, as much as the world would have you believe otherwise. It’s also good news because, just like a brand archetype gives you symbolism that immediately helps your audience identify what you’re about, your marketing channels (i.e., mediums or outlets) do the exact same thing. Every platform comes with its own personality. So the mediums you choose to publish in can help reinforce your brand.
Let’s take a look at Chipotle. My best guess at its brand archetype is what I like to refer to as the “neighbor,” which is often called the “guy/girl next door” or the “friend.” These brands are approachable, maybe a little witty, but definitely friendly and easy to relate to. Chipotle joined TikTok and has been making waves with its fun, easy-to-do-at-home challenges. Or take Whitney Manney, an independent fashion label that uses YouTube interviews and Facebook Live to give you inside looks into its weird, untouched-up business.
Your brand is reinforced by and reflected in absolutely everything you do: every phone call, every word, every social media post — everything. So these are only a few of many ways that your content marketing can help to deliver on who you say you are, but I believe they’re some of the most powerful tools we have as communicators to engage our audiences and bring them into the fold.