Which Comes First A Product Or A Brand?

During the four months in the peak of the global Covid-19 pandemic in Europe, over 85,000 new online businesses had been launched. Research suggests that across almost every online category since the pandemic started (except for travel and tourism) there has been at least a  6-10% increase in sales.

So it makes sense to create an online business, but what do you focus on first? Developing a brand or finding a product?

For those new to marketing or unfamiliar with running an online business, it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other particularly when using business and product brands interchangeably. For example, when you say Coca-Cola you are referring to a product brand and a business brand.

So understanding which comes first, a product or a brand, can be a tricky proposition. If it is any consolation, most brand strategists tend to work case by case to develop products and brands because the line between the two can be blurry.

Let us start by first understanding what a product and a brand are.

When you say Coca-Cola you are referring to a product brand and a brand.
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Defining a Product

A product can be any form of item or service that you sell in exchange for money. Its monetary value is determined by demand and supply trends created by the customer.

A product can be physical or durable such as a pair of shoes, or virtual in terms of a service or experience such as education. They can also be a hybrid by having both physical and virtual characteristics. For example, a fitness tracker (physical) can track health-related goals digitally (virtual). 

Defining a Brand

The simplest way to understand what a brand is, is by understanding the feelings that a brand will evoke from its customers. A brand is the way a tangible or intangible product is perceived by those who will experience it. In other words, it is a promise you make to your users in terms of the experience they will look forward to. Different features of your brand such as a logo and packaging help identify it easily from the competitors.

A brand is responsible for developing a relationship with your user base and will ultimately help establish your worth in the market. Sometimes brands and product names can be used interchangeably.

For instance, LEGO is a brand and a range of games and movies. In other cases, brand names may differ from the parent company. For example, Kleenex is a brand under the parent company Kimberly-Clark, however, Kleenex is commonly used as a generic brand name for any tissue product.

Primary Differences Between a Product And A Brand

The best way to help differentiate between products and brands is by understanding their nature against their utility. In other words, brands are made by customers, products are made by companies. Let us look at some primary differences in more detail:

  • Products are tangible and intangible with a self-life. This means they are easily replaceable and prone to duplication by competitors. For instance, cereal is developed by multiple brands including Cheerios. On the other hand, brands have a longer shelf-life. This means they are unique and may take a long time to develop. For instance, Gillette razors. There may be many companies developing razors, but they cannot duplicate the brand.
  • Brands are timeless. They can build products that will evolve. Some products may die over time, while others may have new versions. For example, HP (brand) developed desktop computers (product) that were overtaken by laptops.
  • Brands are meant to grow or depreciate over time. For instance, Nike and Apple have a strong market standing based on developing years and years of unparalleled products. On the other hand, some brands may not last past their initial phase.
  • Products offer instant gratification while brands become important over time. You can easily measure the impact of a new product launched in the market by running a market survey and tracking sales. On the other hand, determining the value of a brand takes time as it takes time to build a reputation with your consumer base.

Which comes first, a brand or a product?

There are multiple schools of thought with varying views regarding which comes first: a brand or a product. Some believe it is important to build your brand and product hand in hand, thinking that you can’t build a product without knowing your customer base, or distribution agents first.

However, these sorts of approaches can be used for product development as well. For example, running a market survey can help you with the brand and product development.

Those who want to start an online business have a clear idea of what they want to achieve with their business or how they want to solve problems or create an impact, changing lives or behaviour and leaving a legacy. They start by creating their brand first, then seek out products. This is the foundation of creating a meaningful brand first, then deciding what sort of products that brand  might sell. 

The brand creators in this case may have an idea of what sort of products they will sell, but their focus is more specifically on problem solving and building a brand based on their own beliefs and values. These tend to be brands that serve a purpose, such as Virgin, Google, Airbnb.

On the other hand, most new online sellers start by looking at what products they could choose that will have enough demand and profit margin to make the business viable. They feel that while developing a product, you are automatically inclined towards thinking about your brand image, visualizing the consumer base and figuring out distribution channels while developing a product brand.

The product use or uniqueness tends to create the brand and these brands can become the genericide for an entire category. There are many examples of this, Hoover, Frisbee, Bandaid.In reality, there is no wrong or right way to do it.

It is more important that you consider the meaning and purpose of the brand, regardless of if you are starting with brand building or product sourcing.

An easy way to get your head around this conundrum is to consider the ‘umbrella’ brand concept which car brands use. Ford may have started with one product, the Model T, but now they have hundreds of product brands that live under the overarching Ford brand.

Here are some pros and cons to help you decide which is best for your approach to creating a successful online brand:

Product brand:

  1. 1
    Easy to get started, find a product, come up with a name, start selling.
  2. 2
    Product brands, if marketed well, can become a generic term for a category, making your brand the ‘brand of choice’, achieving status as the original and the reputation as #1 in the market for that particular type of product.
  3. 3
    Difficulty comes when you wish to expand the product range and your brand is now restricted by the first products name. For example, a brand focused on fitness and speed, cannot easily add a product that takes longer and has nothing to do with fitness under the same brand.
  4. 4
    You may end up with multiple brands to develop and manage, taking considerable more time and effort than having one brand with a large and flexible range of products to sell.
  5. 5
    What if the product is no longer wanted or available, does the brand then become unviable, at the risk of losing all sales streams and having to rebrand in order to continue selling the other products?

Business brand:

  1. 1
    Takes longer to develop as it is long-term thinking and is based on a core value or belief, with the products sourced as a result of the business desire to solve problems or help a specific audience.
  2. 2
    An umbrella brand focused on values and beliefs makes it easier to focus on which products to sell and make decisions about how products are developed, presented and sold.  It is easy to say yes or no to options based on what your brand will and won’t do.
  3. 3
    You can easily grow a business brand by adding products or distribution channels, scaling up and having the brand remain the same, even though you offer a range. This saves time and money, making it easier to duplicate what works and focus your efforts on brand awareness.
  4. 4
    It also makes launching new products easier, as you have a friendly audience who already love your brand and are prepared to buy more from it. Plus, if you launch a product that doesn’t do well, you can remove it and keep trading under the same brand.

Converting a Product Into a Brand

So what if you have started with a product and now you want to grow the brand...is all lost?

We don’t believe so. There are plenty of brands we all know and love that started with one simple idea, one product or concept and they have grown into recognised brands with plenty of range and scope.

Apple started with the simple concept of having a personal computer on every desktop. Steve Jobs saw that almost every desk had a phone and a phone book and that gave him the inspiration to make his product as small as that, in a time when most computers took up entire rooms! Now look at where Apple is and how small and usable the products are.

The suggestion we make for you if you are in this position, is to go back to your original concepts and core beliefs.

When you were searching for your product, why did you settle on the one you have chosen? 

What attracted you to the idea of selling it?

Who did you consider to be your ideal buyer and what did you hope the product would do for them?

Online sellers don’t have to be wedded to the type of products they sell to be successful.. You don’t have to be a chef to sell kitchen products or an athlete to sell fitness products. But it does help if you have an interest in solving problems for people and delivering value to them.

That value could be saving time, having fun, being safe, looking good, earning respect...

You don’t have to be a chef to sell kitchen products or an athlete to sell fitness products. But it does help if you have an interest in solving problems for people and delivering value to them.

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Even if you have chosen a product and created a brand without really understanding the process of branding, you will be able to dig deep into your subconscious and look at why you selected this product, what you hope it does for those who buy it and what sits at the core of your brand’s identity.

Now you can consider all the ways you can grow the brand and evolve into an umbrella brand overarching multiple products.

Of course, most people become unstuck at  this stage because they have chosen a brand name that relates ONLY to that specific product. This is the major problem of using a descriptive brand name, although it’s not impossible.

The Cheescake Factory for example, does sell more than just cheesecake. but most would agree, their products aren’t the best cheesecake, they are just the most convenient.

So go back to your reason and purpose and find meaning in your brand, then ensure all the products you sell reflect this core value with 100% conviction.

For more help in developing a successful online brand, you can complete the BrandCrafting Program, developed by award winning brand specialists and experienced online sellers.

Lauren Clemett - brandcrafter

International Award-Winning Neurobranding Expert, Best-Selling Author and Vodka Quality Controller.

Lauren has over 30 years experience in brand creation and management,
working within world leading advertising agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather and Clemenger BBDO. She has owned her own brand consultancy for over 10 years, helping entrepreneurs around the world to create stand out brands.

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