They're not the same thing—but they should be thisclose.
I work in branding, and sometimes am in the habit of using the words “business” and “brand” interchangeably. I shouldn’t. Yes, they overlap. And they impact one another. Sometimes they’re merely different shades of each other. But they’re not the same thing.
A business is an organization in which people deliver products, services and/or expertise, usually in exchange for money. A business involves tangible things like operations, offerings, equipment, locations, distribution, human resources and so on. It can be observed and measured.
A brand, on the other hand, covers people’s experience with and perception of that business. It involves more what they think and feel, often in tandem with concepts like “image,” “reputation,” and “promise.” Therefore it covers softer things like values, language, and design. And it comes through in things like communications and culture.
Business and brand (should) go hand in hand
In the best cases, business and brand constantly reflect and shape one another. Take Southwest. As a business, it’s an airline with 750 planes, 99 routes and 58k employees, with competitive prices and good customer service. As a brand, it’s a friendly company with a reputation for caring, a heart for a logo and a high brand intimacy quotient. Their mission drives hiring and training, and their efficiency keeps their reputation afloat. They’re always working to bring the two closer.
In the best cases, business and brand constantly reflect and shape one another.
In weaker situations, a brand is treated like the surface of a business. Just the polish that makes it look and feel a certain way to prospective customers or employees, through marketing and recruiting efforts. It may be carefully woven into digital experience and office decor. But if the brand is not reinforced by product performance or employee behavior, it quickly falls apart. Or it even creates some much-deserved backlash. In these cases, the brand is little more than bait.
Infusing your brand into every aspect of your business is an admirable goal, which takes thoughtful strategy and ongoing stewardship. Along the way, there are some simple things you can do.
Bridge the gaps and see real improvement:
In marketing and sales, be strategic with brand messaging to shape your materials. Don’t be everything to everyone. Focus on doing a few things well, with one clear main message.
In recruiting, leverage your core values to attract and screen the right candidates. That continues with internal culture, reinforcing values every day in things like employee reviews and recognition.
Make you mission or purpose simple and emotional, so it can effectively guide your most important decisions. This includes everything from which products to discontinue to which markets to enter next. Here are some good B2B examples of mission statements.
When your brand and business are aligned, good things happen. Employee morale rises. Marketing is more effective. Sales is scalable. R&D is more focused. Recruiting is easier. Reviews are more positive. The sky is sunnier. And food tastes better.
Your brand is not what you say it is, it's what they say it is.
One of my favorite books on branding puts it best: your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is. Yes, you work to define and design and deliver it. But in the end, it lives in the hearts and minds of others.
Your business and brand may never be perfectly aligned. But with the right approach and sustained effort, you will get really damn close.