When we started these essays we thought branding was pretty much a well-understood, accepted concept within the cultural arts field. But then we got this response to one of our new business letters sent to a marketing director regarding our brand strategy consulting services:

“At this time, we focus our energy on creating provocative and effective graphics to market single tickets to each show. As you can see on the banner of our website, we typically put our organization’s name in Futura bold white, black, or red. This seems to work for us as we’ve had five years of extremely strong audience attendance. We’re not interested in developing a new graphic look for our organization. We have a graphic artist in-house and use local companies for graphic services as needed.”

Now, I’m not trying to be some snooty consultant lording his supposed knowledge over some innocent marketing director. But since transitioning from corporate to cultural arts branding back in 2000, I really thought that in 2011 we are past a “what is branding?” discussion. And maybe we are. Maybe this was a one-off reaction and the rest of you are just fine in your understanding. I’ve a feeling that you’ll let me know. Back in 2000 the b-word was verboten in some, or misunderstood in other, arts organizations. One executive director even introduced the subject of branding to her staff as, “you all know what branding is, it’s like branding livestock.” Amusing now, kind of disturbing then.

So, just to get the definitions out-of-the-way, because I know you’ve all heard them — just think of them as your quick, go-to guide to email to confused colleagues:

  • Branding is to marketing as strategy is to tactics. I like this one. It’s short. It’s quick. It’s an easy concept to grasp. And it finally makes use of those SAT analogies that many of us had to learn, but never thought we’d actually use.
  • A brand is the sum of all the impressions one has of a visual or performing arts organization. This one’s important because it’s from the audience’s viewpoint and encompasses how an audience views an organization’s:
    • Mission and vision
    • Building and facilities
    • Collections and exhibitions, or season programs
    • Public, educational, and outreach programs
    • Name and graphic or visual identity
    • Digital and print advertising
    • Public relations and news about the organization
    • Actual and virtual word-of-mouth helped by social media
    • Social media itself
    • Digital and print communications
    • Comparable and/or competitive organizations
    • Boards, management, and staff.
  • Branding is the practice of aligning all those impressions to ensure that they form the consistent and unified image and message that we want for our organization to differentiate ourselves and create the right impression among our audiences so that they will be more likely to visit or attend more often.
  • A logo is to branding as the tip of an iceberg is to the whole iceberg. I admit, this isn’t a perfect metaphor, however, a logo is often the most visible or most used part of a branding program, but a brand and branding encompass all the components listed above.

Questions? Hey, at this point you don’t need me, just Google it. For “branding vs. marketing” you’ll get 15,500 results in .13 seconds. There’s gotta be something in there that you can use, right?