Marketing Bootcamp

Is There a Difference Between a Product and a Brand?

Is There a Difference Between a Product and a Brand?
Image credit: Monica Dipres

I have the tremendous honor of teaching marketing classes at New York University. Through the course of five years, my curriculum has changed from modeling my business books, fully integrated marketing to the differences between products and brands.

So what is the difference between a product and a brand? When the school asked me to tackle that subject, I had to think twice about it. But then it became rather clear to me.

It’s been a fascinating exploration because on the surface it probably seems like there is no difference between a product and a brand. But when you dig a little deeper, there actually is a big difference -- a huge one.

Related: What Listening Says About Your Brand

So I thought it would be fun, in my next series here at Entrepreneur.com, to take the content from my NYU class and dissect it across a series of topics. I’m going to take you on a journey, so to speak, in a class-by-class, column-by-column look at what separates a product from a brand.

If I were to sum it up in one word, the difference is emotional. You’ll see what I mean.

Products perform a function.

They have properties that when combined together do something for customers. The problem is that within any given category, most products perform similar functions. There’s very little differentiation. Ingredients are ingredients and they tend to be the same across a category.

Products are all about what they do for people. Products fulfill a customer’s needs.

Functions, ingredients and needs -- that’s what makes up a product.

Brands offer an emotion.

Brands are actually quite different from products because they don’t just cover a customer’s needs, they fulfill a customer’s wants.

We don’t fall in love with products -- we fall in love with brands. Brands offer a promise and an emotion. Brands are about how they make people feel. Brands fulfill a customer’s wants.

Related: How Do You Sustain Your Brand's Value? Follow These 6 Steps.

Promises, emotions and wants -- that’s what makes up a brand.

The big difference.

In short, while you may need a product, you will want a brand.

So for example, I may need a cup of coffee, but I personally want to get it at Starbucks.

Coffee is the product in this case and caffeine is the ingredient. I need it to get going in the morning and I could get it literally anywhere, including at Dunkin’ Donuts, the corner market or at home. But I choose Starbucks.

Starbucks is the brand in this case, and the experience at Starbucks is the emotion I want in the morning. I want a Starbucks coffee because of the unique experience I get and from how it makes me feel. It prepares me for the day ahead and makes me productive in the morning. With Starbucks coffee, I am ready! I want Starbucks for how it makes me feel.

Products equal functions. Brands equal emotions.

Hopefully you can see that products are basically at parity to each other, they fulfill the same needs. Brands are what differentiate because of how they uniquely make people feel.

That’s a lot loaded into a few simple paragraphs, which is exactly why we will be probing the subject in depth over the next few weeks, topic by topic as we tackle not only the difference between products and brands but also how to manage them both in the process.

Related: The Greatness Guide to Building Your Brand and Empire