News and Insights

Branding and Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Kerry Grady, Founder, Design Principal
November 11, 2015

There are different opinions about this, but in my view, marketing is actively promoting a product or service. It’s a push tactic. It’s pushing out a message to get sales results: “Invest our product because it’s better than theirs.” (or because it’s cool, or because this person likes it, or because you have this problem and this thing will fix it, etc.) This is oversimplification, but that’s it in a nutshell. This is not branding.

Branding is strategic. 

One definition of a brand is that it is a “promise delivered”. You make a promise to your customers and colleagues with everything you do, and to be successful, you must deliver on that promise every single time. The idea that a brand is a logo, a name or a color is a small fraction of what a brand actually is.

Your brand is “everything”. As a result, it’s imperative to define what it stands for. You have to identify your target audience and what they want, say why you are better than your competitors and come up with a short statement that describes your brand’s purpose. Branding should both precede and underlie any marketing effort. Branding is not push, but pull. Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service. It is communication of characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what this particular brand is and is not.

The brand is built from many things. Very important among these things is the lived experience of the brand. Did that car deliver on its brand promise of reliability? Did the maker continue to uphold the quality standards that made them what they are? Did the sales guy or the service center mechanic know what they were talking about?

Branding is as vital to the success of a business as having financial coherence, having a vision for the future, or having quality employees.

The brand is ultimately what determines if you will become a loyal customer or not. The marketing may convince you to buy a particular car, but it is the brand that will determine if you will only buy BMW’s for the rest of your life.

The brand will help encourage someone to invest or buy a product, and it directly supports whatever sales or marketing activities are in play, but the brand does not explicitly say “invest” or “buy me.” Instead, it says “This is what I am”. This is why I exist. This is How I’m different”, and “This is why it matters. If you agree, if you like me, you can invest in me, buy me, support me, and recommend me to your friends.”

Is branding a cost center? On the surface, yes, but the return is loyalty. The return is sales people whose jobs are easier and more effective, employees who stay longer and work harder, customers who become ambassadors and advocates for the organization.

Marketing is tactical.

Marketing is actively promoting a brand’s product or services. It’s a way or reaching and engaging people. Marketing keeps the business top-of-mind among the decision makers whom you want to do business with.

Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any particular marketing effort. The brand is what remains after the marketing has swept through the room. It’s what sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization—whether or not, at that particular moment, you bought or did not buy.

Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. Marketing, then, is an integral part of your brand. It helps you to communicate the promise that you want customers and prospects to know about. Your marketing should also be based on your brand positioning, personality, values and tone of voice that have all been defined and communicated among your staff. In essence, marketing is what you do to get your message or promiseto customers, while your brand is how you keep the promise made through delivery to customers and colleagues.

Is marketing a cost center? Poorly researched and executed marketing activities can certainly be a cost center, but well-researched and well-executed marketing is an investment that pays for itself in sales and brand reinforcement.

Marketing unearths and activates investors. Branding breeds loyal customers, advocates, even evangelists, from those who invest.

This works the same way for all types of businesses. All organizations must sell. How they sell may differ, and everyone in an organization is either constructing or deconstructing the brand. Every thought, every action, every policy, every ad, every marketing promotion has the effect of either inspiring or deterring brand loyalty in whomever is exposed to it. All of this affects sales. The questions around how to market, where to market, when, and what to say, are questions only branding (who you are and want to be perceived as in the customer’s mind) helps to answer.

Branding and Marketing are the keys to the foundation for a successful operation. So yes, branding and marketing are in essence cost centers, like good employees, financial experts, and business or organizational innovators are. But what is REALLY costly is not to have them, or to have substandard branding and marketing programs.

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