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Marketing vs. Branding: What’s the Difference?

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The Difference Between Branding and Marketing

The concepts and practices of branding and marketing are pretty broad… and for some business owners, a bit fuzzy. We all know we need both in order to sell things and grow our businesses. So aren’t these just two terms to describe kind of the same thing? OR — isn’t branding just having a logo designed? These common misconceptions can impact the success of your marketing efforts, so its important to be clear on each one.

Simplified, the difference between branding and marketing is this:

Branding is clarifying what you represent.

Marketing is promoting that idea to your audience.

The outcome of branding is clarity.

The process of branding involves understanding, establishing, and maintaining your brand — the perception others have of you. So yes, that includes your logo, colors, and business name. But more importantly, it includes things like:

  • What your business stands for
  • What values guide your everyday operations
  • What tone and attitude you communicate with
  • The promise you deliver each and every day
  • How people feel after an encounter with you

The outcome of marketing is awareness.

The process of marketing involves making your brand known and actionable. In other words, it causes people to be aware of your brand and compels them to engage with it. Marketing includes things like:

  • Social media ad campaigns
  • Brochures, direct mail, and other print collateral
  • Videos or commercials
  • Websites and digital interfaces
  • Trade shows or events

Branding is the prerequisite to marketing.

For a long time, I was helping budding business owners with their marketing collateral. The problem I ran into over and over again was that the people who were coming to me for help weren’t quite sure what they were marketing, who they needed to be marketing to, or even why they were in business to begin with.

Seems odd, right? Surely any business in operation should know such things — how else would it still be in business?

The issue wasn’t that the business owners couldn’t answer these questions. The problem was the answers they provided were superficial — the equivalent of asking a teenager how their day was, and getting the oh-so-illuminating response: “Fine.”

A typical business owner would tell me what they were marketing was “their product X”; they were marketing to “those who need X”; and they were in business to either “make money” or “make people’s lives better.” And without fail, they would list their values as integritycustomer service, and quality.

Okay, great. (“How was your day?” … “Fine.”)

This is all well and good, but it doesn’t actually say anything worth marketing. It’s empty and generic.

(If I had a dime for every time I heard “quality” as a brand value, I’d have $56. It’s become a meaningless word that is rarely backed up by any objective proof, but business owners love to tout the quality of whatever it is they are selling.)

I think we can all do better. There’s so much more to your brand than “fine”!

Better answers dig deeper. They uncover underlying themes or ideas, core motivations and values, the heart and soul of the business. The personality and voice. The pragmatic along with the philosophical. The special qualities that differentiate. And this is all “branding”.

Branding reveals that you’re not just selling product X to people who need product X. If that is the only basis of your marketing, it will fall flat every time. Consider instead the words of Charles Revson, founder of Revlon: “In the factory, we make cosmetics. In the store, we sell hope.”

Marketing is the how. But if you don’t know the whatwho, or why, then the how is the last thing you need to be spending time and money on.

These business owners were coming to me to solve what they perceived to be a marketing problem, when in fact, their dissatisfaction with slow sales or lack of growth was due to a deeper issue of weak branding.

How do you know whether you need marketing help or branding help?

So you understand that there is a difference, but how do you really know which one you need? The easy answer is: if you’ve never done any focused and intensive branding work, then branding is what you need.

But the answer can also reveal itself in a few other ways:

  1. Do you have a recognizable voice?
    Look at the marketing collateral of some of your top competitors…do you sound just like them? Would someone outside of your industry be able to tell you apart if they couldn’t see your logo or other visual branding elements? Do you have any personality in your brand? Do you have a unique tone of voice, a particular vocabulary, or a strong attitude that comes across in your marketing? If someone can’t tell you from a competitor, or if your content is lifeless and generic, you could benefit from branding help.
  2. Can you name at least three values that are foundational to your operations, and back them up with examples?
    Please, for the love of all that is chocolate, if your first instinct is to say “integrity”, you better have some darn good examples of how integrity is visibly and clearly evidenced in your everyday operations — over and above the normal threshold for integrity. Otherwise, if you can easily rattle off generic feel-good values but struggle with articulating the presence and impact of these values, that’s a sign you need to spend some time looking inward at your brand.
  3. Can you tell a compelling brand story?
    A compelling brand story is a natural by-product of a strong brand. You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg, but you should be able to give an engaging narrative of your brand that connects emotionally with your audience and draws them in. If you’re having trouble doing this, it’s time to take a look at your branding.
  4. Have you tried a bunch of different marketing tactics but haven’t had a lot of success in any of them?
    This one can be tricky. Even with a strong brand, you can suffer from lackluster marketing across the board simply because the execution is poor. More times than not, however, business owners who try a lot of different marketing tactics are doing so because they don’t actually have confidence their brand, so they place their faith in the marketing technique to do the heavy lifting for them. They don’t know who exactly they are trying to reach and the best message to communicate. So they throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks instead of strategically focusing on an approach that would make the most sense for their brand.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios, consider that your issues may be brand-related before you spend money on other marketing tactics.

If, on the other hand, you find these don’t really apply to you, congrats on knowing who you are! You likely just need to focus on your marketing creative and execution, making sure your brand is conveyed appropriately through it.

Marketing can be daunting. So can branding. But they don’t have to be.

There’s a large measure of research, analysis, and discovery involved before you get to the execution of your marketing tactics. If you’ve ever created a marketing plan, you know marketing includes competitive analyses, market research, user segmentation, and so on. It sure is a lot to focus on!

But the way to make marketing easier is to have a solid brand to serve as its foundation. While branding is also an investment of time and energy, it’s an investment that will pay for itself over and over again, each time you market your brand.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the whole concept of branding, start with our brand personality quiz. In ten minutes or less, you can find out your top three brand archetypes that can serve as a framework for your branding efforts. Then just take it one step at a time. Start to gather feedback from your customers and clients to understand what your brand actually is. Determine if you are even reaching the right audience. Take a look at your operations and pinpoint the top values that are revealed through the way you do business. If ever you need a helping hand, we offer brand consulting packages for businesses with different needs.

Marketing is not something you want to just jump into because you are desperate for sales. But it’s also not something you want to neglect entirely. So, be intentional about your marketing. Before you rush into another marketing idea, ask yourself if it’s really marketing you need, or if you should go deeper into your brand instead.

Picture of Nyla Smith

Nyla Smith

Nyla is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 15 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.

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