Branding vs. Marketing

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I’m asked all the time what the difference is between the two. Many liken it to the old phrase, “Which came first… the chicken or the egg?” Well, in the case of branding versus marketing, branding comes first.

So, what is branding? What is marketing? They are distinctly stand-alone entities and yet, they do their best work when collaborating together. So, why branding first?

Branding is the visible, outward representation of a company. It’s the way it looks, sounds, and feels, and it’s the first thing about a company that people notice. Seth Godin defines it as “a set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that—looked at together—account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the good word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

Marketing on the other hand is an essential business tool utilized to spread the word about a widget (service or product); what matters is that you communicate what you do or sell so that others will take interest in it, buy it, support it, join it, and tell their friends about it.

Think about it this way. Branding is WHY. Marketing is HOW. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Branding is visceral. It answers the “why.”

Marketing may contribute to a brand, but branding is bigger than any one particular marketing effort. A brand is what remains after marketing has swept through the room. It’s what sticks in a consumer’s mind as the association with a product, service, or organization—whether or not, at a particular moment they actually buy.

Branding is all about how you want your customer to feel when they interact with your company. Strong brand awareness is ultimately what determines if someone will become a loyal customer or not. Marketing may convince them to buy a particular car, but it is the branding that determines if they will only buy a certain brand of car for the rest of their life.

Bottom line, when done right, your brand is your reason for being. Answer these questions when considering your branding:

  • How do you want your customer to feel when they interact with your company?
  • What is your organization’s mission?
  • How do you describe your business’ personality?
  • How do you indicate what makes you different from competitors visually and verbally?

Branding should both precede and underlie any marketing efforts. Branding is about the push, not the pull. A brand will help encourage someone to buy a product, and it directly supports whatever sales or marketing activities are in play, but the brand does not explicitly say, “Buy me.” That is where marketing takes the stage.

Marketing is tactical. It answers the “how.”

Marketing, an integral part of branding, often times is the reason someone thought to buy in the first place. It supports sales by locating and romancing qualified leads to help with the sales conversion. Good marketing should readily communicate your brand’s promise. It should also be what I call “sticky;” does it make sense and resonate (or stick) with your demographic?

Your marketing should answer these questions:

  • Who will you sell to (audience)?
  • Who is most likely to buy your offering?
  • How are you different from competitors?
  • Why does your customer care (your big idea)?

A bigger question might be, “Is your offer converting?” In other words, is your audience buying what you’re selling? In essence, marketing is what you do to get your message about who you are and what you do (brand promise) out there while branding is a continual work in progress about how you keep that promise. Marketing promotes intended value whereas branding reinforces it. Said another way, you decide your marketing. Your audience decides your brand.

Without a strong brand, marketing will fail and without compelling marketing, few (if any) will care about the brand. Even though they are different, they work hand-in-hand… for the same end game. And really, isn’t it ultimately about sales? Get them to look in your direction (marketing) and ensure they “feel” what you’d like them to feel (branding) so that they purchase what you are selling. Win-win.