Branding vs. Marketing - What's the Difference?

Brand Matters

Branding and marketing… If you want to create awareness of your company and connect effectively (and profitably) with your target audience, you have to do both the right way. “But aren’t those terms synonyms?” business owners sometimes ask us. No, they’re not, but that’s a common misconception. They’re related and highly dependent on one another, but they’re definitely distinct disciplines.

Branding is all about establishing your company’s identity. Think visual aesthetics—your logo, color palette, typography, etc.—and how they’re used on your website, in your marketing materials, etc. But there are other important aspects of your brand, too, like your values, mission, and business philosophy that help set your company apart.

Marketing is the strategies and processes you use to attract and engage prospects and, ultimately, turn them into customers. It also plays a key role in customer retention and upselling. In short, marketing is how you present and promote your brand to the world and entice people to learn more about you. 

3 Key Differences Between Branding and Marketing

To further define branding and marketing, let’s look at three areas of contrast between them.

  1. Branding should always come before marketing. We often use the metaphor of putting on a performance to illustrate this rule. Branding creates the message you’ll be communicating to your audience. Marketing does the job of booking the venue, setting up the sound equipment, and ensuring there are people in the seats. If you walk onto the stage with nothing of consequence to say, it’s… well… uncomfortable for you and awkward for the audience. You’ve got to carefully define your “script” first, and then, just as meticulously, plan for and execute the delivery.
  2. Branding drives recognition and loyalty; marketing generates leads and sales. The trust you develop from people seeing and become familiar with your brand makes them more open to your outreach, more comfortable providing their contact information, and more likely to purchase your products or service. And if you maintain their trust, you’ve upped the odds that they’ll buy from you again in the future. 
  3. Branding is fixed; marketing is flexible. Your brand reflects who you are as a company. That shouldn’t change much or often. (Nobody likes a company that seems unstable or erratic.) Your marketing strategies, on the other hand, need to evolve as your offerings and markets evolve. Companies that get the fixed/flexible thing reversed end up with a blurry brand nobody recognizes and outdated products nobody needs.

 So, branding and marketing are separate—but equally important—activities. And, you could say they’re “synergistic”—when used together, their combined effect is greater than either could have alone.  

Your Solid Foundation for Success

To say we’re vocal advocates for a brand-first mentality is an understatement. Yes, technically you can market your offerings with little or no branding, and you may even stumble into a small amount of sales success. But practically, if your goal is to grow your company and your revenues consistently, a carefully crafted brand is a must. It sets the tone for everything that follows. And it ensures you have the consistency in your marketing that consumers crave. 

If you’re a startup or established company looking to make a significant pivot, it can be tempting to say, “Let’s just dive into marketing and we’ll circle back to branding when we have time.” But businesses that take that approach usually end up with more free time than they would like (!) when they fail to get traction in their market because they’re pitted against businesses that make a more memorable connection with consumers.

Those successful companies are generally ones that resisted the urge to prioritize short-term profit over long-term performance. Instead, they put the necessary time and effort into developing a strong, identifiable brand that sets them apart. And they’ll be reaping the benefits of that decision as a long list of less-focused contenders come and go. 

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