Branding vs. Marketing: What’s the Difference and Which One Do You Need?

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Do you know the difference between branding and marketing?

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. A lot of people use the terms interchangeably.

But there is, in fact, a big difference between the two.

You see, marketing generates sales, while branding creates value for the product. And while both marketing and branding work hand-in-hand, the end goals of good marketing and good branding are different.

Let’s unpack it some more.

What is marketing?

Marketing refers to the promoting and selling of products or services.

At its core, it’s about finding the target audience for your product and then telling them why your product is the best solution to their problem.

From there, you can construct a plan to reach those people through various channels, like using AI marketing tools to analyze your target audience, advertising, PR, social media, outreach marketing, etc.

A marketing campaign can take many forms, from running online ads to sponsoring a local event or setting up a booth at a trade show.

Mind map with text saying "online marketing, branding, pricing, direct marketing, research, social media, publicity, advertising, public relations" surrounding bubble saying "Marketing".

The goal is always the same, though: to generate more sales.

Your overall marketing strategy can consist of different targeted campaigns. For example, you might run a contest to promote sales for one product in one demographic and also do digital or affiliate marketing for another product in a different channel.

A marketing campaign focuses on a specific product or service and has a specific goal, like increasing sales by X% in the next quarter or getting X amount of email subscribers coming from blog posts. 

A marketing strategy can encompass all of the campaigns your business is running at any given time, including PR and branding initiatives.

What is branding?

Branding is about creating an identity for a product. It’s what makes a product recognizable and differentiates it from the competition.

A brand is the sum total of how a customer perceives a product.

It encompasses everything from how the product looks, the company logo, the company name, and the company slogan, to the way the product is packaged.

But it’s not just the face of your company. Branding also extends to the values and mission of the company, the outward presentation of the company to the public. It’s how you want your company to be recognized and remembered.

an iceberg with "logo, colours, fonts" above the water, and "vision, values, message, voice, strategy, personality" under the water.

(Source: Liquid)

A branding strategy is about selling the customer on the company rather than the product, and everything that the company does contributes to the overall branding, including marketing initiatives such as content marketing, link building, and search engine optimization.

All of these elements work together to create an emotional connection with people and build a lasting impression, making one-time buyers into loyal customers.

Branding vs. marketing strategy

It’s hard to say which is more important without taking the specifics of your business into account. Branding adds and generates value. But marketing sells the product. 

Your company’s specific approach to branding and marketing, as well as the types of activities you engage in to boost them, will vary depending on your needs.

Venn diagram with separated branding vs. marketing terms

(Source: Branding Compass)

A marketing strategy has a clear and measurable goal, which is to increase sales by x amount in y amount of time. Your marketing strategy should be based on data and analytics, and it should be laser-focused on generating more sales.

Your marketing material should be consistent with your branding, but the message should always be about how your product solves a problem for the customer.

A branding strategy doesn’t have a clear goal as marketing does. Good branding not only conveys the company’s identity but feeds into the identity of the customer.

Think about Apple and Nike. Both of these brands have become synonymous with status and success.

B vs. M - Apple fans holding up their new iPhones in front of the Apple Store

(Source: Cult of Mac)

People who buy Apple products or wear Nike aren’t just buying a product. They’re buying into an identity of eliteness and affluence. This, in turn, raises the brand’s value with the consumer.

Your brand strategy should be based on how you want your company to be perceived by the public and the role you want your product to play in their lives.

How do they work together? 

A good brand strategy incorporates marketing strategies into the overall goal. Your content marketing strategy, for example, helps to build your company’s reputation, which builds your brand. 

In turn, the marketing strategies should accurately convey and cultivate the brand values.

two figures representing a customer and a company. In marketing and advertising, the company communicates "we offer superior customer service" to the customer. In branding, the customer says "I know you offer superior customer service".

(Source: Sharda)

But while marketing may boost a brand by advertising personality and generating sales, branding is what sustains sales after the marketing campaign is done.

This is because marketing communicates the value proposition to potential customers, but branding has the power to define the value of the product or service.

A prime example of this is De Beers’ diamond campaign.

💎 De Beers Case Study

Diamonds aren’t actually that rare, and prior to the 1940s, they weren’t fashionable to set into engagement rings, either.

But now, buying a diamond ring to propose is a no-brainer.

After all, “a diamond is forever”.

Image is an illustration of a woman holding a rose and pointing to a floating diamond. Text says "a diamond is forever".

(Source: The Drum)

By generating demand (and having a stranglehold on the supply), De Beers changed the world in 1947.

Women saw diamond rings on the fingers of celebrities and socialites. Men saw ads that asked them, “how else do you make two months’ salary last forever?”

You see, De Beers is not a marketing company – their business is mining.

But by promoting the diamond as a brand through marketing campaigns, they redefined the goals and values of their target audience. And in doing so, they were successful in raising the market price of the stone.

Diamonds that are resold and bought again cause fluctuations in the market. But diamonds that are kept in lock boxes and passed down as heirlooms don’t

The result?

Before engaging a marketing company in 1939, De Beers’ annual sales for diamonds were $23 million. By 1979, it would grow to over $2.1 billion. 

Beyond their increase in sales, diamond rings have become synonymous with engagements and weddings. The diamond ring has become a cultural symbol of love and commitment. Today, having diamond accessories has become a symbol of status and success. 

Their marketing built their brand, but the success of their brand is what sustained sales.

It is only now, 70+ years later, that attitudes towards diamonds are changing as awareness of the “diamond cartel” is rising. As a result, consumers are looking elsewhere, choosing more affordable stones with personal meaning or cheaper man-made diamonds for engagement rings. 

De Beers is no doubt looking to innovate and refresh its branding to appeal to a new audience. We’ll just have to see if they can recreate their previous success.

So which one do I need?

The answer to this question comes down to your business goals.

If you’re a startup or if you’re launching a new product, your primary focus should be marketing. You need to get the word out there and generate interest in what you’re selling.

Branding efforts can take a backseat, at least in the beginning. Once you’ve built up a customer base and you have some sales momentum, then you can start thinking about branding and how to create a stronger emotional connection with your customers.

If you’re an established business, then branding should be your focus. Your marketing materials should revolve around reinforcing the values and identity of your brand.

You want your target audience to think of your product when they think of a certain need or want. For example, when someone is looking for a new pair of jeans, you want them to think of Levi’s.

A brand strategy can be a long-term play. It can take years to build a brand personality and cultivate customer loyalty. But it’s worth investing the time and money into building your brand identity because customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are much more likely to stick with the product, even when there are cheaper or better options available.

Marketing is usually a short-term play. You can run a marketing campaign for a few weeks or months and see an immediate increase in sales. But unless you’re able to sustain that momentum, those sales will eventually go back to where they were before the campaign.

💡 Marketing is what people see. Branding is how people feel. 💡

Long-term growth marketing efforts help to retain customers, but branding comes in to fill in the gaps, turning customers into ambassadors of the brand identity.

The bottom line is that you need both branding and marketing to be successful, but which one you should focus on depends on your business goals. If you’re looking for immediate results, marketing is the way to go. If you’re looking to build a long-term relationship with your customers, good branding will get you to connect.

diagram illustrating how branding and marketing are separate concepts but intertwined.

(Source: Firebrand)

Both branding and marketing are powerful

Marketing is a cultural force with the power to shape how we see the world around us. It tells us what to buy, what to wear, and what to think.

Brands are reflections of how people engage with the world. We use them to signal our status, our values, and our affiliations.

This means that both branding and marketing efforts both change and are changed by the world around us. What worked 10 years ago might not work today, and what works today might not work 10 years from now.

The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to continually adapt your branding and marketing efforts to reflect the changing values and preferences of the people you’re trying to reach.

So keep your ear to the ground and don’t get comfortable! 

Research doesn’t stop at the planning stage. Social listening throughout the implementation of your branding and marketing strategies will allow you to adapt and refresh your approach in response to fickle customer sentiments. 

Adapt. Overcome.

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