The difference between branding and marketing is that branding focuses on the image of a product or service, and marketing focuses on solving a user’s needs. Branding is is the right choice when you want to keep your current audience active with your brand, and marketing is a smart decision when you want to make sales, bring in new customers, re-engage with a past audience to drive company growth.
Both marketing and branding play a vital role in established companies. Both have their time, place, similarities, and differences. If a company focuses to heavily on one or the other, they’re likely going to fail once they have peaked. There is an exception though. During the initial growth phases, especially with unicorn brands, branding drives growth because the active audience tells their friends and peers. It happens with B2C and B2B (including SAAS). But this phase always ends and if the company does not find an even balance, they will struggle with growth. More on that later. Let’s jump back into the differences between marketing and branding.
A good example of how marketing and branding work side-by-side is cola. Cola on its own (depending on the brand you buy) is sticky, brown, chemical filled, bubbling liquid that potentially contains a lot of unhealthy ingredients (depending on your definition of unhealthy). And if you read the studies on soft drinks (here, here, here, and here for example), it is not something you’d want to consume, or feed to your kids. But cola has a massive market and a ton of demand. And yes I enjoy a diet cola too. It’s a guilty pleasure I enjoy from time to time, and have no intentions of giving up. This is because the companies that produce it invest heavily in both branding and marketing.
- Branding has to take the product or service and develop packaging, sounds, and visuals that make it look like something you want to literally stuck in your mouth, and keep wanting to do it again and again.
- Marketing identifies why someone would need or want to consume sticky, brown, fizzing liquids that may be unhealthy, then message and deliver it as a solution to the potential user base.
Marketing finds people who are thirsty, “looking for energy”, or a calorie free way to feel full (personal opinion, not medical advice), etc… and gets them to shop by showing ads that solve their problem. Marketing then carries the user experience through the conversion funnel. Once converted, branding takes this audience and shares fun stories and visuals that build a bond with them. This keeps the audience engaged and coming back. Branding doesn’t have to worry about selling the audience on the product or service itself because the audience already knows it is high quality. They purchased it and re-engaged with the brand.
The two work hand-in-hand to keep your company stable and growing. Marketing builds new customers and re-engages with customers that leave, while branding keeps active customers engaging so they don’t leave. And each play a different role in messaging, formatting ads, and the customer lifecycle.
TLD:DR Marketing vs Branding:
|Brings in new customers||X|
|Keeps your audience engaging with you||X|
|Builds a positive association with your company or product lines||X|
|Should be the focus of the homepage||X||X|
|Main messaging on service and product pages||X|
|Works on existing audience landing pages||X|
|Converts customer acquisition landing pages||X|
|Should be shared on social media accounts||X|
|Be used on paid social campaigns||X|
|Featured in winback and remarketing||X||X|
|Maintains an audience for your company||X|
|Builds an audience for your company||X|
|Keeps your audience spending money||X||X|
|Is created by your company||X|
|Is controlled by your audience||X|
|Uses calls to action with solution and sales messaging||X|
|Tells a story and shares feel good content||X|
But they need to work together, it is not a good idea to give too much leeway to one or the other. Startups and established businesses that focus on branding struggle to grow sales and increase customer acquisition. This is because a product needs to solve a solution and be relatable. Branding focuses on itself vs. a user’s needs. Therefore it isn’t solving problems or reminding the user of the benefits to their needs. And companies without branding campaigns lose their audience and loyalty because nobody is focusing on making them feel like they are part of a community, doing something good for the world, or reminding the audience of why they spend money with them.
Branding tells stories about how customers are making the world better by using your products, while marketing can share how the product will make the person’s life better by solving the obstacles they face. Marketing defines and tests a message to see what consumers want, while customers define what your brand is and then the branding team matches the audiences’ needs. The branding team can also bring their stories to life and keep the audiences engaged.
Branding and marketing also get to run different types of split tests. Marketing can test images and colors to see how potential audiences will react, then share with branding to keep specific segments loyal. And branding can share feedback from the audience about what is important as marketing tries to reach more people in specific segments. This is because branding gets the feedback from active users within that segment that marketing may not have thought of. Branding can test with surveys, contests, and monitoring keywords or hashtags within the community.
The focus of website pages and app screens also change between marketing and branding. Consumer acquisition pages should be marketing, and the ones where you need to keep an audience engaged should be branding. This way new users can verify you do in fact have the solutions they are looking for and convert, while audience members can either renew, repurchase, or engage with branding aspects by following links from your social media channels and email campaigns.
Marketing messaging contains strong calls to actions, uses left aligned text so there are starting points for thoughts and it is easy to absorb, and marketing messaging needs to clearly say what the company does or what the benefit is. Branding tells a story and creates a feeling to keep a positive mental note in the consumer’s mind. This reminds your users why they should remain loyal to you. If you need your company to grow you’ll want to do marketing, and if you have an audience who will be shopping soon but isn’t ready yet, release branding campaigns. Political ads do an excellent job at this.
You donate once and don’t want to keep getting asked to “give me more money”. You already gave them money. Marketing worked. But the politician needs to get as much as they can, and more important keep you onboard until you cast a vote. Branding will help you see what the politician is supposed to be doing with the money and power you give them, and show you the politician does in fact meets your needs. Marketing then takes the branding message to get more donations by saying “here’s what we did” and uses it to keep people engaged so they show up to vote. Here’s some examples.
Branding political ads are the ones showing bills that have passed, jobs that have been created, and investments in your community. Marketing ads are the ones that let you know more can be done, and all you need to do is continue to support the politician with your vote, and your money. This concept applies to every company from news sites to subscription boxes, service providers and retailers.
Branding reminds the person why they subscribe and spend money with you, while marketing reminds your audience a payment is due so there are no surprises or bad feelings once it is time to pay their bills. Think about Comcast and running the Comcast cares campaigns.
Comcast cares ads aren’t selling you anything, but they make you feel like the money you pay them is helping make the world a better place by connecting underprivileged communities with internet access. If you decide to pull the plug, those commercials about “doing good” are going to sting a little bit if the branding messaging did its job.
Branding will fail when it demands “this is our brand,” because you cannot force people to think or feel a certain way, and marketing will fail if all you do is sell, sell, sell. And there are clear signals when you’re doing too much of one or the other.
If you lose your audience year over year, your branding isn’t resonating as much. Have marketing test new messaging using demographic targeting to bring in a similar audience and find what is important to them during the onboarding process and with surveying. This will help define what is now important so branding can modify their messaging based on the audiences current and future needs. Just make sure the messaging, selling points, and full user journey are marketing and not branding because you need the conversions for the correct data points. It is using the new angle with the new selling points. The two work together.
In short, do marketing if you want to grow your company and do branding if you need to keep your audience engaged. Branding is telling a story that creates a look and feel, while marketing explains the benefits of the product or service and brings new customers in for branding to engage with.
Both impact all channels from SEO to social media, PPC, email, and customer retention. This post has been in my archives for client use for a while, but one client asked me to publish it shortly before the holidays, so here it is. I hope it helps you like it has helped me with our work.