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What’s the difference between marketing and branding?

I’ve been working in marketing for years, in my spare time I continue to take on some freelance clients, mainly performing online marketing tasks and acting as a freelance SEO consultant. However, in my day to day role as a marketing manager concentrating on brand marketing, I’ve been thinking more about what the difference is between marketing and branding.

There’s so much more than this, so don’t take this as the definitive answer to the question “what’s the difference between marketing and branding” but hopefully it should go some way helping you form a view and taking some action.

When I talk to people about branding they generally think about branding in the following ways:

  • Logos
  • Colours
  • Website Design
  • Display adverts
  • Popularity on social media
  • Brand mentions

Those people who think about branding in those terms are looking at branding in completely the wrong way. Of course the above are all marketing elements of branding but by thinking about branding this way is missing the point and risks creating a marketing strategy that’s out of shape.

Marketing is the processes and tools that are used to promote a business. Marketing is about things like SEO, PPC, social media, local search, press releases etc. branding is about your business’ culture and how that culture exudes from your business at every touch point.

You’ll probably meet business owners and even marketers who mix up the terms marketing and branding. Many marketers will argue advertising and promotional activities are branding. This is a misconception because marketing activities in promotion only communicate your brand’s personality, whilst branding is the process of establishing, interpreting and developing these aspects of a business.

I’ve also worked with and for enough entrepreneurs to know that most of them perceive their company’s brand to be an extension of their personality and the things they want the brand to be. Of course the management of the business will have some control over the direction of the brand but ultimately the brand is the perceptions of the business based on their interactions with every touch point, whether that be social media, blog posts, the receptionist answering the phone, the salesperson they speak to through to the press releases they read and the display ads they see.

It’s therefore important that brand values are clearly understood and aligned to a business – and they’ve got to be substantiated and based on the culture of the business.

One of the things I love most about online marketing is the analytical nature of it, but sometimes I think we fool ourselves that we really understand what’s actually going on with our marketing activity because we see patterns and don’t necessarily take into account the intangible brand elements.

There’s no formula for getting a brand right, although some people seem to be better at it than others (see Richard Branson et al for details), the brand will be created through the culture of your business and the perceptions of your customers – all you can do is nudge it.

To determine how you nudge and shape your businesses culture you’ve got to get a firm understanding of your customers, their psychology and interests, as well as their demography. It’s only by understanding your culture and aligning it to your customer’s needs can you start to create a strong brand that your customers will understand and resonate with.

Before starting any kind of marketing activities, be they online marketing or offline you need to really understand what your business is all about. The first job is to understand your purpose, and that’s not to say understand the vision of the business to sell XXX product or service and to realise an exit strategy in 5 years’ time.

Of course, I’ve been working with online marketing for too long and I generally think in terms of keywords and hashtags. My first job is to write down a load of keywords that I think reflect the things the business stands for, once you’ve got 30 or more of these keywords written down you’ll be able to work out how they’re related, you might start to think about a handful of words which form headings for the different keywords you’ve come up with – these headings are your core values. If you’re lucky you’ll find a two or three-word phrase that sums all of these core values up – if not, don’t worry, there’s plenty more time to develop this central theme.

Start to ask yourself open questions about the purpose of the business ie “why did I set the business up” and “who does the business serve” and “what’s my business for”. Write your answers down – they don’t have to be Shakespeare! After a while of doing this, you’ll start to distil the essence of your business into a number of sentences and phrases. But the purpose isn’t a grandiose mission statement which is generally multiple paragraphs long and covers quite a lot of different content, what we’re looking for here is a single phrase – so keep distilling the answers to your questions working out what the commonality is between them and how you can turn it all into one sentence that says everything.

Disney’s example is probably the classic one that everyone points to, originally it was “to bring joy to children everywhere” more recently they’ve further distilled this to: “to make people happy” – which is a fairly immense thing to want to achieve, showing the scope of their aspirations, and challenging their employees to always keep their purpose in mind.

It’s a huge statement however it would be meaningless if that wasn’t a genuine part of the business’ culture and if that brand aim wasn’t meaningful to Disney’s customer base – it’s all got to play together. Branding tends to fail when business owners and managers try to impose a set of core values that that business doesn’t have or when they fail to understand the things that really resonate with their customers.

You can carry out marketing activities without carrying out branding activities and you’ll begin to develop a brand, however without understanding your brand and making sure that everyone within the business understands the brand, you risk allowing the brand perception to meander as the tonality and message may vary at different touch points, especially if it’s implemented by different people who have different brand perceptions.

Once you’ve created a brand it’s important to write it down, I always say if it’s not written down it doesn’t exist. This can be in the form of brand guidelines, a brand book, a poster on a wall, something on a wall, it’s not hugely important as long as the people implementing the brand and living the brand have some kind of reference point that will continue to challenge them to achieve the brands aims and present the brands culture in the best possible light.

It’s only once you’ve begun to get a solid understanding can you make sure you’ve got the right company name, a logo

From an SEO perspective, there are loads of opportunities to get the brand across. In fact, since the Vince Update in Google about 5 years ago brand has been an essential element of every online marketing campaign and something that everyone should be considering. You’ve got to get your brand’s message into every piece of copy you write, adding it to places such as the meta descriptions and around call to actions. Just bear in mind that this is just marketing of your brand.

Branding takes time to get right and is something that you’ll evolve over time. It’s something that seems fluffy to many people because it’s so intangible but if you don’t do it, or if you don’t get it right, you risk not having focus in your marketing activities and it’s likely you’ll run campaign orientated short-term marketing activity in which a brand doesn’t have time to develop and grow, and in an age where it’s a brand that will set most businesses apart, this will almost certainly limit the abilities of your business to exponentially grow.

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