Branding vs Marketing: Finally Untangling the Age-Old Conundrum

Written by Dale Hart

Branding vs. Marketing

Blog » Branding vs Marketing: Finally Untangling the Age-Old Conundrum

This has got to be one of the most frequently asked (and confused) questions in business.  

What’s the difference between branding and marketing?

And honestly, the answer you get depends on who you ask. You could gather all the marketing strategists, experts, CMOs, social media managers, SEOs, PR executives, and brand managers you can get your hands on, ask them this very question and I guarantee you’ll get as many different answers as people in the room.

The two terms have been used so interchangeably over the years that their true meaning has become somewhat lost. A shame, because while they often overlap they are both powerful business concepts in their own right. 

 So with that said, let try to untangle the two terms once for all. 

What’s the Difference Between Branding and Marketing?

Branding encompasses all business activities dedicated to defining why a company exists. What are their values? What does it stand for? And what is the long-term mission? 

Yes, it includes concepts such as the logo, colors, and thematic designs but it also runs a lot deeper than that. It’s about crafting a unique identity that customers emotionally connect to and immediately recognize. 

Marketing takes that unique identity and through a set of strategies, tools, and actions uncovers ways to promote and monetize the company’s product or service. 

It’s important to remember that branding is the precursor to and driver of all marketing strategies. While marketing is what grabs a customer’s attention, it’s the brand’s core underlying values and connection that brings them back time and again. 

Of course, this is just a general overview of where the two concepts differ. To truly understand how they work and the long-term effects they have on a business, we have to analyze each concept individually.  

What is Branding?

It turns out that not everybody is clear on this either.

After digging a little deeper into research conducted on branding and marketing, I came across a study where a group of industry experts was tasked with answering this very question:

What is branding?

It turns out that between them they managed to come up with 12 completely different explanations…and these were notable branding and marketing experts!

A solid attempt at defining branding comes from the AMA (American Marketing Association)   

“A name, term, design, symbol, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from competitors.”

Or put simply, branding is what makes customers choose one competitor, over another. But, as Kevin Keller, a marketing professor at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth points out, this ignores the role of developing an emotional connection between brand and consumer.

Keller argues that brands not only differentiate from competitors, but also form emotional connections as they consistently provide customers with something they want, desire, or need. This repeated support and reinforcement are what aids consumers in their purchase-making decision.

Take a look at Starbucks as an example.

Let’s face it, their coffee isn’t great. There are thousands of independently run coffee shops around the world that make a better brew. So why is it then that customers repeatedly choose them over competitors?

The answer is the distinct experience Starbucks offers. 

When customers walk into one of their franchises they are offered more than just coffee. They are offered a “third place” community experience where family, friends, and other professionals go to work or socialize. 

This is a conscious attribute that Starbucks centers at the core of its brand strategy. Everything from the furniture bought, music played, the artwork hanging from the walls to the sugary drinks sold cater to that experience.

Brand Equity

Now that we have a better understanding of what branding is, the question remains, how can we look to build it? How do we get customers to repeatedly choose us over the competition?  

The answer lies in generating brand equity.

Brand equity is the boosted value a company’s products receive thanks to a recognizable name. This equity is generated through both marketing actions (advertising, PR campaigns, social media) as well as consistency in delivering the brand experience. When done correctly, it will mean more customers buy more from you, recommend you, and less likely to leave you for the competition.   

Keller Brand Equity Model

The same professor Keller we mentioned earlier came up with a model for measuring and building brand equity. 

The Keller’s Brand Equity Model or CBBE (Customer-Based Brand Equity Model) hinges around a simple concept: forging a strong brand is about creating positive thoughts, feelings, and perceptions towards your product or service. 

It follows a pyramid model broken into four stages and six building blocks:
Keller's Brand Equity Model

To build strong brand equity companies will have to understand four underlying questions consumers will ask about your brand. 

Brand Identity – Who are you?  

The first stage of the pyramid is about developing brand awareness and recognition. You want consumers to associate your brand with a specific product/service, the industry you compete in, as well as the specific customer need you help satisfy.

As the most important stage of the pyramid, this block forms the core base from which you build brand equity upon.  

To do this you are going to have to uncover the answers to a series of questions:

  1. How are consumers classifying your product or service?
  2. When asked, are they able to differentiate your USP (unique selling proposition) from competitors?
  3. Does your brand stand out during key stages of the buying process?
  4. Are these key stages documented?

Essentially, the ultimate goal is to have consumers be able to recall your brand when exposed to your specific product category or industry. If that’s not the case, then you should try to understand why that message isn’t getting through. An aggressive ad campaign around brand awareness could be a good option in this case.

Brand Meaning – What are You?

Once consumers become familiar with a brand, they’ll naturally want to know more. What do they stand for? Are they reliable? What’s the quality of their products? Do they have effective customer service?

Keller divides this section of the pyramid into two blocks:

  • Brand performance –  does it do what it says on the tin? Long-term performers generate strong brand equity (think Apple, Nespresso, Jaguar).
  • Brand imagery – do I look and feel as advertised after using this product or service? For example, Gilette has traditionally campaigned around masculinity when advertising their razors. The best a man can get is a promise made to consumers who buy their products, but do they feel that on an emotional, psychological level after shaving?

Again, by conducting anonymous research you’ll uncover how consumers perceive both your brand’s performance and imagery and whether or not it matches the brand personality you’re trying to achieve.

Brand Response – What do I think, and feel about you?

The third stage in the pyramid is essentially about whether or not your product and brand experience has lived up to the hype. Has it delivered as promised? How do they feel after using your product or service?

Keller also divides this section of the pyramid into two blocks:

  • Judgments – these are all the negatives that detract from a consumer’s brand experience. This is typically assessed through the product’s quality, how it stacks up against competitors, and how credible the brand is. Score poorly here and consumers will pay you back in kind through negative word of mouth.
  • Feelings –  on the flip side if you successfully deliver on your brand promise, offer exceptional customer service, and an even better final product, then you venture into brand advocacy territory.   

Naturally, when focusing on this stage of the pyramid you want to deliver far more positive “feelings” than you do negative “judgments”. Positive word of mouth has a huge impact not just on finances, but the long-term success of your brand.

Brand Resonance – What is our connection like?

We’ve finally arrived at the top of our pyramid and to the most difficult – yet most desirable – trait of brand equity. Brand resonance is achieved when a deep bond is formed between brand and consumer.

Customers who reach this level of the pyramid are your true brand advocates. They’ll never leave you for the competition come hell or high water. If you face backlash across your social networks or receive negative press, these are the people that leap to your defense.

They’ll also recommend your products to friends, family, and just about anybody willing to listen because frankly, they’d feel downright guilty if they didn’t.

Can you think of any brands you’re attached to at such a deep level? 

What is Marketing?

If branding is the identity of a company and the mission/story behind why it exists, then marketing is the tool that finds a relevant audience that buys into that mission. 

Once an audience or following is identified, it’s then down to marketers to educate people on who your brand is, why it matters, and how the company’s products/services will satisfy their needs. Of course, for the large majority of companies, this last point is key – sales.

At the end of the day, every company from small nonprofits to mega conglomerates need to sell to survive. 

And as the AMA points out in their definition of marketing:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large

There are many different “institutions” and “processes” for delivering that end goal. Typically, these different entities or subcategories can be split into two groups:

  • INBOUND marketing
  • OUTBOUND marketing

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is the practice of attracting consumers through the production of organic content (i.e. not advertising). It incorporates various forms of “pull” marketing such as content marketing (blogs, videos, podcasts, eBooks) SEO (search engine optimization), social media marketing, and events to reach a hyper-targeted audience of buyer personas.

Typically, inbound marketing activities guide prospective clients along a 4-stage buyer’s journey – from brand awareness to brand loyalty:

Inbound Marketing Funnel

Attract 

Stage #1 is about letting consumers know you exist, the needs you satisfy, and the products or services you offer. The best way to reach your targeted audience organically is through SEO-optimized content. Naturally, people searching for topics related to your brand are more likely to be interested in your product than someone interrupted by a random TV commercial.

Essentially, during this stage, you need to address the most common pain points consumers have and position your product or service as THE best solution.

Convert

Now that you’ve built a small following and attracted some initial interest, it’s time to convert some of these prospects into solid leads.

This is achieved by exchanging a customer’s contact information for more valuable content. This could be in the form of an exclusive eBook, whitepaper, webinar series, or perhaps even a free consultation (depending on your business).

Once you’ve obtained an email address or telephone number, you officially have a lead! You’re now ready to move onto Stage #3.

Close

With a steadily growing email list, you can now start to think about converting these leads to sales. 

A common mistake companies make is to contact their leads immediately and try to sell them their product. But just stop and think about it for a second…

Imagine you’re marketing a SaaS company that specializes in eCommerce such as Shopify or Avada. Someone downloads an eBook guide (in exchange for their email) on product bundling techniques. Does that necessarily signal that they are, at that moment, looking to buy a brand new eCommerce platform?

Possibly, but it’s highly unlikely.

Instead, they could be added to an email workflow that delivers them relevant, high-quality content that addresses their specific concerns. A CRM (customer relationship management software) such as Hubspot or Pardot come in handy as they not only enable you to set up workflows but also analyze which content resonates with your audience and what doesn’t. 

Delight

The final and most often overlooked stage of the inbound marketing funnel is delight. Happy customers are the most effective, powerful source of new business opportunities.

For example, did you know that referral leads have a 30% higher conversion rate than standard marketing-generated leads? Or better yet, that 16% also have higher lifetime customer value?

Keeping existing customers happy is the primary goal of your customer success team. However, marketing can also help out by engaging with them on social media, continuing to send them relevant content, and continually ask them for feedback regarding the performance of your product/service. 

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing on the other hand includes more traditional forms such as advertising through TV ads, billboards, print media, commercial trade shows, SDR (sales development representative) cold calls, and unsolicited mass emailing.

The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing is that during inbound, the consumer finds you. In outbound marketing, it’s the brand that initiates the conversation.

However, don’t let that fool you into thinking outbound is dead.

While consumers are technically interrupted from whatever they were browsing to be shown your ad, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was irrelevant.

Modern digital marketing PPC (pay per click) and retargeting campaigns allow marketers to get super granular with their target audiences. Variables such as age, demographic, sex, interests, etc. can be included or excluded from a paid campaign. Also, Adwords allows advertisers to “bid” for certain keywords on Google so that every time it’s searched, their website or product landing page appears at the top of the listing.

This means when someone is browsing their social media feed or conducting a search in Google, they are shown ads that are potentially (or in the case of retargeting, extremely) relevant to them. 

It can be an effective method when combined intelligently with your inbound marketing efforts.

Conclusion

While the two concepts undoubtedly overlap in many areas, there is still a distinct difference between the two. Branding is the long-term promise made to customers and the story behind why a company exists. Marketing is about uncovering and connecting with audiences most likely to benefit from that long-term promise.

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