Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on June 10, 2013

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Branding vs. Marketing

branding vs marketing

The labels in our industry suck. There I said it. Those words that sit under your logo – are they your slogan, tagline, or brand promise? How about your logo itself – is it a logo, mark, brand, or a bug? While this could seem like a trip out to the tall grass, it’s not. As any overworked copywriter will tell you, words matter. The right choice can spur the desired action, while the wrong word can leave your audience yawning. Perhaps the biggest confusion lies around two of our own industry labels – branding vs. marketing.

We use these terms so often and interchangeably that many may wonder if there is a difference between branding and marketing? And if so, does it really matter? In short, yes. As most of us are both brand builders and marketers, we need to better understand these two big categorical labels and how they fit together to do our jobs more effectively and to communicate with our peers.

Let’s take a closer look at how to define and apply a hierarchy to these two frequently used (and sometimes mis-used) terms.

Branding

“Your brand isn’t what you sell or do. It’s what you believe.” – Dean Westergaard

At the end of the day, we’re all brand builders. Regardless of your job title or description, if you interact with customers or participate in any part of promoting, developing, or delivering your organization’s products and services you are a part of creating the gestalt experience that creates your brand.

As the quote above from my father outlines, your brand is much more than any one particular department. It’s more than any single deliverable or output. It’s the overarching strategy that builds your brand. It’s the complex set of beliefs that defines who you are in the hearts and minds of your community.

Once these beliefs are articulated and understood internally, it’s time to take your brand’s message to the masses. This is accomplished through that other label …

Marketing

“The total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.” – Dictionary.com

There’s a pretty good chance that most of us actually work in the marketing department. Many of our job titles involve the label of marketing (if you’re a non-profit this could be further complicated by the curious substitution of the word “development” for “marketing”).

That’s because, as the definition above notes, the act of marketing includes all of the activities involved in taking our brand’s products and services to market. This definition has been further diffused by the new suite of digital marketing tools at our disposal. Another way of looking at all of these marketing activities is as brand-building tactics.

Brand Strategies and Marketing Tactics

While our strategies encompass our long-term brand-building efforts, we utilize the practice of marketing to communicate these beliefs to the masses. Does this mean we should never call something a marketing strategy? Of course not. Our brand strategies are longer term than our annual marketing programs and their accompanying tactics.

Our branding defines who we are while our marketing defines what we do for whom. First we build our brands, then we execute the marketing that brings our brands to life.

What do you think? Is there a difference between branding and marketing? Do the distinctions above help you better understand? What did we miss? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


18 comments
SocialSanchez
SocialSanchez

Alexa, the first thought that comes to mind is something centered around the word Legacy:

: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>

AlexaYourWriter
AlexaYourWriter

I have not named my company because I do not want to name it wrong. I help people write down their family stories. I interview them, transcribe what they say and the put it into a cohesive story to pass down to their family. Does anyone have a suggestion about what I should call it?

SocialSanchez
SocialSanchez

Great article, Nick. 

You're right, all the terms and definitions can be confusing. 

I read something a long time ago that helped me better understand these terms.  

Branding, as I understand it, could extend beyond marketing into the actual reputation of the company and how their particular company, product, or service makes you feel.

Harley Davidson and BMW both have exceptional brands. 

I guess the Ultimate Driving Machine's brand can fit into your explanation:

"A complex set of beliefs that defines who you are in the hearts and minds of your community."

The Ultimate Driving Machine is also a killer USP which can hang out on the Marketing side of this discussion, correct? That is, how they communicate their beliefs and position within their market as it relates to their overall brand.

I'm here for continued education, so please feel welcome to let me know if I'm way out in left field somewhere :) ...

Respectfully,

Chris

P.S. This post came up #2 on organic Google Search for the topic. Nice work! 


NickWestergaard
NickWestergaard moderator

@SocialSanchez Hi Chris! Thanks for reading and commenting! You are on-target with BMW as an exceptional example of a solid brand. I also agree with your hierarchy noting that the brand extends beyond marketing. That's really the point I was hoping to make. Marketing is a specific — and VERY important discipline within business — but the brand is really more of a horizontal function that cuts across everything — marketing, customer service, sales, product development, etc.

Glad you found the post useful and hope you stop by for continued ed and that you keep the conversation moving like this. Thanks ~ NW

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mlmckay61
mlmckay61

@NickWestergaard @SocialSanchez  But, what you talk about above: customer service, sales, product development, etc., these are all part of the marketing function. Brand management as has been taught for years, was developed under the marketing umbrella. Again, if pricing, distribution, brand management, etc. are not cohesive under your marketing strategy, your "brand" is significantly weakened.

NickWestergaard
NickWestergaard moderator

@mlmckay61 @SocialSanchez Again, that's where I think we see the hierarchy a bit differently, Mike. You are talking about putting the brand strategy within the marketing bucket alone along with the 4 Ps where as I see it as a horizontal function that cuts across various departments event outside of the scope of marketing. That's the approach I outline here. Certainly more than one way to look at it but that's my thinking. 

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mlmckay61
mlmckay61

@NickWestergaard @mlmckay61 @SocialSanchez  And I see Marketing as the all encompassing strategy. So much so that it drives the business strategy. 

I don't think we will agree on this. My philosophy goes back to my BA and MBA with marketing emphasis from Michigan State. 

But at least I understand where you are coming from. We just called it brand management. 

An early practitioner of brand management was P&G. I think you would agree that they developed some great brands. (Some of my classmates went to work for them.) They ran entire companies as brands - still do.

NickWestergaard
NickWestergaard moderator

@mlmckay61 @SocialSanchez Agreed. I too understand where you're coming from. We're just approaching the hierarchy and the labels a little bit differently. Honestly, I don't think we should agree. I think it's good to have lively discussions that take all of this apart. My post is certainly my take but this has been a great discussion on other view points. 

Thanks again!

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mlmckay61
mlmckay61

One more comment: A company cannot sustain itself on just a brand strategy. Without a good marketing strategy that synchronizes the brand strategy, the pricing strategy, the distribution strategy and a product/services strategy, you do not have a business strategy. 

And, retirementwow, if you are over 70, then you got me there. 

NickWestergaard
NickWestergaard moderator

@mlmckay61 Agreed. One needs a brand strategy as well as strategies for marketing, pricing, distribution, product, etc. However, hierarchically speaking, I think that without a solid brand and brand promise (what you do for whom) at the heart of all of your activities you'll be lost. Especially in an increasingly noisy marketplace.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!

Latest blog post: SSBC logo

kirsty11
kirsty11

For my two cents, I come from the school that the brand drives everything else and should permeate everything else you do in your business - of which marketing is one part. I am an advocate of strategy before tactics, because without strategy, how do you know your tactics are the right ones. Too often I see people diving into tactics and then wondering why "marketing doesn't work." :) For me, the brand proposition (at a reputational level) and brand purpose are what drives the culture and approach (for example messaging, how you act, think, breathe, your values etc). The strategy can reflect that but is the "what" you will do to achieve a business objective and the tactics are the "how" you will bring the strategy to life.

NickWestergaard
NickWestergaard moderator

@kirsty11 Amen, Kirsty. Couldn't agree with you more on all of those points. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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retirementwow
retirementwow

I am older than mimckay61 and I think you are on to something (if we can just figure out what!). My focus is on a large, but ignored audience - retirees and soon-to-be-retirees. They have money and want more than a rocking chair. My mastermind coaching will help, but the market is much, much greater! Ideas?

mlmckay61
mlmckay61

I am old enough to have studied marketing at the knees of some of the people who defined marketing as we now know it. I learned from them that marketing is the business strategy. As such, the marketing strategy defines how the business will use its resources to satisfy needs in the marketplace. 

The functions of marketing are the ones you listed: sales, pricing, etc. (The Four Ps of Marketing). They are not tactics in a strategy. They are basic functions.

Therefore, I have trouble agreeing that a brand strategy is longer term than a marketing strategy and that these marketing functions are mere tactics. 

Is there something I am not getting? Has the world of Marketing been redefined and I missed it? If so, I would like to learn more.