Both branding and marketing are critical business activities. For new business owners, however, it can be tricky to differentiate between the two. Is branding a marketing activity? Or is marketing a branding activity? Which comes first, and how do you leverage each to support the long-term success of your business?
Understanding how these different activities complement and inform each other can help you develop long-term branding and marketing strategies that maximize investments in both.
What is branding?
Branding is the process of establishing a unique identity for your company.
Business owners often hire branding agencies to support this process. A branding professional will consider your target audience’s preferences, market trends, and your company’s core values to create a unique brand identity framework. Branding deliverables typically include visual assets (like a logo package) and brand guidelines, which set clear parameters around visual identity, brand voice, brand personality, and brand values.
What is marketing?
Marketing refers to the process of communicating with your target audiences. Marketing efforts can include digital marketing channels (like content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, and search engine optimization) and traditional marketing channels (like billboards, print ads, and commercials).
Branding vs. marketing: What’s the difference?
To understand the difference between branding and marketing, imagine a friend who always stands out in the crowd. What makes this person unique? Is it their dress, stature, or tone of voice? A particular personality trait or value system? These are elements of your friend’s personal brand.
Now imagine your same friend is hunting for a new job. They might attend networking events, submit applications, reach out to prospective employers via phone or email, or even start a blog or newsletter. These actions represent their marketing efforts.
In short, your brand is who your company is, and marketing is how you share that brand with your target audiences.
Here are a few more key differences and similarities:
- How they’re similar: Both marketing and branding efforts aim to elevate the reputation of your company in your target market.
- How they’re different: Your brand strategy establishes a unique identity for your company. Your marketing strategy determines how you’ll communicate information to your target audiences.
- How they’re similar: Your brand identity forms the foundation for both marketing and brand messages.
- How they’re different: Brand messaging includes information about what your brand stands for. Marketing messages can include brand messaging, but also includes messaging about products, promotions, and the company.
Timeframe and lifecycle
- How they’re similar: Both branding and marketing represent ongoing efforts. Both also need to be updated over time.
- How they’re different: Branding informs your marketing methods, so it’s helpful to tackle branding first. Branding also lasts longer. A brand identity should last multiple years—a company might only update their brand every five to 10 years. Marketing campaigns have shorter lifespans. You might run a marketing campaign for three or six months or launch even shorter campaigns to communicate about a specific product launch, event, or promotion.
- How they’re similar: Both branding and marketing methods are aimed at informing and persuading your target audiences.
- How they’re different: Branding is aimed at your entire audience, including target customers, employees, and potential hires. Marketing campaigns, on the other hand, frequently target specific subsets of your audience with tailored messaging.
- How they’re similar: Both branding and marketing efforts can be measured.
- How they’re different: Branding metrics measure what your audience thinks about your company and can include brand awareness, brand perception, and brand loyalty. Marketing metrics measure the effectiveness of individual marketing tactics and can include click-through rates, email opens, site traffic, and content engagements.
3 branding vs. marketing examples
Here are a few hypothetical examples illustrating the difference between branding and marketing:
Apparel company example
A company that makes hand-dyed silk scarves launches a social media campaign to announce it’s donating 10% of June profits to an organization that combats food insecurity in the US.
The company’s social media ad campaign is a marketing tactic. The company’s commitment to social justice is an element of its brand identity.
Small bakery example
The owner of a small bakery redesigns the bakery’s interior space to evoke the hearth, including more comfortable chairs and a gas fireplace. They host a grand opening and give all attendees a voucher for one free coffee.
Remaking the company’s interior space is a branding effort. Hosting an event and distributing promotional materials are marketing methods.
Toy store example
A toy store owner conducts audience and customer research and learns that its customers care deeply about reducing plastic waste. The company rethinks its use of materials and designs a new visual identity, complete with a new logo.
Conducting audience and customer research is a marketing activity. Creating a new brand identity is a branding activity.
Branding vs. marketing FAQ
Are branding and marketing measured differently?
Business owners measure marketing and branding efforts using different metrics.
- Branding metrics measure how your target audience feels about your company. Metrics like a net promoter score (NPS) help measure brand loyalty and brand perception.
- Marketing metrics measure the success of individual marketing campaigns (as well as the effect of marketing on your business as a whole). They can include engagement rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, impressions, and site traffic.
Do branding and marketing efforts impact consumer perceptions?
Yes, both branding and marketing efforts broadcast information about your company and can affect consumer perceptions.
Can branding and marketing efforts impact consumer buying decisions?
Yes. Effective marketing campaigns encourage purchases by communicating key information to target audiences, and a strong brand identity can increase customer loyalty and support long-term customer retention.