Marketing vs. Branding: One muddy mess

The strangest thing is happening on LinkedIn. And it all started with one question:

What's the difference between marketing & branding?

As of May 10, there were 61 replies and very little agreement about the answer.

That, to me, suggests a problem. No wonder so many companies have trouble marketing and branding successfully.

Wouldn’t we all be better at marketing and branding if we could agree on what marketing and branding actually mean?

My answer, I thought, was a simple response to a simple question:

Marketing is more about the product, how you position it and promote it. Brand is more about tone and values and the voice you use to convey concepts to the crowd. Brand is the consistent umbrella under which your products and promotion live.

I’d say that brand is even more than that. It’s how you run your company. It’s how your treat your customers. Marketing is just one component of your brand.

Then, a bunch of other answers poured in. Some said marketing was a subset of branding, and some said branding was a subset of marketing. (Really, is anyone else seeing the problem here?)

Maybe the dictionary definitions will help:


  • the act of buying or selling in a market
  • all business activity involved in the moving of goods from the producer to the consumer, including selling, advertising, packaging, etc.


  • the practice of marketing products by associating them with a widely accepted brand name so as to distinguish them from other similar products that are sold

Hmph. I don’t think that clarifies the issue either. Branding is about more than just a brand name. It includes:

  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • Customer service
  • Company policies (internal and external)
  • Correspondence
  • Conduct of executives

Everything a company does helps determine its brand.

If branding were a subset of marketing, as some people suggest, then a company’s brand would only be about marketing. (That would be wrong, right?)

These comments sum up the difference nicely:

Defining the brand helps define who your customers are and what it is you want to say to them. Marketing is then the process by which you do that. (Jonathan Staines)

Branding is the management of a promise to ensure it remains relevant, competitive and authentic… Marketing is focused on communication of the promise in a way that influences the target’s choice. (Ed Burghard)

Brand is your identity. Marketing is telling the story about your identity. (John Meyer)

And Andrew Shea makes a great point:

I am disappointed that so many of us consider marketing to be all about communication and promotion. Let’s not confuse marketing communications with marketing…

That’s a very important point. As someone who works in marketing communications, I sometimes need to be reminded of that.

But here, I think the above comments, including my own, say more. We talk about communicating in some way, but we’re not talking only about communications.

For example, when John says “Marketing is telling the story about your identity,” he’s not just talking about marketing communications. The decisions a company makes about the 4 Ps of marketing—product, price, place and promotion—all come together to tell your story.

You use product, price, place and promotion to entice your customer too. As Rob Linden says so simply (in what might be my favorite answer):

Branding is what you stand for. Marketing is how you entice consumers to purchase.

So, what do you think? Do you agree, or is the difference between marketing and branding still as clear as mud?


Check out all the comments in the LinkedIn discussion (you need to be registered to LinkedIn to see it). For other opinions, go to BrandConsultantAsia blog, Buzzworthy Branding, JustBrand.Me, and for a cool visual representation see TNW Shareables.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s