To the casual observer, branding and marketing may appear to be the same. They’re both inherently mysterious disciplines – branding is often described as a ‘dark art’. They also have similar aims and goals, namely to aid the selling of a product or service. They both naturally lead to assisting sales (though I’ll leave sales as a profession out of this – sorry, sales fiends). Additionally, they can both be very costly to get right. This is why people often see it as ‘branding vs marketing’ instead of ‘branding and marketing’.

This final point sometimes leads to a standoff in clients’ minds – do I need branding or marketing? And can I get away with one and not the other?

Let’s rip the plaster off now. You’ll need both. There are no two ways about it.

The trick, and what I’m going to attempt to help you with here, is knowing how they interact. This knowledge will help you balance when and what you need. Let’s take a deeper look at the branding vs marketing debate, starting with…

Branding vs Marketing – What’s the actual difference?

Firstly, they’re not the same. And no, most people can’t do both. At least not effectively. For all their similarities, they require different skills. So yeah, you’ll probably need two experts when tackling them. The good news is they can be looked at separately. So let’s do that here.

Branding is the creation of a distinct identity. It’s not, as some people think, just about visuals. The brand covers the client’s feelings about the product, service or company. Therefore, branding is the manipulation of these feelings. It covers everything from visuals like colour palettes and shape choices to the tone and character of the brand and its mission, vision and values. Branding aims to create an identity in the mind of the audience.

Marketing is the process of attracting customers to a product or service. It involves showing how a client’s life would be improved through buying. Generally, marketing aims to build interest in products and services so that sales are more easily made. Like branding, it covers messaging and often involves an element of visual design.

Seem pretty similar right?

Well, the differences are subtle and vital.

Branding is an interior exercise – discovering the brand and how you’d like it to appear. Marketing, on the other hand, is based on building awareness. There is certainly an overlap between the two disciplines, but the key differences mean that they need different skills. Branding involves sharpening your brand and requires analytical and creative skills to draw out its central truth. In some ways, it uses a lot of psychology. Marketing is inherently about connecting that brand to the market need – it has elements of psychology but also runs on numbers.

In short, branding is who you are, and marketing is how you use that to build awareness.

When should each be used?

Generally, the two are not interchangeable and should be used at appropriate times.

Branding should (ideally) come first. Gaining a greater understanding of who you are in the market and what makes you unique is vital in saturated markets. It also helps to match your values to those of potential clients, making marketing directly to them far easier. If you don’t know who you are, there’s little chance anyone else will be able to figure it out.

Marketing comes next – building awareness of the brand in the audience. Knowing what you wish to achieve from your marketing is vital – a strong brand can make this easier to quantify.

But what if you’ve already started marketing?

Well, that’s alright too. The great thing about the relationship between branding and marketing is that it’s cyclical.

Branding vs Marketing – Working Together

Here’s the thing people get wrong with branding – it’s not a ‘one and done’ exercise. Markets and people change over time – a brand needs to change with them. The best brands understand this and constantly measure their brand against their marketing t make sure both measure up.

That’s also why branding and marketing teams must work together. A dialogue between the two disciplines means a greater appreciation of the overall goals and better results.

It’s like two adventurers out in the forest – one is constantly looking inwards to ensure they are prepared. The other looks outwards to find their goal. Alone, the first is never likely to leave camp, stuck in an endless cycle of self-discovery. The second heads off immediately, underprepared and unsure of their strengths and weaknesses.

Either might see success, but they are more likely to reach their goal by working together.

The same can be said for branding and marketing.

A strong brand might see success with little marketing but only with the luck of being stumbled upon by the right people. Likewise, marketing without branding may see its messaging land, but not without both money and luck.

As such, you should be prepared to utilise both and ensure they work well together. If you’re outsourcing one or both, take the time to make an introduction between your specialists. Or even better, choose teams that already work well together! I work with exceptional marketing teams, and we know when to defer to the other.

So, if you’re looking at where to spend your money, you need to ask yourself what you need now. Shore up the weaknesses in your brand first so every pound you spend on marketing will work much harder.

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