One of the most frequent questions in business is the difference between branding and marketing. People often confuse the two concepts.

The response you receive is determined by the person you question.

If you were to ask a room full of marketing strategists, experts, CMOs, social media managers, SEOs, PR executives, and brand managers how to measure the ROI of social media, you would get a different answer from each person.

The terms “overpopulation” and “population growth” have been used so interchangeably over the years that their true meaning has become somewhat lost. Both business concepts are powerful, but they often overlap.


The Difference Between Branding And MarketingAfter surveying a group of notable branding and marketing experts, it was found that they each had a different explanation for the text. In total, there were 12 unique explanations.

In other words, branding is what makes customers choose one company’s products or services over another company’s products or services. However, 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 the brand and the consumer.

Keller claims that not only do brands distinguish themselves from other brands, but they also establish affective bonds with consumers by offering them products or services that they regularly want or need. Repeated support and reinforcement from businesses aids consumers in their purchase-making decisions.

Brand Equity

When a company’s products are associated with a recognizable and trusted name, those products tend to be more valuable than similar products from companies with less recognizable names. This increased value is known as brand equity.

The brand equity is created through both marketing initiatives (advertising, PR campaigns, social media) as well as making sure the brand experience is always the same. If executed properly, this will result in increased sales, more recommendations, and reduced likelihood of customers defecting to the competition.

Keller Brand Equity Model

Keller’s model for measuring and building brand equity is useful for companies trying to improve their brand.

The Keller’s Brand Equity Model suggests that a strong brand is created when there are positive thoughts, feelings, and perceptions towards the product or service.

Brand Identity 

The first stage of the pyramid is concerned with making the public aware of your brand and what it stands for. 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. You want to make sure that your branding reflects these factors so that potential customers will know what your company is all about and what it can do for them.

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?

Brand Meaning

When customers become comfortable with a brand, they will want to learn more about it. What do they stand for? Are they reliable? What’s the quality of their products? Do they have effective customer service?

  • 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?

Brand Response 

The third stage in the pyramid is about whether or not the customer feels that the product and brand experience has met their expectations. Has it delivered as promised? What are the after-effects of using your product or service?

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

These are the comments or reviews that state what a consumer did not like about their experience with a certain brand. These three factors–quality, competitive advantages, and credibility–are typically used to assess a product.

If you have a low score, customers will spread bad word of mouth about you.

On the flip side, if you successfully deliver on your brand promise, offer exceptional customer service, and an even better final product, then you can create brand advocates.

Brand Resonance

We have now reached the most challenging part of our journey – which is also the most rewarding – when it comes to brand equity. When a strong connection is formed between a brand and its consumers, this is known as brand resonance.

This level of the customer pyramid consists of your most loyal and dedicated customers, who are also your strongest brand advocates. Even if things get tough, they will never abandon you for someone else. These are the people that will defend you if you face backlash across your social networks or receive negative press.

They’ll also tell their friends and family about your products, because they would feel bad if they didn’t.


The Difference Between Branding And Marketing

Branding is the identity of a company, and marketing is the tool that finds an audience that buys into the company’s mission or story.

Identifying an audience or following is the first step for marketers. The next step is to educate people on who your brand is, why it matters, and how the company’s products/services will satisfy their needs. Great sales teams will always outperform product or engineering focused organisations. The key for most companies is sales- great sales teams will always outperform product or engineering focused organizations.

Marketing is vast and wide. It can be heartfelt, funny, or serious. The content of a website can be a mix of text, keywords, photos, charts, graphs, and videos. Marketing will be performed by a variety of online and offline methods—some of the most common being:

There are many other marketing methods to consider working with, both online and offline. Your brand is always going to remain the same, even though the methods you use for marketing may change a lot from year to year or even season to season.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is attracting consumers to your product or service through the use of organic content instead of paid advertising.

It amplifies content like blogs, videos, podcasts, and eBooks using “pull” marketing strategies like SEO, social media marketing, and events to reach a very specific group of potential customers.

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


The first stage is focused on getting customers to become aware of your existence and what needs of theirs you satisfy. You would do this by promoting the products or services you offer. If you want to reach your target audience without paying for advertising, the best way to do it is by creating content that is optimized for search engines.

People are naturally more interested in products that are related to topics they have searched for than in products that are advertised to them randomly on TV.

You need to address common pain points and show how your product is the best solution.


Now that you have a few followers and have gotten some initial interest, it’s time to turn some of these prospects into concrete leads.

This means that in order to get something more valuable, you have to give up your contact information. An exclusive eBook, whitepaper, webinar series, or free consultation could be the form this takes.

If you have an email address or telephone number, you have a lead. You’re now ready to move onto Stage #3.


As your email list grows, you can start thinking about ways to turn those leads into sales.

Many businesses err in trying to immediately sell their product to new leads instead of building a rapport first. You might want to take a moment to think about this…

What if you were marketing a SaaS company that specialized in eCommerce? How would you go about it?

A person downloads an eBook guide on product bundling techniques in exchange for their email address. When someone visits an eCommerce website, does that automatically mean they are looking to purchase a new platform for their business?

Possibly, but it’s highly unlikely.

The content could be delivered through email rather than being added to the website. This would allow for it to be more tailored to the specific concerns of the users.

A CRM software such as HubSpot or Pardot can help you not only set up workflows, but also analyze which content is resonating with your audience and what content is not.


The last stage of the inbound marketing funnel is delight, which is often overlooked. The happiest customers are the most effective source of new business opportunities.

Referral leads have a higher success rate than leads generated by standard marketing techniques. Wouldn’t it be better if the 16% also had higher lifetime customer value?

The main objective of your customer success team is to ensure that your current customers are content.

However, you can also help out by engaging with them on social media, continuing to send them relevant content, and continually asking them for feedback regarding the performance of your product/service.

Which Comes First—Marketing Or Branding

Branding should be the foundation of your marketing strategy. Before you begin to devise your marketing methods, tools, strategies and tactics, it is essential to clearly define who you are as a brand.

The brand is what will make the customers come back, it is the foundation for customer loyalty.

The brand is what keeps customers coming back to restaurants and retailers, both independent and major corporations, generation after generation.

An example of this would be if you were to order and pick up prescriptions for yourself and your family from a pharmacy. No matter if the pharmacy you shop at is a local mom-and-pop store or part of a large chain, they have earned your trust and loyalty over the years.

The brand of the prescriptions is what keeps customers coming back.

The methods used for marketing may change over time, depending on current industry and cultural trends. However, the idea of branding will stay the same.

Even if you make adjustments to your brand, they will typically be in response to your growth or expanded services offered—but it is rarely an overhaul of your core principals, mission, or values.

Your brand should include attributes that are important to your target audience, such as quality, community, convenience, or communication.

Branding is something that you and your team should do every day, with every transaction, phone call, and email. You may outsource your marketing to professionals, but this is not always the case.

There is a difference between branding and marketing. Branding is who you are as a company, while marketing is how you attract consumer attention. Think of branding as a way to keep your current clients, and marketing as a way to attract new clients.

The One Area Branding And Marketing Overlap

There is an area where branding and marketing overlap. Branding and marketing are the same when choosing imagery to use regularly.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. When choosing your company colors, graphics, and logo, remember that they must first represent your brand, but they will also play a substantial role in your ongoing marketing campaign.

The Importance Of Understanding Branding vs. Marketing

After reading this, the difference between marketing and branding should be clear. The importance of understanding the two comes down to conversion rates.

Even if you base your marketing strategies solely on keyword trends and what’s effective within your industry, you’ll get fewer conversions if your consumers don’t identify with your brand.

Your branding is what generates a timeless connection. Even if your current marketing efforts are engaging, it is the ongoing branding that will keep customers coming back.

There are many companies out there who offer products and services similar to yours, or even the same products and services. Competition is tough.

Your branding is what will make customers want to come back for more. It is your branding that builds loyalty and trust. It is your branding that makes you unique.

If you don’t brand yourself, you might still be successful, but if you do brand yourself, your success will be much greater.

It is important to have a strong foundation for your brand, and understanding the difference between marketing and branding will help you to create a solid base for your brand that can be expanded upon with marketing strategies.

About the Author Brian Richards

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