The Difference Between Marketing and Branding

What is the difference between marketing and branding?

In a recent conversation with a very senior person at a financial institution my colleague was told, “I think private wealth managers will have a hard time seeing the value of branding—they see marketing as a cost center, not a driver of sales.”

Hold it.

How did we go from branding to marketing in one sentence like that?

What is marketing? What is branding? How do they differ?

The difference between marketing and branding, Tronvig Group
There is a spectrum of opinions here, but in my view, marketing is actively promoting a product or service. It’s a push tactic. It’s pushing out a message to get sales results: “Buy our product because it’s better than theirs.” (Or because it’s cool, or because this celebrity likes it, or because you have this problem and this thing will fix it, etc.) This is oversimplification, but that’s it in a nutshell.

This is not branding.

Branding should both precede and underlie any marketing effort. Branding is not push, but pull. Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service. It is communication of characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what this particular brand is and is not.

A brand will help encourage someone to buy a product, and it directly supports whatever sales or marketing activities are in play, but the brand does not explicitly say “buy me.” Instead, it says “This is what I am. This is why I exist. If you agree, if you like me, you can buy me, support me, and recommend me to your friends.”

Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.

Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any particular marketing effort. The brand is what remains after the marketing has swept through the room. It’s what sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization—whether or not, at that particular moment, you bought or did not buy.

The brand is ultimately what determines if you will become a loyal customer or not. The marketing may convince you to buy a particular Toyota, and maybe it’s the first foreign car you ever owned, but it is the brand that will determine if you will only buy Toyotas for the rest of your life.

The brand is built from many things. Very important among these things is the lived experience of the brand. Did that car deliver on its brand promise of reliability? Did the maker continue to uphold the quality standards that made them what they are? Did the sales guy or the service center mechanic know what they were talking about?

Marketing unearths and activates buyers. Branding makes loyal customers, advocates, even evangelists, out of those who buy.

This works the same way for all types of businesses and organizations. All organizations must sell (including nonprofits). How they sell may differ, and everyone in an organization is, with their every action, either constructing or deconstructing the brand. Every thought, every action, every policy, every ad, every marketing promotion has the effect of either inspiring or deterring brand loyalty in whomever is exposed to it. All of this affects sales.

Back to our financial expert. Is marketing a cost center? Poorly researched and executed marketing activities can certainly be a cost center, but well-researched and well-executed marketing is an investment that pays for itself in sales and brand reinforcement.

Is branding a cost center? On the surface, yes, but the return is loyalty. The return is salespeople whose jobs are easier and more effective, employees who stay longer and work harder, customers who become ambassadors and advocates for the organization.

Branding is as vital to the success of a business or nonprofit as having financial coherence, having a vision for the future, or having quality employees.

It is the essential foundation for a successful operation. So yes, it’s a cost center, like good employees, financial experts, and business or organizational innovators are. They are cost centers, but what is REALLY costly is not to have them, or to have substandard ones.

Do you need an affordable way to improve your brand today?

Because we know that not everyone needs or can afford our full process, we created a guided tutorial package for our foundational brand strategy tool: the Brand Pyramid. Watch the video for a preview.

brand strategy tutorial

For more information on the brand strategy tutorial, visit here where you will find a fuller explanation and link to a free download of the first video.

Illustration above for Tronvig Group by Sage Einarsen

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67 thoughts on “The Difference Between Marketing and Branding

  1. Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko says:

    Well, just to challenge the standard view a bit: what if the idea that branding precedes marketing comes from a too narrow view of marketing? If marketing is seen from the point of view of old-fashioned production or selling orientation, it certainly looks as if branding is the heart of everything, and marketing is just about ‘selling techniques’. But marketing has been developed also as a strategic tool, which is itself at the very core of the entire business strategy. How can branding suddenly take its place?

    As I started to develop city marketing in the 1980s, when branding was not developed at all in this particular area, I seem to have developed a different view than those who see marketing as just a tool for branding.

    Rather, and this is very tentative, I think that branding developed simply from a ‘product’ dimension of 4P, extending to such directions as identity and positioning, which in the current market and competitive condition gained a special role in marketing. Thus, it is still an integral part of strategic marketing. Does this make any sense?

    • Dr. Rudy Cardona says:

      Yes it does.
      By the way, and as you probably know, the term “city marketing” speaks of the city in generic terms. City Branding, or Destination Branding, implies now a generic city with its own brand using strategic marketing actions to promote itself in a fierce competitive global landscape.

    • Janak says:

      Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko — I fully agree with your explanation.

      Mr. Heaton, please consider the explanation and do implore the same. Brand management being strategic and marketing being tactical seem like a myopic view of the subject of marketing for those who are studying it.

      I, too, agree that brand management is a subset of marketing first and not independent.

  2. James Heaton says:

    Professor Anttiroiko:

    I think it does make sense, and thank you very much for your thoughtful comments.

    Sometimes I think this argument might be no more than a kind of childish fight: “My tool is bigger than your tool.” and I may have played into this by saying, “Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.”

    I was perhaps arguing that my tool is bigger.

    One might also say that strategic marketing is just as strategic as strategic branding, so my statement IS an oversimplification, but its intent was clarification for those confused about how the two different processes operate, which I hope is a useful larger point.

    Marketing operates primarily through tactical means, and branding, while manifest in all things including every tactical action, is to my view, really about what people hold in their minds, and this is significantly more about strategic positioning than tactical action.

    I’m not sure I still believe unequivocally that branding is primary, and our understanding of marketing continues to evolve. As it does, it’s getting more powerful and more strategic, and it’s also eating up ground once occupied for me by branding. So it goes.

    In the 15 months since I wrote this post, I have, it turns out, spent more time talking about marketing than I have about branding, and this could be a reflection of my own awakening to just how much strategic ground marketing could be made to cover. Branding though still remains, for me, fundamental.

    To take your example, when it comes to marketing a city, is it more important to look inward and create a brand that is true to the experience of those living or visiting that place, or is it more important to think about what the city has to offer in terms on the needs of those who use it? For me this difference in approach is a key difference between branding and marketing. Each approach to the problem of what to do yields a slightly different outcome. Each implies differing tactical actions, and (I now believe) each approach benefits from the insights brought by the other.

    In our own Branding and Marketing Discovery process, we now do both things—we try to get at the truth of the brand from the perspective of those who know it well, and then we also try to understand the brand offer in terms of the needs of those who do and might potentially consume it. This second set of findings often suggests changes/improvements. Do you/we then, as in your example, ask a city to change something fundamental about itself so that it will be a better sell? Is this what really happens? I’m guessing the answer might sometimes be yes. That’s interesting, and I’m curious to know your experience.

    In any event, thanks for helping me think about it. I will continue to do so as I want to always be learning.

  3. Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko says:

    Hello James,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Good points. I am luckily out of the whole marketing game. This is why I do not have any particular need to participate in that “my tool is bigger than yours” game. And I am glad you have a rather pragmatic view of it, too. But about the original question, I probably have a simply old-fashioned view of it, as I was like sleeping for some twenty years — I had nothing to do with marketing after the latter half of the 1980s — and when I returned to the topic recently, it seemed that the discourse was more about branding than marketing, and it sure attracted my attention. As I said, my field is city marketing and city branding, and that is a special field that may also partly explain my view of the marketing/branding relationship.

    If I try to explain what I meant in the previous reply, I simply see that the product dimension of marketing grew out from its original place in 4Ps and became a kind of spearhead dimension through the interplay of business strategy, product development, and the symbolic aspect of communication, which for understandable reasons started to change the traditional idea of the marketing mix. This, together with fundamental changes in the economy (of which you know more than I do) and what Lash and Urry, for example, refer to as economies of signs and space, and a general emphasis on the increased symbolic nature of economic life (incl. digitalisation), and with increased awareness of brand values and global brand names since the 1990s, has created a completely new way of looking at the symbolic aspect of a product. This is why I see that the DNA of branding is in the interplay within the product-communication axis. Hence the brand is now at the core of the new discourse.

    The story is much longer and nuanced, but I tried to keep it short.

    As to your question about city branding, I guess I am not completely wrong if I translate the dilemma into the relationship of brand identity and the brand promise of the city. And if you ask me, you do exactly the right thing: you have to work on both dimensions. Yet, there are two extremely important things to take into account. First, a city is a reflexive entity. There is no ‘real’ city here and the ‘represented’ city there, but instead a reflexive entity that changes through its symbolic expressions — sometimes slowly, and sometimes only slightly — but the reflexivity is there. Thus, when we brand a city, we are also reworking the identity of the city, because there is no longer the same identity that there was before we started our endeavour. Of course, this requires that our actions are influential and meaningful to the community. With this exaggeration I am just trying to point out the very evolutionary nature of brand identity in the case of city branding. And second, we have to keep in mind that in city branding the ‘identity’ is an aggregate of experiences of people living and visiting the city, and a set of key attributes as expressed in urban symbolism, and this is not and should not be treated as a sacred cow. Branding is meant to point out weak points, gaps, cleavages, and tensions that require not only narrowly defined branding designed for external audiences but also profound changes in the self-perception, conditions, and policies of the urban community in question. This is a well-known story in many post-industrial cities which really needed a large-scale restructuring in order provide decent working and living conditions for their citizens. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but in such cases there is no other way than just to try. Glasgow, Bilbao, Pittsburgh etc. are textbook cases of such changes, but only a tip of the iceberg.

    This message is getting too long, but let me just summarise. Yes, sometimes you must ask the city to reform itself in order to be able to attract desired values from the space of flows. (This is actually the key message of my ‘city attraction hypothesis’).

    Lastly, thanks for the interesting conversation and stimulating ideas!

  4. James Heaton says:

    Professor Anttiroiko:

    Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully answer my question. You look too young to have been branding cities in the 1980’s, or is that the prerogative of the very young in Europe? 😉

    I see you are publishing what looks to be a fascinating book on this subject: The Political Economy of City Branding. I will have to read your ‘city attraction hypothesis.’ It’s a topic that is becoming surprisingly germane to our work. We are beginning to brush up against these very issues as we work on branding and marketing projects involving keynote public institutions—like museums—in smaller cities. Their fate and identity is deeply intertwined with that of the city itself. So the questions we face sometimes grow larger as we get deeper into the real issues at play, until we are inevitably talking about the brand of the city itself, and how that will change or force changes on the institutions we are seeking to help and vice versa.

  5. Tim says:

    I must soundly disagree with your position. Do you disagree with Peter Drucker’s statement that “There are two, and only two, essential functions for any business: marketing and innovation. Everything else is a cost.”

    Your view of marketing as a tactic is much too narrow and simple. Marketing is everything that an organization does to get and keep a customer. Branding came into vogue due to the success of the company’s marketing – see Coke.

    • James Heaton says:

      Tim: Thanks for the comment and for bringing up Peter Drucker.

      Sorry for the lateness of my reply. I was off grid practicing what I preach in How Not to Vacation.

      I do not disagree with you at the level of the most general definition of marketing. I’m not sure how helpful that kind of definition is though since it tends to consume everything and then just sit there bloated and unhelpful. Peter Drucker’s “marketing” certainly includes all of what I refer to as branding along with all that I refer to as marketing.

      You might also notice that I touch on the question of the ongoing debate over whose concept is bigger in my discussion above with Professor Anttiroiko. I do not want to add fire to that. If you want marketing to be the first principal, fine, but the marketing approach and the branding approach remain distinct and complementary aspects of the what should be a synthetic and comprehensive process. I maintain that understanding their distinctive roles and contributions to this process makes for better marketing (your definition).

      I certainly do NOT disagree with Peter Drucker or his statement about the essential role of marketing for all businesses. On this point, please see my post: Marketing is Not Optional.

  6. Graphic Design Company in Philadelphia says:

    Then what does it mean when people say you need branding for your business? I mean, if branding is what we are then why do we have to do it?

    • James Heaton says:

      Thanks for the question. I have to assume it’s rhetorical since you are a graphic design firm, but let me take the opportunity to elaborate on the sentence.

      Your brand IS what you are, but more importantly it is what you are in the MINDS of your brand consumers. So, the truth and effectiveness of your brand expression matters a great deal. Your brand must have clarity and an idea that is strong enough, coherent enough and distinctive enough to be able to lodge in your brand consumer’s mind. This requires expert and persistent articulation and supporting expression across all the constituent elements of your brand, at least those over which you exercise direct and indirect control.

      This includes, but is not limited to, your employee training, your vision statement, your physical spaces if you have them, all of your deployed brand assets such as photography, videos, logos, graphics, colors, how you use language, and of course, your marketing communications expressed through websites, printed materials and all manner of advertising. Your brand is a living, breathing thing that is simultaneously within your organization and spread across all those who ever have and will ever encounter you.

      So, in answer to your question, you only have to “do it” in the sense that not doing it will likely result in your brand being incoherent and diffuse, a state described by some as having no brand at all.

  7. Shanty Mathew says:

    This is a very relevant and articulate article.

    But if I may, I’d like to present a contrarian view: The Brand is “what you are”, and Marketing is “what you do”… BUT “what you do” (habits) eventually defines “what you are” (personality).

    In my opinion, Branding and Marketing, and Sales, are more intimately connected than we think… And they should be treated as one function.

    As a Creative Director, I know that Advertising for the same Brand tends to have very different flavours depending on whether the brief is from Brand Manager or the CMO/Marketing Manager… In my opinion, that it’s because even though they profess otherwise, they have considerably different incentives and “end results” in mind.

    Case in point: Dove ‘brand’ ads are empathetic and appreciative of “natural beauty”, whereas Dove ‘marketing’ ads prey on insecurities like any cosmetic product…

  8. Marinela says:

    Hi guys! I am a bit confused about this answer from a startup company “We are not spending any money on branding right now.” Can one be spending money on branding? If yes, can you give me an example? Because I think more that what they mean is “we are not spending money on MARKETING right now” ? From what I understand here on this site, branding is the “ID” of the company which is stored in the minds of the consumers. So I guess that this ID is built up by marketing tactics, which cost money. Am I wrong? Please clarify it for me 🙂

    • James Heaton says:

      Marinela, what an interesting thought. Thank you.

      Branding, in part, could be seen as the “id” of an organization. It can and should also be more than that. Crucially, it has to have external manifestations through whatever means (including marketing). Your brand exists, I think, in the interplay between what you are and what you do (including your marketing tactics) on one side, and the idea your consumers retain about you on the other. So I see marketing and branding as two essential aspects of the ongoing relationship organizations have with the world. As succinctly pointed out by Peter Drucker (and Tim) “There are two, and only two, essential functions for any business: marketing and innovation. Everything else is a cost.” Contained inside Peter Drucker’s notion of marketing with a capital M, brand work is there, and serves as the internal foundation upon which marketing execution can be built. Marketing, as I describe it, is also there looking at the issue from its vantage point in the mind of the consumer. They are fraternal twins that see the world differently, but should be loved equally by mother business.

      Organizations do not HAVE to spend money on branding, but many do and rightly so. They spend money on branding when they need assistance with what should be natural and easy, but actually is not—finding clarity. Organizations also often have to spend money on branding, when they or their marketplace is evolving or changing, or when they are having trouble expressing themselves effectively across all communication pathways.

      We actually have two rubrics for strategy: one that assesses the brand viability of an idea or execution (from the mind of the organization) and another that assesses the marketing viability (from the perspective of the mind of the target consumer). Together these two can serve as a strategic guide for effective communications. Neither is truly fixed.

      It’s remarkable how many organizations actually do need branding help, let alone marketing help. Perhaps this is just the consequence of a basic reality: things always change—markets, people, tastes. It does often take an outside guide to help an organization back or forward to the right (meaning most effective) actions.

      In the end, brand communications (natural or supported) should serve to foster a more positive and constructive influence over your brand as it exists (and evolves) in the mind of your brand consumers.

  9. Jump says:

    I think it worth mentioning that for a company to succeed, it needs both branding and marketing. It doesn’t cut it with just one or the other. Marketing for short term cash flow, and Branding for building the loyalty or equity. Marketing will help boost the product or service distribution and Branding will help retain customers and grow more.

  10. Cat says:

    I learned way back in my research about branding, that a brand is the ‘personality’ of your product that you are trying to market. Your brand will develop a reputation, initially by marketing tactics, but ultimately by consumer experience. It can be bad, or it can be good. (Don’t forget Public Relations, it’s up to PR to make sure the reputation is protected by enhancing the good and downplaying the bad.) Marketing ‘uses’ the good qualities of the brand to ‘sell’ to the public. And marketing will match graphic elements to reflect the positive qualities of the product by using colors, photographs, a logo and even fonts. These elements will create a visual identity for the ‘personality.’

    For example, Superman is associated trustworthiness and dependability in a time of need. He has a good reputation. He is identified with a logo—the letter ‘S’. His colors are mainly blue and red with a touch of yellow, and he has a cape that is unique to him. (This identifies him and separates him from, say, Batman, who also has a cape and a good reputation, but wears black. Branding needs to clarify a unique personality.)

    Superman gets publicity for his good deeds. News stories and headlines are the PR that communicates to the public the good deeds he is associated with, and helps spread this knowledge. This helps enhance his word-of-mouth reputation.

    Marketing strategies establish the graphics, the colors and the logo to match the personality to a visual identity. And these will be used leveraging his perceived positive qualities to sell Superman products like movies and toys…

  11. ken says:

    I have a bit of a different view on this. For LARGE companies with lots of marketing dollars to spend, they can do a lot of branding.

    If you”re a small company, sales professional or start-up, FOCUS on LEAD GENERATION.
    Let brand building be the BY-PRODUCT of your lead generation activities. Not a strategy onto itself.

    Far too many small businesses are VICTIMS of brand building. Flushing their limited marketing dollars down the drain.

    • James Heaton says:

      Ken, thank you for your comment and insight. I agree with you that there is a danger in spending lots of money on what some people think of as branding. And I agree that some small companies are victims of this.

      For me though, one of the essential functions of branding is to sort out how you are going to communicate your value so that those outside your company or organization (or your own head) can understand it. Not doing this can also be very costly.

      Casting many lines may seem like the logical first step, but it is infinitely wiser to cast them strategically—knowledge of precisely where to cast those lines (who to talk to) can only be gleaned once the hard internal work, which involves getting clear on your brand and offer, is done.

      Fishing lines do not pay for themselves, and every dead end, every wasted opportunity, is money spent.

      Branding should not be about spending a lot of money to make your logo look pretty, but it should be about making sure your energies are focused strategically on those things that will yield the results you want out in the world.

      Maybe another way to put this is … beware of branding companies who will give you a brand without first helping you establish a strategic foundation for its operation within your tactical activities (such as lead generation, or your website, or whatever marketing activation you have taken on).

  12. Kerrie says:

    Great article.

    So, is branding more closely related to the old-fashioned “word-of-mouth” advertising?

    Is brand also more likely to be affected by unpaid publicity (e.g. journalist reports on TV, radio, internet or newspaper)?

    I’m predicting the answer is “yes” to both of these questions, but I’m just checking that I do understand how it all works together.

    • James Heaton says:

      Kerrie, as you predict, yes. It’s appropriate here to quote Walter Landor: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” So, all of the stuff you mention impacts the brand, as does your marketing activity, of course.

  13. Roger says:

    Hi James, this is a wonderful article…I just stumbled upon it today and have enjoyed reading both it and the ensuing comments.

    I do wonder, as an aspiring brand manager I see a lot of variation in how companies approach the topic of brand and more specifically rebranding. Is there a framework you’d recommend that fleshes out and touches on more than the brand ID elements (which most seem to get hung up on) in a rebrand process? I have a hard time articulating the importance of digging deeper beyond these elements when working with a team considering a rebrand. Thank you.

    Thank you again, I’ll be following the blog.

  14. James Heaton says:

    Roger, one of our core brand strategy tools is our version of the Brand Pyramid which you can read about and download here at the bottom of Your Brand Idea: Who but Horton can hear it? We also have marketing strategy tools that start with research into the mind of the consumer and the true drivers of their behavior, because it is important for marketers to distinguish between what people say they will do and what they actually do. (See Brain Science and Marketing: Role of the Limbic & Reptilian Brains and also What is marketing strategy?)

  15. Nate Davis says:

    Great distinction James! I’ve worked in advertising for ten years, and yet if someone had asked me to define marketing versus branding, I don’t think I would have done as well as your insightful distinction of the former as active promotion, or “pushing,” whereas the latter is communication of essential truths and values, or “pulling.”

    What made the point about cost centers especially poignant is that Sony is eliminating the office in San Francisco (where my team and I work), which was established to build the new responsive global web site. Why? Because it was perceived as a cost center. And yes, Sony is hurting, no doubt–but if Sony is to regain its status as a leading global brand, the company needs to invest in things like a world-class web site. C’est le vie!

  16. Rick says:

    In my opinion marketing is what Tim said: “Marketing is everything that an organization does to get and keep a customer.”

    That’s not vague or sitting in a corner collecting dust. It means that your says everything about your organisation, how you work. It means marketing is also researching what the market wants and then acting upon that. Marketing consists of the various P’s. Promotion is just one of them. Do not confuse ‘marketing’ with ‘promotion’

    Where Nate says –I don’t think I would have done as well as your insightful distinction of the former as active promotion, or “pushing,” whereas the latter is communication of essential truths and values, or “pulling.”–

    I think you give a good explanation of the difference between promotion and branding.

  17. Anika Davis says:

    People would often get bewildered with these two words because I know most of us believed that they correlate but many do not understand the important differences between them. Sometimes, it is misunderstood when it comes to business. Branding is identifying your target audience and what they want. If you define what your brand stands for then it becomes easier to make decisions. While on the other hand, marketing is the process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. The marketing should also be based on your branding. In essence, marketing is what you do to get your message or promise to customers, while your brand is how you keep the promise made through delivery to customers.

  18. Sandra Larkin says:

    Thank you, this is a great clarification. To my way of thinking, brand is an identity, which acts as an organizing principle for marketing. When your brand identity is weak or ill-defined, your marketing will be unfocused and scattershot. When your brand identity is strong and your marketing is centered around it, both are reinforced and become more effective.

  19. Tarun bahuguna says:

    Isn’t branding part of Marketing? Marketing is an extensive field. It has been terribly restricted to only promotion (in this post). Marketing includes every thing from research—what consumers want to how the ‘brand’ should be positioned and to which group of customers it should target. Marketing also includes sales and after sales service.

    It’s very wrong to quote difference between marketing and branding. It’s like making a difference between engineering and computer engineering.

    • James Heaton says:

      Tarun, I like the expansiveness of your definition of marketing. You postulate that marketing is to branding as engineering is to computer engineering. In other words branding is wholly contained within the marketing endeavor.

      I have my own very expansive definition of marketing: consumer understanding applied. This fits well, I think, with your definition as I read it. The place where we differ is on the definition of branding, because branding extends inward and impacts and encompasses an organization’s internal workings and behavior in ways that marketing does not. Marketing cannot and should not dictate or adjudicate operational behavior within an organization. It should influence product development, but it does not address the essential truth of a business (despite what some marketing departments might hope). Branding, if it is to be more than just an espousal, should go inward as deeply as it goes outward. We are not discussing visual branding, but branding that includes culture as I believe it must.

      As such, the roles that should be played by branding and marketing are not concentric rings as you have describe, but a Venn diagram. This is not necessarily clear from the article above, and it does, as written, lead to a debate about whose definition is bigger, when it should be giving clarity to the differing and complementary roles of these two essential aspects of organizational being and behavior.

      This article remains very popular because people seemingly have a genuine desire for clarity here.

      Tronvig has developed a whole strategic diagnostic process based on our understanding of the differences. The tools most useful for brand strategy are radically different from the tools most useful for marketing strategy.

      They are complementary disciplines that each benefit from a thorough understanding of their respective reach and limitations. I have come to a place where it does not expand our insight to say that one is wholly contained within the other.

  20. Shadab malik says:

    It’s a great discussion, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

    The takeaway for me is this: branding precedes marketing. Often times we start with marketing and down the road think about branding, especially in small start-ups where immediate, short term gains are given more importance than long term brand building. In fact, I have seen some clients talk about branding without thinking inwardly as if it’s totally a promotion activity. This disturbs me to see so many business owners thinking that way. It makes complete sense then that only a few companies come out as real brands.

  21. Laurie Swenson says:

    What you say about branding vs. marketing is what I say about marketing vs. advertising. I don’t see marketing as a push at all. That’s for advertising, IMO. I write about marketing (but not about advertising, which isn’t really on my radar) but until today hadn’t written specifically about branding (I’m doing some research now for my article, which is for a company that sells printing supplies), which I think of as more specific than marketing (and, I’ll grant you, less about the product) and relevant to printed materials, graphics, logos, consistent image of the company, etc. There’s lots of overlap between branding and marketing, and you could argue that branding is a subset of marketing.

    That said, the senior executive’s sentence made me blink. Branding and marketing are not synonyms.

  22. Vimal J. Joshi says:

    First of all Mr. James Heaton,

    Thank you very much for the clarification about “The differences between branding & marketing” which I was searching on the internet.

    I like your strait forward statement, “Branding is PULL & Marketing is PUSH.”

    In my personal view the key is to balance these two factors.

    “Branding is a constant where as marketing is the variable.”

    Likewise branding is the fuel and marketing is the car.


  23. Karl says:

    Tarun is right. Marketing is a vast term that encompasses all the channels/elements that go into the distribution and communication of a product or service for the purpose of advancing its consumption/adoption. How’s that for broad?

    Anecdotally I’ve told clients a story about the 3 blind men and the elephant – that old fable where the men touch various parts of an elephant – the ear, the leg, the trunk and describe the beast as a “Chinese fan”, a “tree trunk” and a “snake” because they could only relate to that one part of the elephant that they touched. Marketing is that elephant. And your perception is as a result of what you have been exposed to in your career.

    You may have heard of the textbook definition of marketing using the 4Ps (Price, Place, Promotion and Product – even 5Ps in some circles including “People”) and for 99% of the cases in the world, this is adequate and accurate. Setting the other Ps aside for the sake of this argument, Promotion is the communicative “P” that includes sub set elements of Advertising (traditional paid media along with its creative messaging), PR (traditional earned media along with its messaging strategies), Digital/Social, Sales Promotion and several other channels/elements that are designed to promote the organization’s product or service and/or its sales messages and/or calls to action.

    Notice almost no reference to “branding” yet. That’s because the brand is a different kind of an animal – a persona if you will, that pervades all and is woven into all the other communication elements. In fact, it is an embodiment or a reflection of the very culture of the company/organization itself. The brand is both a strategic and holistic process that requires companies and organizations self examine and articulate a promise to their audiences, customers and constituents as to who they are, what they stand for and how they intend add value or do business.

    Typically in great organizations, this “brand” governs all communications and interactions with external audiences and in this sense, it is also widely considered PART of the Marketing Strategy – or simply – a part of marketing.

    This basic explanation of the difference between “marketing” and “branding” (technically not a word/thing) has worked for me for 30 years. There are so many theories…variations….semantics….it’s exhausting. And…at the end of the day…I just might not be right. *cuts eyes at everyone

  24. Lanre Basamta says:

    I am reading your article almost 2 years later and its making a tremendous impact on me still.

    I currently work as Head of Brands & Marketing of an IT firm, and everyday I try to ask myself the difference between Branding and Marketing and why they indeed should be different if at all.

    I appreciate your perspective and agree that Branding is an overriding strategy upon which our marketing efforts lie.

    The questions around How to advertise, where to advertise, when, what to say and how to be perceived are questions only Branding (Who you are and want to be perceived as in the customer’s mind) helps to answer!

    Thanks for such a wonderful piece.

  25. Irute says:

    I can see from the comments this article has been very popular. Thank you so much for posting this.

    I appreciate the line between these is not obviously clear and there is a lot of contradictory discussion around this. This is how I come down to understand the difference between branding and marketing.

    Two possible ways to look at it:
     Brand as a company view – brand is larger than marketing (because marketing is a part of any organisation, it is one of the functions).
     Branding as an activity view – branding is a PART of marketing. By the way, Kotler points that “customers view a brand as an important part of a product, and branding can add value to a consumer’s purchase”.

    I have to disagree that “Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.” This is mainly because I define marketing as an organisational function, a business philosophy, a set of processes and activities for delivering the desired and long term customer satisfaction better than competitors in a way that benefits an organisation.

    • James Heaton says:

      Irute and others above, thank you for your thoughtful comments!

      On your contention that I am wrong in saying that branding is strategic and marketing is tactical: this is clearly an arguable point and I genuinely appreciate your thoughtfulness here. Let me explain my thinking. I see branding as the process of making sure your business (organizational or product) strategy is supported by operational truth, and so the strength of your brand depends on your ability to deliver on a brand promise in the context of a strategically differentiated market position. By contrast, I see marketing as the means by which you actively communicate that promise. Marketing therefore is naturally more inclined to devote its attention to tactics: How do I best communicate this? To whom do I direct this communication? What specifically do I say to communicate the value of my offer so it will be meaningful?

      Strategy is certainly an essential aspect of marketing as much as it is for branding, but for me branding is NOT a tactic of marketing. Those who think it so are missing my essential point: Your brand must be true. It is not something you fabricate to meet a market need. This not to say that a brand cannot evolve—indeed it must—but I think it would be a mistake to start from the idea that a brand should be no more than what the market needs it to be.

      Marketing strategy must discern the most powerful intersection between the truth of the brand and the needs of the market. If a brand is no longer compatible with the market, then the brand must evolve, but this process has to be accompanied by congruent changes in operational practice and the migration of the truth of the brand into its new state—a state more suited to market need. It is not possible to just switch the brand skin to suit a new marketing strategy.

      This is why we have found it necessary to supplement our traditional branding work with the hard follow-up work of organizational alignment and sometimes organizational change. We are no longer in a world where it is enough to just say you stand for something. You must make good on your promise. If your brand is forced to function as a subset of marketing it is made vulnerable to a descent into becoming an espousal unsupported by operational truth. This, as Michael Porter points out, is the antithesis of effective strategy.

  26. Clare says:

    Thank you so much for your article.

    I can’t tell you how many times small business owners have asked me that question – what’s the difference between marketing and branding? – and I have struggled to answer them as succinctly as you have. For marketers, we can argue amongst each other about the 4Ps, what is marketing as a whole etc, but for start-ups who have limited resources and have to focus on getting sales immediately, they just want to know why they need to know branding.

    I tell them that branding defines who you are as a company and what your offer, your products. Branding is simply defining your values, characteristics and what you want to be known as in the mind of consumers. Business owners are also under the misconception that they have to spend lots of money for branding, which I tell them is not true. You can do that simply by the language you use when defining who you are on your company website, your product descriptions, your sales pitch. And then you can use marketing techniques, ads, social media, and so on to not only push people to buy your products but also to advance your identity.

    • Tobias Dahlberg says:

      Thanks for a great conversation thread. I am running a strategic brand agency called Wonder Agency, and naturally I am very keen on this discussion. There are lots of good arguments in the thread, however I think some confusion is created where people get the basic definitions mixed (and of course, you might challenge me on this point).

      I would go back to the core definitions here. A brand is simply the perceptions a person holds about a product, service or company (in the context of business). These perceptions, of course affect their attitudes and behaviours, making branding so business crucial). In order to affect the perceptions of people, you can choose to engage in activities called branding. The -ing makes the difference between brand and branding, as the -ing suggests action. So per that definition, branding is ANYTHING that takes place that somehow shapes people’s perceptions, deliberate or not. So the brand is the result of branding (cause vs. effect).

      In some comments above people refer to branding as an internal strategy-firmulating activity, whereas other talk about visual identity elements, and so forth. These are all branding activities, however they are not to be confused with what the word branding actually means. The tactics of branding is different that the idea of branding, is what I mean.

      To create a strong brand, a company will have to engage in lots of different activities, some of which could be classified as marketing (whether you subscribe to the broader, Druckerian definition, or the more narrow one in the article above).

      My stand is that branding definitely is broader than marketing, because, as per this definition the function of business strategy, innovation, culture and operations are all extremely important in the causal chain that creates a brand (in the minds of consumers). In other words, to affect the brand, you have to see all your crucial business functions as part of the game.

      The brand should be the face of business strategy externally, and the heart of business strategy internally. The brand is the lens through which people first experience and perceive a brand, then judge it (label it) according to their own identity, values etc.

      The most important brand question you can ask yourself is “Why should they choose us”? And that is one crucial part of business strategy (which at the core asks Where do we play? and How do we win?). So branding starts with business strategy (and naturally with the ideal customers in mind) and should cascade into all aspects of business. When this happens, a company can reap the rewards of “strategic branding”, a term I use to refer to companies who are fully integrated. The “brand as marketing” view is simply too narrow, in my view.

    • James Heaton says:

      Clare & Tobias,

      Thank you for adding your thoughts to this post. They are greatly appreciated.

      Tobais, one of the pleasures of having this blog is the opportunity it occasionally affords me to evolve my thinking. I’m now quite close to where you stand on this.

      Thank you for taking the time to articulate your position.

      • Tobias Dahlberg says:

        Thanks James. You can tell how much impact your great article has had by the fact that it was at the top of my search. Keep up the good writing work. Tobias

  27. Katja says:

    Hello James and everyone here,

    I really enjoyed this article and the discussion. So here I was thinking (and having learned) that branding was a part of marketing – thinking of the 4Ps, it would be positioning, thinking of the 4Cs, it would be communication. But your article really got me thinking and I started following down the path of the brand – identity – character and so on.

    So if I try to compare the whole question to myself as a human being, the brand would basically be my character – and marketing would be everything I did that reflected on my character. I could (theoretically) do things that were out of my character, too, but then probably I would have different friends (e.g. “customers” or “followers”) than those I actually have. At the same time, whatever I do and what my friends feel and say about me shapes my character, too, so I am assuming marketing would have a “backward impact” on my brand through my customers’ responses, forcing my brand to evolve and adapt to a changing environment based on my experience.

    And I stumbled upon your passage “The brand is built from many things. Very important among these things is the lived experience of the brand. Did that car deliver on its brand promise of reliability? Did the maker continue to uphold the quality standards that made them what they are?” Wouldn’t that relate to the “product” part of marketing? Wouldn’t that, in human terms, still be part of what I did (e.g. deliver on my promises) rather than who I was? Can a brand be “experienced” or is the translation of the brand into marketing elements what makes that experience actually come to life?

    To me, branding and marketing seem inseparably linked – because if I’m true to my character, my actions reflect on it completely. And my actions wouldn’t be the same if I had a different character. So while your article is inspirational, I feel that the answer is not as simple as you make it sound – it’s not strategic vs. tactical. I think a character, or brand, cannot be described separately from the actions that are based on it – and thus, branding cannot be viewed separately from marketing, while at the same time it would probably not be entirely right to describe branding as a part of marketing or as the basis for marketing. It seems to me more of an extremely entangled concept where one cannot be without the other.

    Interestingly, in the German language, the word for brand is “Marke” … (now here’s food for thought 🙂 … )


    • Dudu Bogatsu says:

      Branding is part of Marketing.

      Point of correction! Your explanation of branding is correct but you missed what marketing really is. In fact, you are mixing up advertising with marketing. Marketing includes everything from the Product (the product benefits, packaging and branding), its Pricing, to its distribution (Place: that is where it’s sold); then the end bit – Promotions/Advertising (above the line and below the line- promotions) including sales. Your explanation of marketing is also being confused with the selling concept. The marketing concept identifies a need or even helps potential users to see a need they might be blind to, and producing a product to sincerely meet that need. How the product is presented and what perceptions should be created about the product is the branding strategy. The selling concept is merely making a product and pushing it through to be sold—may even be done by false advertising—shoving the product down people’s throats. This is not marketing! Branding is the visual, mental and verbal presentation of the product and its attributes which, if done well, will create the best and accurate brand association—often known as brand positioning—that makes it distinguishable from similar products.

      Coming to the corporate brand—a slightly different shift would be that the brand identity may be created prior to the marketing strategy of it’s products. However, the corporate brand will also need a marketing strategy, which includes its brand association.

  28. steve naegele says:

    When I read things like this article and these comments the image that comes to my mind is cowboys putting a hot iron onto the side of a cow and burning the brand onto the cow. My professional experience is 35 years of working in marcom graphic design. I remember when this notion of brand become popular with my clients and they kept talking about doing “branding ” which always seemed to be things they were doing to their customers, i.e. cowboys to cows. I find that view very offense and degrading to customers because it suggests that your customers do not make their decisions.

    It seems to me that customers purchase products or service, use them and they make their own judgements and decisions about those products, services, and the company. Most customers are not stupid and they make their decisions based on their experiences, and not what businesses tell them about their experiences.

    For me a brand is when people interact and then in conversation the name of the product or business comes up—how do the those people think and feel about the product or business and how do they ACT on those thoughts and feelings, But even before that part of the conversation, are individuals motivated to bring up the product or business into the conversation. Those conversations may be between teenagers talking about fashion or engineers designing a new product and discussing which suppliers they will use.

    Your brand is not about what you do to the customer but the decisions your CUSTOMER MAKES about your products, services and business, based on their experiences. You build your brand by making the appropriate quality of product or service for your market and when your customers use it they judge and decide your brand for themselves.

  29. Lata says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I was actually confused about branding and marketing as both are reciprocal to each other, but the way you describe the difference is quite interesting. I have read all the comments as well. They are also very helpful.

  30. Maynard Morgan says:

    I think the advent of social media and the paradigm shift in business where angel investors can help you expand your business has made branding a more vital aspect of your business than marketing and I think that’s a good thing for most businesses. Ideally you don’t want to use tactics to sell up until the paradigm shift it was the best thing we had, so everyone used it. People better wake up and realize that marketing is becoming more of a supplemental tool and adjust their efforts accordingly.

  31. Carlos says:

    Great article and thanks for being so specific. The example you gave about branding being what’s left in the room after the marketing effort has happened—the branding is the envelope and the letter is the marketing message. Thanks for this.

  32. Ikechukwu-Maria N.H. Okoye (Mr.) says:

    Prof., the disagreement isn’t necessary because there was a fundamental mistake. Branding is part of marketing and nothing more. Marketing begins before branding. You cannot brand or have a non-existing brand in a non-existing product. Marketing begins with need(s) identification and satisfaction. Branding results from a marketing effort in the face of competition to create a difference in the minds and eyes of prospective and current customers.

    In terms of ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical,’ what is strategy and what is tactics? I agree that branding is an important tool but divorcing it from marketing and making it look larger than marketing is being overly sentimental about the issue. Branding, like advertising, is a subset of marketing. Period.

  33. Sameer Tendulkar says:

    Knowledgeable post! Branding is long term and marketing a short term. You could say branding is macro and marketing is micro. Branding adopts a pull strategy and marketing adopts a push strategy. Thank you for the post.

  34. Brit Morris says:

    Yes! I tell my clients all the time that branding is the strategy and marketing is the tactics! I’m so excited that our outlooks align! Great article!

  35. trade show exhibits says:

    Wow, what a clear difference between branding & marketing. Very helpful blog. This should be read by everyone who is really wanting to brand or market his/her business.

  36. Branding Company Singapore says:

    Excellent. Thanks for sharing the difference between marketing and branding. It’s very informative and useful.

  37. Edmond says:

    I really have a visionary idea for my future company. I’m actually an undergraduate who is quite tired of the education system. But this pushes me to envisage a masters in marketing and branding.

  38. Stephany Rob says:

    Great and useful post. As we’re a startup from Sunshine Coast looking to promote our business brand through a Facebook campaign, this post makes me to rethink our business goals as we start our campaign. I got valuable tips to implement in our Facebook campaign.

  39. Brand Design Agency NYC says:

    Marketing and branding are two separate things and it’s important for companies to know that. Thanks for sharing!

  40. Lj says:

    Great articles! Very enlightening words of wisdom on the subject of marketing and branding — thanks for letting me absorb the knowledge. Looking forward to expanding the art form of branding as a young entrepreneur.

  41. Scott Young says:

    “Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service. It is communication of characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what this particular brand is and is not.” This statement, while correct, can lead to the dangerous conclusion that brand meaning is controlled by the communicator. It is not. The brand is established and controlled by those who encounter the brand. It is their reaction, perceptions, and associations that establish what the brand means, in their minds (really the only place that matters). We can attempt to influence this process but we must do so with a concerted attempt to understand the myriad of other influences that impact the brand (media coverage, social norms, economic or political factors, etc.). Some of these influences we can understand, and perhaps control, while others we can only attempt to anticipate and respond to. Remember, meaning is established by the recipient of the brand communication, not the communicator. Otherwise we are just speaking into a mirror of ourselves. Our task as communicators is to understand the the audience, the influences on how they interpret the brand, and, within this environment, craft a desired brand that will be accepted, understood, and preferred.

    • James Heaton says:

      Nicely put and your’s is very important point, Scott. There is a portion of a brand that an organization can control, but as you note, the more important part is what emerges in people’s minds. I am scrupulous in making this point elsewhere, as you can see played out here: but thank you for the reminder. It’s worth underscoring every time we talk about brands.

  42. Suraj Patil says:

    Hello, Mr. Heaton. I somehow disagree on your point, “Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any particular marketing effort.”

    I feel marketing is like a huge tree and branding is one of its essential branches. Branding is an integral part of marketing. I would like to give example. When Apple launched its first computer back in 1976, at first it was not a brand. It was just a company that was selling computers. Its marketing efforts grabbed its consumer’s attention which led to sales. After years of marketing campaigns, people started recognizing Apple as a brand, but still it was not a unique brand until Steve Jobs launched its “Think different” advertising campaign. This campaign gave new direction to the Apple brand. It showed Apple’s significant brand personality. The company followed this with many marketing and branding campaigns. This aggregate effort made Apple a brand. But marketing efforts are required first, then branding strategies are able to convert consumers into brand loyalists. For survival I would say marketing is more important.

    • James Heaton says:

      Thank you Suraj for your thoughts here.

      Indeed, brands are improved and expanded by marketing. But to say that Apple had no brand prior to its first major advertising campaign is to ignore that a brand forms in a consumer’s mind almost automatically at any point of contact. Apple had a brand the moment Steve Jobs talked about his product idea to his first prospect. The brand at that moment was what was generated and retained about Apple in that prospect’s mind at that moment. This might have been just an informal sales conversation, but the first node of the brand was already created in the mind of the recipient of that product description.

      I’m not intent on defending everything I wrote so many years ago, as I have learned a good bit since then. I’m not even sure I fully stand behind everything in this nearly 10-year-old article, but I do still believe that marketing is active and critically important, but also that a brand forms regardless of the effort that is put into them. And so they remain for me what an organization should work on first. The brand should serve as the foundation of a marketing effort and not the other way around.

      I recognize that some might argue that a brand should be whatever it needs to be in order to satisfy the needs of the customer (as understood through marketing), but I would like to maintain a foundational brand core that is steady and not entirely conditional. This is also why I maintain that a brand should be held accountable to its Core Values. Differentiated market position is of little lasting value if it is not backed up by operational practice. In other words, if the promise it makes is not true. There are certain things that a brand should never do regardless of what customers might demand. I maintain that organizations do have a responsibility to deliver value out into the world and to do so with principle. For me, marketing serves as the means of understanding the customer and of communicating value, but this value should remain rooted in something the organization believes in. I therefore hold that brand should stand at the center.

  43. Christopher·Zhu says:


    Translated: I personally try to interpret Professor Heaton’s branding and marketing viewpoints from the “body” and “usage” in Chinese culture, which can be summarized as follows: brand as body and marketing as function. Brand represents the starting point and result of marketing, and is the core of the closed-loop system of marketing, which is the ontology or subject; marketing is a tactical action taken to build a brand. Just as Michelangelo turned a good stone into a good sculpture, it is not to be chiseled away, but to stay. Every time a chisel is made, it is a marketing action, and finally a perfect branded work.

  44. Steve Tucker says:

    Branding is a function of Marketing, as is messaging. My perspective is from working with small to medium businesses. The large brands are able to use their brands, even in pursuit of prospects. In the SMB world, no one looks for brands; as prospects, they look for results. We know that brands don’t matter to prospects, they eventually matter to customers. In the trades, for instance, no one searches for brands, they search for results…period. Few, if any, people search for Joe’s air conditioning…they search based on their needs, the results they are looking for. HVAC repair near me, 24 hr AC service and that sort of thing.

    I do promote branding and believe it is important, but as part of a larger marketing strategy. I don’t see marketing as a tactic, I see branding as a tactic informed by the marketing strategy. Tactics such as postcards, social, google, billboards, websites etc are dysfunctional without an overall strategy binding them together with a message that interrupts and engages. It could be argued that all of this is what develops the brand, but not for prospects searching for a result. It works for the big guys whose brand has loyalty, but does little for the SMB whose brand doesn’t matter during the prospecting phase, but ends up having value with satisfied customers.

    • James Heaton says:

      Hi Steve,

      I appreciate your perspective here, but I do think even for the smallest company, time spent sorting through their quick and easy-to-understand “What,” their value proposition, their core values and their reason for being are all essential and determinative. This is brand work and I believe that it comes first.

      What must also be done, of course, is answering the question “Who is my customer?” and “What do they value?” This is indeed marketing strategy work. But the “What is our mission,” “What do we stand for” and “How are we different from the competition” must all be addressed first. This is true regardless of organizational size—at least that’s been my experience over the last 25 years of doing this.

      At the end of the day, you need an effective marketing strategy as well as a well-thought-through brand strategy. They are both important and should be developed hand in hand. The assertion that “branding is strategic and marketing tactical” is indeed oversimplified and I’m not sure I adhere to it any longer in practice. That was ten years ago. People mature in their thinking. I was engaged in the project of elevating branding as a deep and important discipline. I’m not sure it has arrived fully in the small business arena, but progress has been made.

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