Branding vs. Marketing

The labels in our industry suck. There I said it. Those words that sit under your logo – are they your slogan, tagline, or brand promise? How about your logo itself – is it a logo, mark, brand, or a bug? While this could seem like a trip out to the tall grass, it’s not. As any overworked copywriter will tell you, words matter. The right choice can spur the desired action, while the wrong word can leave your audience yawning. Perhaps the biggest confusion lies around two of our own industry labels – branding vs. marketing.

We use these terms so often and interchangeably that many may wonder if there is a difference between branding and marketing? And if so, does it really matter? In short, yes. As most of us are both brand builders and marketers, we need to better understand these two big categorical labels and how they fit together to do our jobs more effectively and to communicate with our peers.

Let’s take a closer look at how to define and apply a hierarchy to these two frequently used (and sometimes mis-used) terms.


When asked to define a brand, I usually go with something like this: A brand is any person, place, or thing, that needs something from someone else.

At the end of the day, we’re all brand builders. Regardless of your job title or description, if you interact with customers or participate in any part of promoting, developing, or delivering your organization’s products and services you are a part of creating the gestalt experience that creates your brand.

Your brand is much more than any particular department. It’s more than any single deliverable or output. It’s the overarching strategy that builds your brand. It’s the complex set of beliefs that defines who you are in the hearts and minds of your community.

Once these beliefs are articulated and understood internally, it’s time to take your brand’s message to the masses. This is accomplished through that other label …


“The total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.” –

There’s a pretty good chance that most of us actually work in the marketing department. Many of our job titles involve the label of marketing (if you’re a non-profit this could be further complicated by the curious substitution of the word “development” for “marketing”).

That’s because, as the definition above notes, the act of marketing includes all of the activities involved in taking our brand’s products and services to market. This definition has been further diffused by the new suite of digital marketing tools at our disposal. Another way of looking at all of these marketing activities is as brand-building tactics.

Brand Strategies and Marketing Tactics

While our strategies encompass our long-term brand-building efforts, we utilize the practice of marketing to communicate these beliefs to the masses. Does this mean we should never call something a marketing strategy? Of course not. Our brand strategies are longer-term than our annual marketing programs and their accompanying tactics.

Our branding defines who we are while our marketing defines what we do for whom. First, we build our brands, then we execute the marketing that brings our brands to life.

What do you think? Is there a difference between branding and marketing? Do the distinctions above help you better understand? What did we miss? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

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