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February 20, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between Branding, Marketing and Advertising

Image courtesy of (KROMKRATHOG)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marketing professionals can often be heard bandying about the terms “branding,” “marketing” and “advertising.” The same is true of the terms “campaign,” “strategic,” and “tactical.” In many cases, seasoned professional use the first three terms interchangeably as if they all mean the exact same thing. In fact, these six terms are often misused, confused ― or worse, they’re associated with unscrupulous means of conning people out of their money. In this article, we’ll explore the meaning and use of these six often misused terms. We’ll see if and when they overlap, and I’ll provide concrete examples to create a clear distinction between the six terms wherever possible. So get ready to eliminate the myths and misunderstanding these terms often carry.

Upon looking up the definition of a “brand” or “branding,” I found more than 50 answers to my query. One article provided 30 different definitions for the word “branding” alone. The same is true for “marketing” and “advertising.” Some of the online dictionaries also overlap their meanings as well. For example, here is a fairly straight-forward definition of “branding” from the businessdictionary.com: “The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers‘ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.”

I like this definition except for the fact that it should say marketing instead of advertising campaigns.

Where did Branding Come From?

Tracing the definitions of “brand” and “branding” from their origins is worthwhile because it helps us to gain a better understanding of their meanings today. First of all, the original meaning of a “brand” was a physical mark of ownership on animals or people. It was also used to mark criminals so that people could distinguish them from non-criminals. Today, “branding” is still used to mark livestock (and even in some countries, to still mark criminals), but for most of the world, your “brand” has more to do with your reputation and perceived value if you’re the owner of a small business. If it’s a large company, the relationship of the brand is more with company name or a particular product, or service they provide. When you’re small, it’s not your logo or other so-called branding elements that you use that identifies and differentiate you, it’s your reputation.  As you grow, this identity is transfer to the corporate branded identity, because the corporation is no longer just you.

By substituting the term “brand” with the words “value” or “reputation,” you come close to the true meaning and implications of the word. On the other hand, branding is the process of creating a brand.  A brand is created from all the activities that are related to and/or surrounding a company, product, service, group or individual. A “brand,” therefore, is a dynamic reality.  It evolves over time, based on consumer experience, news (good and bad), marketing, and other activities that a company, group or individual engages in. In other words, a “brand” per se isn’t static (although it’s the goal of most companies to make their brand positive and unchanging if at all possible).

A “brand” is what consumers and the general public perceive as the value, reputation and contribution of a company, product, service, group or individual to the world as a whole. A brand can be considered great, good, mediocre or even bad.

Brand vs. Branding

“Branding,” however, is all the activities that create the reputation, value and contributions that mold the overall perceived value of a given entity. This includes marketing activities (advertising, social media campaigns, public relations, in-house activities, employee initiatives and other positive activities) and non-marketing, sometimes passive activities (including receiving good and bad press, consumers’ social posts, employee activities not related to brand, third party test results, and the actual quality of the product, service or company, etc.).

“Branding” often means the use of a consistent theme, logo, and corporate color schemes across all marketing and advertising platforms. These themes (their “look and feel,” so to speak) then become associated with the brand itself, that is, the perceived value of the company, product or service. An example of this transformation is when a logo like IBM replaces the actual company name (which was International Business Machines) and becomes the only corporate identity for that company.

Then There’s Rebranding 

The term, “rebranding,” used when companies feel they need to change consumers’ sentiment of their brand (i.e., a good reputation soiled by some event which changed consumer perceived value and or contribution), can be heard often today. For example when BP had the oil spill in the Gulf, consumer sentiment went negative… BP Oil has sense run many TV campaigns designed to show them as an environmentally and Gulf community friendly company by showing all they are doing to help that area recover from the spill. Another example is J.C. Penny changing their name and logo after what seems like an eternity to JCP. They soon changed it again because of consumer backlash. It has even changed several times more in the four years since the first changed to JCP. I guess you could say they have an identity/brand crisis.

For small companies with a very limited brand identification, your branding efforts are also somewhat limited. That is, unless you have a substantial following/fan base, then you usually have a limited local or regional brand, at best. This is especially true if you aren’t using a consistent logo, color scheme, or slogan for all your marketing, advertising and public relations efforts. Many startups create an initial brand theme and then quickly eliminate or change it before it was ever solidly identified with their company, product or service. On top of that, changing any element diminishes your branding efforts. For example, switching colors on your logo, (even if it’s two very similar colors), using different fonts for the company’s name, etc., diminish the brand. At this stage of the game your perceived reputation, value to the community and consumer sentiment is your actual brand. Not your logo, color scheme of other created visual elements.

So What is Marketing? 

Let’s examine the many definitions of “marketing” from the various authorities. I like the definition of marketing from the American Marketing Association: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Wikipedia gives this definition: “Marketing is communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.  Marketing techniques include choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer behavior and advertising a product’s value to the customer.”

“Marketing,” according to Investopedia.com, means: “The activities of a company associated with buying and selling a product or service. It includes advertising, selling and delivering products to people. People who work in marketing departments of companies try to get the attention of target audiences by using slogans, packaging design, celebrity endorsements and general media exposure. The four ‘Ps’ of marketing are product, place, price and promotion.”

There are many more definitions of “marketing,” but many are somewhat “circular” in that they mix marketing and advertising in the same sentence without fully clarifying the relationship between the two. For the most part, “marketing” is used to create a brand, as we defined it above. It’s far more comprehensive than “advertising.” One’s marketing plan usually dictates one’s advertising campaigns. Advertising is usually an element of a comprehensive marketing plan.  Marketing encompasses all the planning and research activity to determine what kinds of ads will be run, what they’ll say, when and where they’ll be placed, and what demographics they’ll target. It also encompasses things like packaging, shipping, customer experience, product display, and customer perception, as well as market research. Marketing can be considered as an overarching process that focuses on organizing, implementing and managing specific elements of a branding campaign.

Advertising vs. Marketing

“Advertising,” on the other hand, is a specific tactic of marketing. It usually entails specific media such as newspaper, TV, radio, the Internet, billboards or other specialty advertising, all designed to target specific markets. The reason the two words ― marketing and advertising ― are often confused is because many small companies don’t engage in marketing, they engage in advertising with minimal or no marketing involved (i.e., little or no research, planning, organizing or testing). To make things worse, many advertising representatives use the word “marketing” in their sales pitch when they’re actually selling advertising. This confuses the branding, marketing and advertising processes altogether. I perceive the difference between marketing and advertising as follows: If you’re engaging in a single, or just a few advertising elements, and very little research, testing, or strategic planning went into the decision, then you’re just doing advertising. That’s OK if it works for you. On the other hand, if it’s not working, then it may be time to invest is some marketing that includes research, testing, and strategic planning to create an effective, results-oriented advertising campaign.

What’s The Difference Between Strategic and Tactical

The terms “strategic” and “tactical” are often used by many on a daily basis. As a general rule, “strategic” refers to the Big Picture plan and/or long-term objectives or goals. “Tactical” normally referrals to individual elements of an overall strategic plan or campaign. For example, when we, as an award-winning marketing company, design a campaign for a client, we first research what their current Internet search ranking is, what kind of social media presence they have, what’s the level of their followers’ engagement, how many fans do they have, and also assess what their top three competitors are doing. That’s the marketing part.

Creating a Strategic Plan

With this analysis finished, we then create a strategic, one-year plan that includes adding any missing infrastructure elements that are needed (i.e., landing pages, testimonial videos, missing social networks, etc.). We also generate a comparative score for them and their top three competitors, and we assemble a list of the top six Internet processes they need to be engaged in (such as on-page search optimization, social networking, blogging, videos, conversion elements and followers’ engagement). This report also states how well they’re are doing with regards to these elements.

This analysis lets both us, and the client, know what kind of advertising elements to include in their marketing campaign. It shows us who to target and how we can attack the weakness of their competitors. In other words, if their competition isn’t blogging, or they have few videos on YouTube, or they aren’t active in the top five social nets, we know these are areas where we can outperform them. This provides us with an opportunity to exploit the competitors’ weaknesses in these particular areas. Also, if we see that the client is performing poorly in an important and strategic segment of the overall program, we show then that this is another opportunity they can take advantage of. For example if they are not posting to their social nets very often, or they are missing any of the top five social nets, we propose that they fill those gaps because we know these elements have a huge impact of organic search position. It also turns out, that in many cases, addressing these fundamental missing elements ends up being the most cost effective way to grow a following and then convert these followers into a buying consumer fan base.


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Hector Cisneros is the president and COO for W Squared Media Group LLC. A digital Marketing Agency in the N.E. Florida Area. He is also the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio Show Working The Web To Win. W Squared Media also does Business as Working The Web To Win online and in Florida.

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