There Is A Difference Between Branding And Marketing

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 26 July 2016

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I had a very interesting meeting last week with the COO of a major Fortune 100 company with revenues in excess of $5 billion and over 80,000 employees worldwide. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to "brand" the company and accelerate a new corporate strategy of growing revenue, entering new markets, increasing competitiveness, and becoming more distinctive.
It didn't take long for me to realize that there was quite a bit of confusion between "branding" and "marketing." The executive appeared visibly frustrated by his previous meetings with two large and traditional brand-identity firms who talked about identity standards, design continuity, and logos. He was clear about one thing: he liked the current logo and identity and wasn't about to change them. What he was looking for, however, was a process to unite his people behind a common vision and values. He also wanted "branding" to help accelerate business development.
Using our Dialogue Marketing approach, I explained the difference between branding and marketing. I was, however, left wondering why many other senior executives cannot make this distinction. I'd like to take a shot at clarifying the difference, and then explain how Dialogue Marketing unites these two distinct activities into a single, integrated process.
Branding vs. Marketing: is there a difference?
I went straight to the internet and found several different definitions for branding and marketing. The best definition for a brand, I thought, was from Wikipedia:
A brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a product or service. A brand typically includes a name, logo, and other visual elements such as images or symbols. It also encompasses the set of expectations associated with a product or service which typically arise in the minds of people. Such people include employees of the brand owner, people involved with distribution, sale or supply of the product or service, and ultimate consumers.
Defining marketing was not as easy. I found definitions that covered the gambit from advertising to a planning process to sales development and beyond. No wonder an executive who does not have day-to-day responsibilities for marketing is confused! Is marketing at a trade show branding? Is launching a new product or web site branding? The answer could easily be yes for most people, but there is a distinction that we must keep in mind.
Since I wasn't able find a good definition for marketing, I am providing the one we use here at Inward Strategic Consulting:
Marketing is a process of planning and identifying the needs and wants of a target market and meeting them through a series of integrated tactical activities. Pricing, product features, distribution/selling, advertising/PR/promotions, and retailing are all part of marketing. Its goals are to outperform the competition, create demand, and maintain customer loyalty.
Now the distinction between the two definitions is clear. Branding deals with the look, image, tone, and manner of the company and its products and services. Marketing is about communicating the company's brand through a planned series of integrated promotional and sales activities. It really is that simple. So why the confusion?
Branding companies, PR firms, and management consultants muddy the waters
Over the years, as definitions and activities have become blurred, people have come to see branding and marketing as the same thing.
One factor that has contributed to the confusion is the way that business has changed. A big part of the problem is our marketing and communications profession, with its zeal to grow revenue, develop client relationships, and expand business. The branding firms have extended their activities beyond creative identity, reputation management, and design to manage trade shows, write collateral, and produce sales events and videos.
Advertising and public relations firms, in addition to designing ads, logos, and tag lines, are entering new fields: interactive employee engagement, guerilla marketing, and analyst relations. Some of them even compete with their sister brand agencies. It would be in the best interests of their clients to integrate their talents and capabilities, but they are all too busy morphing into amalgamated communications companies.
Then there are the management consulting firms, all about process improvement, measurement, and accountability. They claim to understand and care about the difference between good and bad branding-and certainly have strong opinions if you disagree with them. But they do view branding as a matter-of-fact rather than a creative process. They measure everything, applying marketing econometrics and analytics to project customer differentials and the inclination towards improved market performance and acceptance. (Did you have to read that sentence twice to understand what it is they do?) They have process maps, formulas, and models. Boy, do they have models!
To management consultants, branding is a marketing process and marketing is a sales process. They, too, have contributed to the blurring of brands and marketing.
Dialogue Marketing makes it clear again
At Inward we believe that it is time to return to clear definitions of branding and marketing. While we acknowledge and reinforce that they are distinctive and different, we do need to recognize how and when they work together. What we need is an integrated approach. Here it is:
Branding creates a reputation, a look and image, a tone and manner, even an attitude that makes the company stand out to customers. Marketing launches that identity through sales, with an integrated plan of activities designed to reach the company's objectives.
These two distinct activities are unified in a single process we call Dialogue Marketing:
Dialogue Marketing establishes brand architecture and maintains communication with the customer throughout the lifecycle of the relationship. The process starts by building awareness. It continues with one-to-one dialogue and incentive marketing or closing the sale. Relationship marketing maintains customer loyalty with special communications and deals.
There are two parts to the Dialogue Marketing process: establishing the brand followed by marketing and sales development.
Part 1: Establishing the brand

  1. Dialogue Marketing starts with brand architecture: establishing an image statement that examines the needs and wants of the target customer.
  2. Next we explore the relative strengths, weakness, and opportunities of competitors in order to maximize their flaws for competitive advantage.
  3. Third, we look at the personality traits of the company. In the absence of a unique audience or competitive differentiation, all that is left is the desired, and hopefully distinctive, personality of the company.
  4. Last, we examine the key features and leverage points of the company. In other words, what can this company's products and services provide that others cannot duplicate? It's the thickness of Heinz ketchup, the safety of Volvo, the everyday freedom of travel with Southwest. Identification and association with such distinctive traits is the best cure for the "me too" syndrome.
  5. Once we distill branding to the simple essence of these four ideas, we begin to see the patterns that allow us to articulate a simple value proposition or brand statement. The development of logos, tag lines, and creative look and feel comes after all this, not before.

Part 2: Marketing and sales development

Like any process, marketing and sales development should be repeatable, trainable, and coachable. That means it must be codified and methodical in its approach. It requires not only planning templates and documents, but also internal reviews and approvals against set goals and objectives-all measurable and accountable through research data.
Equally essential is recognizing that building a sales pipeline requires a sequential order of marketing activities that have momentum and move the customer through the hierarchy of effects (known as a purchase funnel). Simply stated, before customers can buy a company's products and services, they have to be aware of the product, consider it against the other choices available, prefer it over anything else, and decide to purchase it based on features, price, timing, and convenience.
There are four phases to funneling customers through the marketing and sales-development process:

  1. The first requirement is an integrated marketing and communications program that builds awareness through mass communications such as public relations and advertising.
  2. Phase Two deploys direct response, product brochures, sales materials, and market-research data to communicate with customers one to one, so they can learn about the product on their own terms.
  3. After the first two phases, customers are familiar enough to take the next step-shopping. The third phase shifts to promotions and incentives that induce customers to buy. Tactics often include coupons, in-store displays, sweepstakes, discount bundled pricing, and merchandising offers for greater monetary value.
  4. The last phase, after product purchase, is to maintain loyalty and retain the customer for life. Successful loyalty programs include regular rewards, special invitational events, customer advisory boards, and feedback. The goal in this phase is to keep customers happy. Not only will they keep coming back, they'll also tell their friends and associates how well they are treated.

Branding and marketing done right
Dialogue Marketing helps companies attain higher levels of performance and customer loyalty. Remember the Fortune 100 COO? As I explained to him, it is imperative to keep branding separate from marketing initially, then combine the two disciplines to grow the business. He left that meeting understanding that branding is about reputation management, while marketing is a tactical sales-development process. By synchronizing branding and marketing and deploying them in the right order to the right people, with the proper message at the correct time, his company will realize its business objectives. So can yours.
If, like that COO, you would like to discuss Dialogue Marketing further, give me a call at 617 558 9770. Or if you would like to receive a PDF of our Dialogue Marketing white paper, just let me know.