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Branding vs Marketing: What’s the Difference?

One of the questions we’ve encountered on more than one occasion involves branding vs marketing. What’s the difference? Which comes first? And is it really that important?

It is a universally acknowledged fact that marketing and advertising is replete with jargon. Sure, this is not exactly headline news – every industry has its own language – but since most businesses rely on marketing and advertising to survive, it’s more than a little crucial to know the definitions paired to our specific buzzwords.

If this mystery has cost you precious hours of sleep, never fear. ADsmith is here to break it down.

Branding vs Marketing: The Basics

While these two concepts are often intertwined, they are not interchangeable terms. The difference between branding and marketing ultimately comes down to the who and the how, with the who being “your business” and the how being “your strategy.”

What is Branding: Defining the Soul of Your Business

The phrase “on brand” has entered the public lexicon, and is used to remark upon behaviors, values, or experiences that are associated with anything from large corporations to individual people. When people talk about something being “on brand” for a business, that means that a set expectation was met.

But how do you determine what the brand is?

Every successful business has an origin story. A reason the founder, whether that is the current leadership or not, decided to chart their own path. This is the unique point of difference brought to customers and clients – it’s the soul of the business. All the things you want customers to associate with you.

Brands are delicate to build and important to nurture. Here are some things to keep in mind as you establish yours:

  • Values and Mission: This essentially sets the tone for your business or organization’s personality. What matters to you and how do your business practices reflect that to customers? For example, Patagonia, a renowned outdoor clothing company, has worked to establish its values around environmental sustainability and activism. These values – and the effort put behind enacting them – attract environmentally conscious customers and establish Patagonia as a company that cares for the planet.
  • Emotional Connection: While convenience definitely remains a factor, people increasingly want to feel good about where they spend their money. Loyalty is cultivated when customers are able to make emotional connections that tap into aspirations, desires, and speak to individual values. Consider Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” and how it has shaped the cultural landscape. The message isn’t about athletic gear – it’s about embracing individuality, pushing your limits, striving for greatness, and persevering over adversity.
  • Consistency and Cohesion: Your branding should look like its part of the same family in all its incarnations. Visuals, logos, color schemes, even the language you use should be specific to how you want your business’s personality to manifest itself. Consistency breeds familiarity, which matures into recognition and trust. Apple embodies this principle with its minimalist design ethos that extends to every part of the brand. You see it in product design as well as marketing communications, making it recognizable worldwide
  • Point of Difference: Odds are your business or organization is one of many in your industry. Your brand identity is one of the ways you stand apart from the competition. Take ALDI, a supermarket that has developed a loyal customer base by focusing on lower prices for premium products. Their momentous “Good-Different” campaign specifically drew attention to their points of difference and unique offerings, such as organic produce, award-winning wines, and gourmet specialty items, all while challenging the idea that affordability means compromise in quality. They will freely admit that the choice selection at their stores isn’t as extensive as it is at their competitors’, but the choices available were handpicked because they provided the most value at the lowest price. And if you’ve ever met a former ALDI customer, no you haven’t, because once an ALDI customer, always and ALDI customer.

Who you are as a brand drives many things, including your creative decisions and the voice of the messaging. Are you earnest and empathetic? Playful and engaging? Focused and serious? Your brand’s tone will reflect directly into the content you create.

What is Marketing: The Path to Visibility and Engagement

And now, the marketing side of marketing vs branding. It’s only after you have your personality defined and established that marketing comes into play. We now know who you are – marketing is the tool by which you get the message of your brand to your customers.

 In other words, marketing is the news, and there are a lot of ways of getting it out.

  • Strategic Planning: Goals and objectives in place, you’re ready to develop a comprehensive strategy to see them achieved. This is done through market research, competitive analysis, and other tools to help determine the best way to both reach the target demographic and ensure the message resonates. The “Share a Coke” campaign launched by Coca-Cola is an example of strategic planning done right. By personalizing the packaging with individual names, Coca-Cola managed to boost their brand visibility and increase consumer engagement. Even if people were bemoaning the lack of more unique names or posting Coca-Cola cans as memes, they were still interacting, and therefore driving visibility.
  • Content Creation: Content is the heart of your marketing, from blog posts to social media updates, videos to podcasts, print media to traditional commercials. Your audience isn’t going to be in one place (nothing is that convenient anymore), but as long as you are recognizably your brand across all creative efforts, the opportunity to reach your customer is always there. That’s why it’s important to avoid the temptation to cut-and-paste the same content across multiple platforms. Everything you put out should be cutomized for that specific outlet, and for the audience you hope to reach, to maximize its value. The people who are on Facebook aren’t the same people who are on TikTok, or even Instagram. Optimizing your content for the audience you’re trying to reach on each platform not only has a better chance of being seen and remembered, but conveys to the customers that you care specifically about reaching them in their own  language.


  • Digital Marketing: We won’t waste any time trying to impress upon you the importance of digital. If you don’t believe by now, you never will. Digital marketing is an indispensable tool with a spectrum of tactics, including search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, email campaigns, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, among others. Airbnb is a terrific example of a brand that utilized digital marketing to the max, amassing user-generated content and peer recommendations. The result? Today, the hospitality industry has been completely disrupted, and the very concept of travel accommodations redefined.
  • Experiential Marketing: It’s just what it sounds like, and it’s what people want today. Brands can capitalize on this with pop-events, interactive installations, branded activations, creating tangible touchpoints that leave a lasting impression. We all know what “it’s pumpkin spice season!” means, and so does Starbucks.

Harnessing the Power of Branding and Marketing

So, there you have it. While branding and marketing are not synonymous, they do have a strongly symbiotic relationship. Branding defines the essence of your business or organization, and marketing is the strategy by which that essence is shared with your customers. One needs the other to succeed.

Ready to elevate your brand and drive impactful marketing strategies? Partner with ADsmith Marketing & Advertising for expert brand development and marketing services. We’ll get to the heart of your “why” (you do what you do), help you connect that to your definition of your “who” (you are as a business), and establish your “how” (to turn that message into success).