I was having a coffee date with a girlfriend who works for one of the biggest general contracting companies in the city and she came out with this show-stopper:
“I think our CEO will have a hard time seeing the value of branding – they see marketing as a cost center, not a driver of sales.”
Wait a minute, what?
How did we go from branding to marketing in one sentence like that?
How can you confuse the two?
Well, that's easy to say when you've spent the best part of the last 25 years devoting your work life to crafting amazing brand experiences for the A/E/C sector. Taking a step back, I realized this is a pretty common problem – a lot of people don't know the difference between branding and marketing!
So, without further ado – I'm here to explain the difference between the two and why it's essential for every company on the planet (or just the ones that care about being successful) to know the difference.
What is marketing?
Marketing is the overall strategy and act of promoting a product or service.
Marketing is taking a product or a service or an organization and getting it to the consumer level (and getting people to buy it).
It’s pushing out a specific message to get sales results. Like ‘this service is better than the other guys' or ‘this one product will solve all your problems and make your life perfect in every single way'. There are so many levels of marketing, but this is the most simple definition.
Advertising campaigns fall within the marketing realm as short term drivers for building desire for specific products and services.
Marketing campaigns can be made up of many advertising campaigns that are delivered via multiple channels (pr, ads, salespeople, etc).
Branding is not marketing.
Branding rides along with marketing and advertising but it has a separate intention.
Branding is the intentional and strategic shaping of what people think and experience with your company, its products, and services. Not only for the purpose of stimulating demand but to take ownership of a spot in your audience's mental filing system. When they need X, you are top of mind.
To achieve the intended spot in your audience's memory, you must take every opportunity to express who you are, what value you offer and what makes you unique in a clear and concise message.
Another route to the memory bank is an amazing customer experience or hearing about someone else's experience.
A brand is built in two ways: by what you tell people and by what they experience (themselves or through others).
Branding pulls customers to you and turns them into loyal customers based on your who, how and why. Marketing pushes your message and simulates demand for your products and services using advertising campaigns.
You need a deep understanding of your brand essence, wrapped in clear messaging and strong visuals for your marketing to be effective.
If your brand doesn't have the personality and voice that is not welcomed/accepted/loved by the marketplace, chances are your marketing is going to really fall short. It'll cost you a lot more money to get traction and to get the return on investment that you're looking for.
If there isn’t an intentional built brand beneath your marketing, you can easily be seen as a commodity.
A brand will encourage someone to buy a product, supporting sales and marketing campaigns, but a brand does not explicitly say “buy me.”
Seth Godin once said, “If a brand could talk, it would say: ‘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. I was made for people like you.’”
A brand is an expectation of experience, a perception that your prospects have about your company. It’s a collection of emotions, senses, memories, promises, and assumptions.
Branding = strategic.
Marketing = tactical.
Branding includes the overall strategy behind your company. It outlasts any ad campaign. It lives past the coming and going of staff members.
Good marketing stands on top of a solid brand.
To be believable and command a higher price for your products or services, your marketing needs to carry the essence of your brand within its message. You need to see and feel the brand behind the advertisement.
Branding is bigger than marketing. Marketing changes from product to product, service to service and market to market but the underlying brand essence doesn’t change.
Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any particular marketing effort.
The brand is ultimately what determines if someone becomes a loyal customer or not. Think of it this way: can you think of a product that you absolutely love but that love doesn’t extend to the company that made it? When a company’s done their job right, you won’t be able to love their product without loving the company!
While marketing is what might convince someone to buy a particular service from you, it's your brand that will decide if they only use you going forward or switch to another provider.
Ok, so it’s a complicated relationship between branding, marketing, and advertising. Now, back to my coffee-loving friend.
Is marketing a cost center?
Done half-assed, yes.
When done well, marketing is an investment that pays for itself in sales and brand reinforcement.
Is branding a cost center?
On the surface, yes. But what you get in return is loyalty (internally and externally).
You get a smoother sales process.
You get happier salespeople.
You get employees who stay longer and work harder.
You get an HR department that has an easier time with recruitment and retention.
You get customers that bring in other customers and become advocates for your business.
Branding is an essential foundation for a successful company. So yes, it’s a cost center. Just like having a good employee who loves their job is. Just like having financial experts and business innovators onboard are.
They are cost centers, but what costs MORE is to not have them, or to have ones that fail in their job completely.
Here at Branding & Beyond, we'll help you find the brand essence that already exists within your company, clean it up and formulate it into a clear brand foundation.
When you work with us, the work we do helps other decisions get easier to make: Where to focus time and money? Who is a good fit for our team? Is this a shiny object or is it aligned with our business goals? You will be able to ask and answer “Is this on- or off-brand for us?”
An aligned brand solidifies your culture and helps attract, retain and engage top talent.
We’ll help you build a solid brand foundation so you can implement a marketing plan that actually delivers.
Sound good? Let's chat!
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Tracy O’Shaughnessy Founder / Lead Brand Strategist of Branding & Beyond
Tracy and her team help firms in and around the B2B building trades look and sound credible online and off.
She has been in the industry since the early '90s and is tired of seeing fantastic firms struggle, blend in, and get bypassed by prospects who judge them solely on the outdated information found online.
Branding & Beyond's mission is to solve real business problems and build the brand foundation clients need to get noticed and hired.
You can find Tracy on Linkedin and here on this blog.