Branding vs. marketing, what’s the difference between them?

What is branding? What is marketing?

These two words are used so interchangeably that it’s easy to see how their meanings get confused. At Character, we are often tasked with both establishing a new brand and launching that brand’s first product. In these instances the line between branding and marketing is particularly blurry. So, where does brand end and product marketing begin? Knowing the fundamental differences and the interrelationship between the two will ensure you make smart investments in the short term and plan for success in the long term.


A quick search on these two terms serves up a range of metaphors, analogies and definitions:

Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.
Branding is pull. Marketing is push.
Branding is the cart. Marketing is the horse.
Branding is who you are. Marketing is how you sell it.

These descriptions reveal differences but also allude to the inherent relationship.

Branding should precede and underlie any marketing effort. In order to establish a strong brand, you’ll need to ask and answer the fundamental questions about why your brand exists and what you will consistently deliver to your audience. Brand Strategy is the story that ties your purpose, values and personality together, and it clarifies what your brand is and what it’s not. What makes brand so tricky is that it’s not expressed in a single place but communicated to your customers every time they see, feel, touch, or experience your brand. When done right, your brand permeates everything you do.

Marketing, then, is one of the many ways people will experience your brand, but not the only expression or interaction. Using your brand strategy as a guide, you can make decisions on how best to reach and sell to your audience through a specific medium with a specific message. The conversation shifts from defining what you stand for to strategizing what the right messages are to sell your product and reinforce your unique point of difference. Marketing may be designed to engage or convert, but ongoing branding keeps customers coming back. The fact of the matter is, there will be companies who make comparable products or sell similar services. It is your brand that builds loyalty, trust and relationships and your marketing that gets your brand in front of the right people.

Why start with branding?

You may think your brand is self-evident and doesn’t need to be spelled out. But without having a platform in place, it’s easy to be reactive. Things change, fads come and go, sales drop, competitors threaten your position. What do you do? If you define what your brand stands for at the outset it becomes easier to make hard decisions and determine the best path forward. Building brands is a long-term process, it isn’t a one time thing that you do at the beginning of establishing your business, it’s an ongoing effort that needs to be brought to life repeatedly and delivered on consistently.

In short, your brand endures and marketing shifts.