Marketing vs. Branding

Mind = Blown

I was riding a moped in Bali, flying past expansive rice fields, as the smells of nasi goreng from small warung restaurants filled my nose. The golden glow of sunset spread a beautiful blanket over the countryside, and my mind was being blown.

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But not because of anything I just described. No, on my ride I was listening to an interview with Branden Harvey, hearing him explain the difference between marketing and branding on the Building a StoryBrand Podcast. That’s what was blowing my mind. Allow me to summarize the difference for you, give you some suggestions on how to use both to grow your business, and link further research for you to check out.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is hard sales content.

The dictionary tells us that marketing is “the action…of promoting and selling products or services.” The key words here are selling products and services. Marketing is when you take your product or service to the market and say nothing short of “buy this now.” Marketing content is an Instagram ad for a singer that says “stream my new single.” It’s a sign on the sidewalk that reads “Tasty Ice Cream Inside!” Marketing is a promotional email that offers “20% off shoes this weekend.” Its hard and fast, it has a goal, and it measures its success by how many people take up the offer.

A Lexus may be a nicer car than a Hyundai, but you can “drive a new Hyundai off the lot today for no money down!” Squarespace and Wix are both easy-to-use website builders, but you can “build and host your Wix site for free!” That’s marketing.

What is Branding?

Branding is lifestyle advertising content.

The dictionary tells us that branding is “the promotion of a company by means of advertising and distinctive design.” The key words here are distinctive design. Branding is when you connect your company or your product with a lifestyle, an emotion, or an identity. It’s designed distinctively to stand out from the competition–even if the competition has better technical specs. Branding is a moody photo of a singer at a bar posted on Instagram. It’s the rustic woodgrain design and American typography that Salt & Straw uses in its ice cream shops. Branding is Adidas’ collaboration with Kanye West.

A Lexus and a Hyundai may get the same gas milage, but Lexus ads show me successful people in them. Wix may be cheaper than Squarespace, but Leon Bridges and Keanu Reeves use Squarespace. That’s branding.

The marketing GOAT, Seth Godin, describes a brand’s value as the following:

“A brand’s value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.”

Use Both, But Not in the Same Ad

A great strategy for social media ads is altering back and forth between branding and marketing content.

Take this for example: start by showing a customer an eye-catching video that displays the lifestyle of your brand. Then, retarget people who watched the entire video with marketing content, like a swipe-through carousel ad featuring your products. After that, retarget people who purchased with an exciting lifestyle video, congratulating them on joining the club. Then, at the same time, retarget people who clicked but didn’t purchase with another branding piece to try and win them over again.

Sometimes companies try to do both marketing and branding in the same ad. They try to sell by using ambiguous lifestyle statements like “open up your future today” or “expand your horizons.” As far as marketing goes, statements like these are basically worthless. If you’re in the market and you want someone to buy your product, then ask them to buy by literally saying “buy now.”

Sometimes companies do the opposite, and try to hide marketing inside their branding. They create a free event for people, but then then they jump the gun by asking people to buy on the spot. As far as branding goes, strategies like this are a net loss, because they ruin the positive experience the branding had just created. Since a large (and ever-increasing) portion of purchasing decisions are made online, people are becoming more averse to being sold to in-person. All you have to do at the end of your branding content is let people know how they can learn more if they’re interested.

By taking the time to earn customer trust, and qualify their interest with branding content, you’ll maximize your marketing content by not wasting it on disinterested eyes.

Learn More

A majority of this thought process was first inspired during this interview with Branden Harvey on Building a StoryBrand Podcast.

You can read more from Seth Godin about brands here.

You can watch my IGTV Episode on the difference between marketing and branding here.

Joshua Reese