Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Branding Versus Marketing

Consistent, Differentiable, Fits the Space Available

Consistent, Differentiable, Fits the Space Available

I teach a course on branding so I’m often asked to define the difference between branding and marketing. I usually have a fairly long-winded answer and I’ve noticed that the person who asked the question often leaves the conversation with a puzzled look.

Since I’m about to teach the course again, I thought I would do a web search to find a pithier answer. I wanted a simple mantra to cut through the clutter. Unfortunately, the search only added to the confusion.

Many of the sources I consulted confused marketing with selling. I’ve always thought that there were at least two parts to marketing:

  • Understanding market dynamics, identifying underserved segments within markets, and developing products or services that people or companies in those segments will want to buy.
  • Once you have the product/service offering, effectively communicating its benefits (of the “whole product” not just what’s in the box) to the target market to make it an appealing purchase.

I’ve always thought of marketing as a “pull” operation while sales is a “push” process. With effective marketing, you create products that people want and pull them in. Here’s how Theodore Levitt put it in his classic article, “Marketing Myopia”:

Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert the product into cash, marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering, and, finally, consuming it.

All too often, the sources I found on the web (for instance, here and here and here) focused on the “second half” of marketing. They effectively define marketing as an adjunct to sales, perhaps even a support service to sales. In my humble opinion, that’s far too narrow a definition of marketing.

So, if marketing is about identifying customer needs and satisfying them, what is branding about? It’s the process of planting a consistent, compelling, and differentiable image in the customer’s mind. You want to occupy a position in the customer’s brain. The customer’s brain is probably pretty full already so she’s not going to give you much room for your position. You need to keep it simple and consistent.

This definition is essentially the customer-based brand equity (CBBE) model pioneered by Kevin Lane Keller at Dartmouth. In short, CBBE suggests that it doesn’t matter what the brand owner thinks, it only matters what the customer thinks. The value of the brand lies in the customer’s mind. The process of branding is putting appealing, differentiable images into the customer’s mind that will fit the (small) space available.

Is there a simple, pithy way to summarize all this? Here’s the best I can do. Marketing is the process of developing products that people actually want to buy and communicating the whole product benefits. Branding is the process of putting an idea in someone else’s head. Marketing is what you do. Branding is what you are.

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