What’s the difference between marketing versus branding?

marketing versus branding

I was asked this question during a meeting of young marketing professionals recently: What is the difference between marketing versus branding?

A deceptively simple question but an important one and I thought I would answer this today.

Let’s start with the basics and advice from an old friend.

What is marketing?

Marketing is such a rich topic. But let’s avoid navel-gazing and keep our definition simple.

The most important mentor in my professional life was Peter Drucker, the best-known management consultant in history (and also the most brilliant person I have ever known!). Here is his iconic quote about marketing:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

This is just so beautiful in its simple elegance. At its highest level, marketing is about creating and keeping customers. 

Another great influence on me is Dr. Philip Kotler.

He expounds on the basic idea presented by Dr. Drucker:

“Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.  Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential. It pinpoints which segments the company is capable of serving best and it designs and promotes the appropriate products and services.

“The most important concepts of marketing are segmentation, targeting, positioning, needs, wants, demand, offerings, brands, value and satisfaction, exchange, transactions, relationships and networks, marketing channels, supply chain, competition, the marketing environment, and marketing programs.”

We see from Fr. Kotler that is marketing is A LOT … even down to the supply chain. Marketing is certainly much more than Facebook Likes, isn’t it?

But here we see the term “brands” pop up. Dr. Kotler shows us that branding is part of the subset of the wider world of marketing responsibilities. So what is branding all about?

What is branding?

In my speeches, I often describe branding as the process of building and sustaining an emotional link to your customers.

When somebody mentions your company or your brand, what comes to mind? At the highest level this is your brand … what people think of you.

Here’s a little experiment to make the idea of “brand” real to you.

I recently gave a talk in Poland and asked, “when you think of Coca-Cola, what comes to mind?” Immediately, somebody in the audience shouted “polar bears!”

Wow. Even in Poland, Coke means polar bears!

It doesn’t mean brown sugar water.

It doesn’t mean a product that is bad for your health.

It doesn’t mean mountains of plastic packaging waste.

Coca-cola could mean all of those things, but it doesn’t. Coke is this:

marketing versus branding

Coca-cola isn’t just a soft drink. It’s a feeling. What do you feel when you see this familiar polar bear image? Maybe it’s

  • Warmth
  • Family
  • Happiness
  • Fun
  • Holidays

And, as Peter Drucker said, this IS the distinguishing function of the business. Exactly! This brand feeling is what makes Coke different than any other product in its category. It’s not promising to be the cheapest soft drink or even the best soft drink. But it provides a certain strong, positive feeling.

Most important, it has been able to sustain that feeling for decades and — through  branding — remain relevant across the generations.That’s what make Coke magical from a marketing perspective.

Marketing versus Branding

I recently wrote about how the role of marketing and branding is evolving. In the earliest days, a brand was primarily what was established through persistent advertising. Today, an idea about your brand could occur at any customer touchpoint. Even a single tweet can impact your brand!

So everything you do, and everything you don’t do, can influence what people think of you and your brand. That’s why increasingly, the role of the CMO is being reimagined as the person responsible for the total customer experience.

I realize that some may see my definitions today as overly-simplistic, but I think if you had to explain marketing versus branding to somebody in five minutes, this would do the job!

Marketing is the distinguishing function of the business. And endlessly fascinating.

I don’t think I could have ever selected a more interesting career.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via