The difference between branding and marketing

Back The difference between branding and marketing

The differences between branding and marketing are like the differences between travel vs. a holiday. An argument vs. a debate. Pepsi vs. coke. The differences can sometimes seem subtle, but when you know, you know. No one wants to be sojourning through the middle of Africa when all you need is a mai tai on a beach, and no, while I wish it were, Pepsi is not ‘ok’.

Branding and marketing each have their purpose, and you can’t do either very well without the other. If you remember one thing and one thing only from this post, remember:

Your ‘brand’ is who you are. ‘Marketing’ is how you tell the world.


Your ‘brand’ is about identity – about knowing who you are, what you stand for, why you exist and what you’re working towards. It can all be quite existential, made easier by coffee, whiteboards and post-its. It’s all about what you stand for, what you’re here to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it. That can seem like a lot of ‘you’ – your values, your mission, your vision, but it should all be in relation to your customer. How do you solve that customer’s problem? How do you do it better than anyone else? What do you and your customer connect on? What space do you take up in their mind? How would they describe you?

It’s not all theoretical – it gets quite practical when you think about the characteristics of your brand. You should be able to describe your brand like they were a person. If they were a person, how would you describe them? What would they sound like?

Then, what would they look like? This is the part that a lot of people focus on when thinking about branding. It’s easy – and fun! – to think about the logo, the colours, the brand fonts. This is all brand design. It’s a crucial part of branding, but not the full picture. I once had a client who would have an absolute meltdown any time their specific pantone colour was a touch off on the billboard they just put up. I get it. The specifics of your brand design is absolutely crucial and consistency is key. But, it’s not the only part of your brand. Do the work on the theory, in fully understanding every aspect of both you and your customer, and your brand will be better off for it.

Your brand lays the foundation (quite literally – get my template for a ‘brand house’; ). It aligns you with your customer and gives you the clarity for the next step - marketing.


‘Marketing’ is how you tell your brand story – or your product story, launch story, anything. It’s about positioning yourself to a specific group of people, earning enough relevance and interest in their minds so that they engage with you. What ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ is to a brand, ‘objectives’ and ‘strategies’ are to marketing. It’s where you’re looking at what you’re trying to achieve and plotting your course to get there. It gets specific, it gets actionable, and it gets measurable.

Everything about marketing is about the customer. Every message, every ad, every channel. Even your brand story, which feels like it should be about you, is about your customer. Why would they care? What relevance does it have to them? Being the advocate for the customer is a marketer’s job. Reaching them and engaging with them in a meaningful way is the key.

There can be a lot of moving parts to your marketing. Your strategy, your campaign plans, your tactical plan, channel plan, your reporting. It all has a place and its purpose, there to bring your brand to life.

What comes first?

Branding. Every time. Get yourself together. Figure out where you are positioned and why you matter in the first place. Figure out who you matter to. Then and only then, can you do some great and strategic marketing.

Emily is a brand strategist and founder of Penner Collective, a brand consultancy supporting purpose-driven, female-led companies.