Branding vs Marketing: What’s the difference?

Let’s imagine you’re at the store, staring down the shampoo aisle. Both sides are lined with products designed to clean your hair. But as your eyes gaze across the shelves, you notice the brands first and each brand makes you realize something specific about each shampoo. For example, Head & Shoulders probably sticks out as the shampoo that works best to remedy dandruff. Pantene likely has you imagining long flowing locks of the blonde and brunette in the commercials.

Now take a look at your new business. What is your brand saying about your product or service? If you’re not sure or you don’t think you’ve really made an impression on your market, keep reading. Today, we’re going to talk about branding. And we’re going to give you precise steps to help set up, launch and maintain yours for the best results.

Marketing vs. Branding by Definition

Don’t confuse these two terms – like, ever. They are not one and the same. And even the greatest marketing strategy in the world won’t help you develop a strong brand on its own. 

Think of marketing as a set of tools. The marketing toolbox is full of different channels or ideas used to actively push your business into the market. Marketing helps you promote what your business has to offer and why you do what you do.

Branding, on the other hand, is one stand-alone element within your marketing toolbox. Your company brand is more like a collection of memories, stories, product relationships and customer expectations that people actually tap into when choosing one product or service over another. If you have dandruff, you’re not going to care about Herbal Essences or L’Oreal. You’re going for the Head & Shoulders or the Selsun Blue. And you do that because of branding. 

We’ll talk about marketing next month and you absolutely won’t want to miss out on the advice we have to offer then. But for now, this series of blogs is going to be all about how you build and develop your foundation for success starting with your brand.

Every Business Has a Brand (Like It or Not)

Every business has a brand, but it may take years to cultivate a reputation. In fact, it’s been said that it takes about five years for a brand to become recognized in its local area. Chances are, if you’ve been in business for more than a couple of years, your customers already have an opinion about your company. This is great! Let them keep talking and you can grow your reputation into something that’s really special. But don’t expect this to happen by accident. Doing nothing about your brand now, during the infancy stages of your business, would be one of the dumbest mistakes you can make.

But first, you have work to do… and it starts with adequately defining your company brand for yourself. 

Meet Melissa. She took the entrepreneurial leap to follow her passion for fashion and joined the thousands of Americans who are exploring new online boutique businesses. She’s set up a store and a sewing room in her home and rented sale space at the local coffee shop to display her designs. She also hosts live sales events online with friends modeling her stylish new digs. She has inventory and a good pool of clientele who appreciate her keen eye for trendy Boho looks. What she doesn’t have is a brand. And that’s why her boutique business is missing out on sales and getting lost in the sea of other online boutiques siphoning her customers. So how will she tell her story? 

Melissa’s clothing boutique is much like our imaginary shampoo aisle. With fashion growing at a projected rate of around 7 percent a year, it’s one of the most popular and cutthroat industries around.  Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon to sell online and partner with local coffee shops and retailers to get their clothing brand off the ground. But how can Melissa separate herself from the masses and position her boutique as the go-to place for the latest trends? Her first step is to define her brand.

Initial Steps To Help You Identify Your Brand

If you’re like Melissa and feel you need to identify your unique value proposition, start by asking yourself a few questions. You’ll notice, some of these questions begin with why.

  • Why does your small business exist in the first place?
  • What is your unique story as an entrepreneur?
  • What brands inspire you as a consumer yourself?
  • What are you the absolute BEST at providing or what makes you the best in the world?
  • Is any part of your company offering patentable or uniquely yours?
  • Did you invent a new way to deliver a service, develop a new process, or improve something within your industry?
  • Do your customers experience something entirely unique when they engage with your business?
  • Do you have a niche market or isolated segment of your industry in any way?
  • Why will consumers trust you more than the other guys?
  • What ACTUAL problems do your products or services solve?

Why Brand Definition Comes First

Defining your brand first will provide the foundation you need for everything else your business does, including any marketing, sales, hiring and any other strategies, etc.

Start by defining these key categories:

Audience knowledge

This is the most important part of branding. Who are your customers? This will help you find a unique differentiator and it will help ensure your messaging is consistent. To develop brand awareness, focus your marketing campaigns around this group to build familiarity with them over time. Don’t assume everyone needs what you offer. Get honest about who your target consumers are first and build your efforts around their preferences. This is usually done by building a buyer’s persona or a fictional character(s) who best represents your core customers. You can use these personas as you develop your brand. In fact, you can fill out our buyer persona form here and we will provide feedback.

Unique Differentiator

A company without a clear point-of-difference usually loses out in the market because they have trouble standing out from competitors who offer similar products or services at lower costs. Don’t let your new business get caught up in the rat race. Find and build on your WHY, and what it is that makes you special. In Melissa’s case, maybe she’s the best at fashion accessories for her trendy clothing styles. Promoting her unique ability and an eye for jewelry, hats and handbags as a way to “make the outfit” might be her differentiating service from other boutique businesses. Or she can promote how she donates one pair of socks to a local charity with every sale she makes.

Consistency Methods

Consistency makes a brand memorable. It also creates trust in customers, which gives them a reason to come back. Understand that consistency does not mean perfection or following rigid rules all the time. Consistency involves treating everyone the same way and inspiring the same memories or feelings about your company with every engagement. This includes company employees, contractors and anyone else who contributes to your business in any capacity. Inconsistencies in branding messages, like if Head & Shoulders decided to try and be a great shampoo for color-treated hair, will only dilute the brand and have a negative impact.

Communication Strategies

Communication plays a significant role in consistent delivery because it helps keep brands “top of mind” with consumers through advertisements, signage, promotions and social media. Whenever your company, product or service engages customers, it should communicate the essence of your brand by telling a story that inspires and helps drive people to take action.

Passion, Vision & Your WHY 

We will always talk about understanding your why. This is a very crucial part of your business success that many overlook and will impact every business decision you make moving forward. Have you ever wondered why Subway has grown from just one shop in the ’50s to over 26,300 stores all over our world? Just like Jim and his vision – there is a core branding belief companywide that SUBWAY® restaurants can make the WORLD healthier. They told their WHY for being here and what purpose they serve.

Customer Experience Goals

For lasting relationships with customers, brands must engineer their business models based on how people experience them rather than on how they work (or don’t). This means focusing on end-users as much as they focus on employees because customer experiences are now more critical than ever before. They are what builds a brand’s reputation and determines its ultimate success. Consider developing a way to deputize every customer you encounter to be an advocate for your business. Having an army out there reinforcing your brand will only help you grow exponentially.

Brand Culture Ideals

Brand culture is nurtured through the personalities of company leaders who create an atmosphere in which employees can make meaningful work contributions. It also has to do with the customer experience: how customers perceive their total interactions with your organization. Deliver memorable moments by being authentic, transparent and accessible, so you remain present; even when you’re not physically there.

7 Types of Branding to Consider for Your Small Business

Not all small businesses are created equal. And trying to force the wrong type of branding into your model will be like forcing a round peg into a square hole. 

Meet Doug. Doug just officially became a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), and he’s ready to open his own dental practice. His success is entirely dependent on his brand and his ability to bring in new dental patients. But unlike other small businesses, his name IS his brand. And he’ll have to develop a personal brand strategy unique to his health service business. At first glance, he might think having a root canal is better. haha.

To help you decide which type of branding you should focus on, here is a shortlist you can print out and spend some quality time exploring. Doug, the dentist, would likely explore personal and service branding strategies for his new business. Decide which one, or combination of, branding types would best compliment your business.

  1. Product Branding: The interesting, creative, and engaging world of product branding is all around us. Through words in a catchy slogan or phrase to the colors that are chosen for packaging design, it’s clear how important this strategy can be when trying to set one item apart from another.
  1. Corporate Branding: Brand reputation is the cornerstone of any successful business. Everything a company does – from its products to how it treats suppliers and employees, has some impact on its brand image. A good example of corporate branding can be seen in the automobile industry, where brands like Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz rely heavily on this personal touch when marketing themselves.
  1. Service Branding: The relationship between you and your customer is paramount when it comes to service. You need to deliver excellent service at all times, but understanding what that looks like for the two of you may not be so easy. Some elements of this are in your control while others are out of reach; however, with everything on the line from a business perspective, it’s worth getting down into those details because they can make or break how well customers think about their experience with you and choose whether to return again!
  1. Personal Branding: Personal branding is a strategy that should be used by everyone, not just public figures. When your name IS the brand of what you sell or do for work, it’s important to have some type of personal branding plan in place. This can help generate new business leads and establish yourself as an expert within your industry, so people want to buy from/work with you more often because they know who you are!
  1. Geographic Branding: Geographic branding is a form of marketing that seeks to attract people who share interests in particular areas. Companies and agencies sometimes use the natural beauty, culture, or history of an area as promotional tools for future visitors or investors.
  1. Cultural Branding: Cultural branding efforts seek to build a positive shared identity and reputation for the people of a place or within a specific group. It is closely linked to geographic branding, which explores how culture influences geography as well as human activity influencing both. For example, New York City, the “city that never sleeps” known around the world for finance and commerce, but also its cultural heft internationally with music, entertainment, food, fashion, and art; it exerts influence on all cultures who live there.
  1. Retail Branding: The goal of retail branding is to create a memorable and identifiable brand for the company or product being sold in order to let customers know that they can rely on them when making their necessary purchases (or at the very least, keep up with trends). Apple has done an incredible job creating this type of recognizable identity where people associate their products as not only reliable but also trendy. They often use dramatic architecture and vibrant colors throughout all parts of its stores so that visitors feel welcomed immediately upon walking inside.

Don’t let all the noise and barrage of branding advice out there get you down. Start with these actionable strategies to identify and carve out the right branding for your business. And stay tuned. We’ll keep talking about the next few steps you’ll need to take in this month-long branding series. We’ll continue to follow Melissa’s boutique and Doug’s dentistry as well, to serve as examples. 

If you still need help working the kinks out of your branding strategy, let Awareness Branding & Consulting help!! Not only are we offering free advice with our blog series, but we also offer a FREE consultation to new and existing businesses.

Now, go wash your hair.

Marcus Wendt

Chief Executive Officer

Marcus helps lead and grow companies from the ground up. He has a proven track record. His experience is diverse with expertise in sales, branding, marketing, automations, manufacturing, building teams, managing operations, sourcing suppliers and outsourcing to offshore locations.