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Branding v.s. Marketing v.s. Advertising: What Are the Real Differences?

by Ameer Drane

Branding, marketing, and advertising. All three can make an impact on the growth and success of your business. But if someone asked you what the differences are between the three, could you come up with a good answer? 

If you’re begging your brain for a good answer only to get a vague approximation of each term, don’t worry. You’re not alone. 
In this post, we want to help clear up that confusion because we believe it’s a key step in truly harnessing the power of branding, marketing, and advertising. 

We’ll start with some general definitions and goals, talk about how to decide which one is most important for your business right now, and then look at some examples of each. Let’s get started!


"Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind." - Walter Landor

According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. But a brand is also much more than that. A brand is also how people feel about your business. 
In turn, branding is the process of strategically shaping the public perception of your business and whatever it is you’re selling. It’s the curation of your business’s identity to become easily recognizable, relatable to consumers, and desirable over your competitors. 


The process of branding can take many forms, but its primary goals are to establish your business in the market and facilitate the building of relationships with your target customer. These goals have both a functional and emotional purpose. They include: 

  • Increase the value of your business 
  • Build brand credibility
  • Attract new customers
  • Reduce price sensitivity 
  • Standout and be remembered among similar companies
  • Become a platform to launch new products 

  • Earn your customers’ trust
  • Make it easy for customers to self-identify with your business 
  • Improve employee satisfaction 
  • Retain and build an emotional connection with your customers
  • Create a loyal community

You achieve those goals by:

  • Finding the WHY : Identifying the purpose behind your brand
  • Finding the WHO : Creating buyer personas for your target audience 
  • Turning your WHY into WHAT : Translating your company’s “why” into a strong mission statement 
  • Finding the “Unique Selling Point” (USP) : Understanding the unique benefits and features of your product or service that set it apart from competitors 
  • Building the visual identity : Coming up with distinguishable brand elements (eg. logo and tagline)
  • Crafting the verbal identity : Developing a unique brand voice and personality 
  • Getting creative : Incorporating storytelling into your brand messaging


"Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them do so." - Bryan Eisenberg

Marketing, on the other hand, is more focused on the customer. 

It is the process of learning about your target customers through market research, understanding their problems, and showing them how your product can help them solve one or more of those problems. 

What Does Marketing Look Like?

Like branding, marketing is a multi-staged process that has a variety of goals and strategies. According to The Blueprint, some of the primary goals of marketing include: 

  • Identify product-market fit 
  • Generate leads 
  • Nurture existing leads 
  • Boost web traffic 
  • Attract new customers
  • Retain existing customers
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Increase conversions (sales, sign-ups, downloads, etc.)
  • Research target customers’ problems, needs, and available solutions
  • Track, measure and improve your marketing initiatives

And, in action, marketing is done using one or more strategies like: 

  • Affiliate marketing 
  • Content marketing 
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Inbound marketing 
  • Offline marketing 
  • Social media marketing 
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
Denouncing Colin Kaepernick, the newest face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.


And, last but not least, we have advertising, which often gets confused with marketing. But that’s only because advertising is, in fact, a form of marketing. 
Advertising is a tactic on the marketing tool belt that requires you to pay a third party to display an advertisement for your business during a set period of time. 


You’re probably well aware of the main goals and primary channels used in advertising. But there may be some that you’re not thinking of, so let’s review. The goals of advertising, also according to The Blueprint, include: 

  • Influence consumers to pay for your products or services
  • Keep your brand and products fresh in the minds of consumers
  • Maintain a strong image and brand reputation
  • Foster greater brand loyalty 
  • Attract first-time buyers
  • Motivate existing customers to make repeat purchases

With those goals in mind, we can place advertisements in a variety of locations including:

  • Billboards
  • Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) 
  • Search engines (Google, Bing, etc.)
  • Print (magazines, newspapers, etc.)
  • TV and radio 
  • Website banners and popups 


Now that you know the key differences between branding, marketing, and advertising, we can move on to what is probably a more pressing question for you. Which one do you start with? 

Well, if you’re like most businesses, you will likely be tempted to start with marketing. Perhaps, you’ll think that it's the best way to hit the ground running, attract customers right away, and make your first sales. You think, “I can just figure the rest out along the way”. Sound familiar? If so, allow us to show you a better way. It’s actually in your best interest to start with branding. Why? Because unlike your marketing strategies or advertisements, your brand is meant to sit at the core of who you are as a business.

That means your brand will directly influence how you market your business. For example, during the branding process, one of the most important steps you should take is the development of your buyer personas. 

If you’re unfamiliar with that term, a buyer persona is a fictional profile of your ideal customer. It guides you in figuring out how to identify your ideal customer, craft messages and content that address their problems, provide solutions that speak directly to their experience, and find where is best to regularly engage with them (e.g. social media, email, print magazines, etc.).

If you skip branding, you miss out on the opportunity to define your business and make it appealing and credible to consumers. Without a brand, you could be forced to compete entirely on price alone.

On the other hand, if you start with branding you give consumers the opportunity to choose your business because it’s the one that aligns most with their values, background, and personality. 

And this connection to your business’s brand is what ultimately creates a loyal base of consumer advocates that come back time and time again, often spreading the word about how much they love your business to their friends and family. 

Once your brand is established, you can start marketing with purpose and intention to exactly the right type of consumer. And then after that, you can start creating ads to enhance your marketing strategy and support your branding strategy.


To help solidify in your mind the differences between branding, marketing, and advertising even further, we’re now going to take a look at a few examples of each from one of our favorite brands: Nike. As one of the most successful sportswear brands in the world, Nike is a great example of how branding, marketing, and advertising all work together. 

Before reading this post, you may have thought that the video above was just simply an example of advertising. But actually, it’s an example of branding or, to be more exact, brand advertising

Because rather than trying to influence you to purchase any particular product, the real goal of the video is to influence how you think about Nike. The goal is to solidify that Nike is the product for new and experienced athletes alike.

Marketing Example

This example of social media marketing shows how branding can also influence marketing to become brand marketing.

This Instagram post shows that Nike knows that many people in its target audience are athletic and enjoy running. They’re the type of people that would actively search out tips for running faster and would pay attention to marketing that uses keywords like “how to run your fastest mile”. 

Rather than give all of the information on which specific products actually help achieve that goal, the post ends with a call-to-action, “Stay up to speed at nike.com/findyour fast”. This helps to redirect the reader to more information and help them move along the customer journey

Advertising Example

Unlike the examples of branding and marketing we just looked at, the goal of this advertisement is to promote and sell one particular Nike product. The ad highlights the unique benefits of owning this product to influence the viewer to buy. 

Of course, the advertisement also has elements of branding, particularly the company’s well-known slogan and logo. 


Branding, marketing, and advertising are commonly used interchangeably. But they’re definitely not the same thing. If you were unsure before, we hope this post has helped clear up the confusion so you can begin to harness the power of all three! 

Here’s a quick recap of what you learned: 

  • Branding is the process of strategically shaping the public perception of your business and whatever it is you’re selling.

  • Marketing is the process of learning about your target customers through market research, understanding their problems, and showing them how your product can help them solve one or more of those problems. 
  • Advertising is a marketing tactic that requires you to pay a third party to display an advertisement for your business during a set period of time. 
  • If you’re just beginning to build your business, start with branding. Your brand sits at the core of everything you will do as a business. And it will directly influence how and why you market and advertise. 

And, if you want some help really perfecting your branding and marketing strategies, reach out to schedule a free consultation with our creative team.

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