What is Branding, and How is it Different from Marketing?

By Mamie Patton | September 30, 2015

What is Branding?

Branding is the ongoing activity that creates experiences and strengthens the bonds between people and a company. In other words, it’s taking a brand and making something positive happen with it. It’s a verb. So the deeper question than “what is branding” is, what’s a brand? What’s this thing we’re going to “ing”?

In fact, it’s remarkable how blurred the language and understanding is for branding, considering it’s a discipline that demands clarity and focus. Smart, well-educated business people often interchange terms like branding, marketing and advertising as if they were all the same thing–but they aren’t.

What is a Brand?

A brand is a mental experience or expectation that is created from a company’s personality, values, character and actions.

When you think about Apple, your mental experience is very different than when you think about Microsoft. The two are radically different in their root brand elements. That’s why they can create products that may serve the same purpose, yet are vastly different from each other.

A brand is not:

  • A logo
  • A tagline
  • An advertisement

Those are representations of brands, but they are not the brand itself. In the 1900’s, those items were considered to be the brand, and branding was the process of plastering them wherever possible. In more recent years, the strategy of creating “customer brand experiences” became the big buzz. But today, branding is far more complicated and more fundamental to business success. It has moved out of the marketing department and is a key strategy to compete and thrive; a cornerstone of company structure.

Branding is a Critical Business Process

Why has this happened? The competitive dynamics and the number of choices for customers have exploded. The information revolution, coupled with the ongoing technology revolution, has empowered customers and employees to publicly call out companies that are not authentic to their brand promise.

If the sales department is bragging to customers about the great service their company provides, but the service technician posts a comment on Facebook saying how the company cuts corners on replacement parts quality, the brand credibility is damaged. Whereas word-of-mouth once meant telling a dozen or so people about your brand experience, now it means telling thousands or millions with online reviews.

That same information revolution mentioned above has flooded us with too much content to process. Our brains are structured to filter information without us being consciously aware of it. So we use brands as neural shorthand to quickly filter and categorize: important or not important, dangerous or safe, valuable or worthless. A weak brand is not likely to penetrate those filters. (Or at least, you’ll need some really smart marketing to do so, but that’s another blog.)

What is branding? Everything.

So, what is branding? It’s is a fundamental, strategic discipline that is not just for the marketing department. It’s an enterprise-wide initiative that must be created and driven from the top. The companies that employ it effectively will gain significant competitive advantages and enjoy greater profitability.

If you are wondering how your company can build a powerful brand that drives growth, give us a call.