I often speak with founders and one of the first questions to come up during so many initial project discussions is the difference between marketing, branding and PR. The three are different ingredients in the marketing mix and benefit a brand in different ways. In this article, I aim to highlight the distinctions between them and lay out a simple guideline to help brand owners and managers optimize their reach and engagement so you can achieve and maintain top of mind for consumers.
Why is this important? Your brand’s marketing manager gets it, as he/she is constantly faced with tight budgets and quick release dates. To help the marketing manager gain the best return of her/his time, energy, and budget, it is critical to leverage the right tool at the right time.
So here’s the simple guideline to make everyone’s job easier and more organized:
Your brand is your company’s character. It’s how you look, sound and act, both in the public eye and behind closed doors. Ultimately, your brand is your reputation and branding is the strategic work that goes into shaping this reputation.
Today, branding is seen as one of the most critical aspects of business strategy. It provides sustainable competitive advantage and is crucial to the success of both strategic (long-term) and tactical (short-term) marketing campaigns.
Nike is a great example of branding done right. Originally named Blue Ribbon before becoming the renowned international brand Nike, Blue Ribbon had functional, stylish footwear but didn’t have much traction with consumers, so they undertook a complete overhaul of their identity. They changed their name to something more aspirational: the goddess of victory, Nike; they adopted the now instantly recognizable swoosh that evokes speed and movement; and they embarked on a journey to become synonymous with striving, persevering, and succeeding. It took years and years of brand strategy in the form of superstar collaborations, hip brand ambassadors, and countless iconic ads, installations, and sponsorships in creating the Nike of today. Nowadays, Nike has become a brand that consumers associate to their own identity, a lifestyle and culture for consumers around the globe.
Their identity – their brand – is what fuels their fans fervent devotion. In the same way, your brand and your efforts to develop it should lay the foundation for all your communication efforts. Particularly if you are promoting products on fast-paced E-commerce platforms, a strong brand will not only differentiate you from competitors but will serve as an anchor for your marketing team in what can be an overwhelming environment. Define your brand for them, and you will achieve higher quality content marketing and greater stability in a world that constantly seems in flux.
An authentic brand story and identity should always be at the core of a piece of communications – your brand should always look, sound, and feel like you, whether the communications appear on your website, social media, or E-commerce. This means staying true to your roots, reminding yourself and your customers why you are uniquely positioned to solve a meaningful problem.
Equipped with a solid brand foundation, your brand identity will come alive through your marketing.
While your brand is your identity, your marketing is how you let it show. It’s the tangible actions you take to build engagement and drive sales. It’s how you communicate your brand, products, and services to convert leads into customers. And it’s how you generate demand to ultimately drive revenue.
Marketing can be complex. It continually changes and evolves as new tools and channels are introduced, as your product or service offerings expand, and as your market grows.
For example, if you are developing your brand’s presence in China, having an official WeChat account is a must. Your official account functions like a website; it is how a brand gains credibility in the Chinese community. However, if you aren’t already a globally renowned brand, then it will take more than having a WeChat account to gain followers. You might want a Weibo account for updates and new product release announcements, you might want a Red (Xiaohongshu) account to target consumers who are looking to enhance their lifestyle, and if you are only selling online, it is critical to have your products displayed on the right E-commerce platforms.
Marketing covers a lot, like:
- Social media campaigns
- One-pagers, brochures, and other pieces of printed collateral
- Email marketing
- Case studies
- Customer testimonials
- Themed/seasonal campaigns
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
The secret of the best brands is they align marketing and brand – story, messaging, visual identity, mission, vision, values – to create cohesive, “on-brand” marketing campaigns and assets. Marketing tactics and campaigns can and should be customized for targeting different segments of your audience and influencing them to try, buy, and share, but the supporting core values and identity of your brand should never change (unless you’re Blue Ribbon about to switch to Nike).
Your company’s marketing efforts should be shaped and informed by your brand. Marketing campaigns tend to be“seasonal” or timely, and can be a great way to test out various messaging approaches to see what works best in terms of inspiring action. Social networks can be great for these experimental marketing campaigns, as social networks are where consumers spend a good deal of time connecting with friends and family, getting recommendations for products and services, and engaging with brands. As a matter of fact, an incredible 97% of Gen Z say they use social media to get shopping recommendations. With stats like these, brands can’t afford not to include social media as part of their marketing strategy.
Remember, the goal of your company’s marketing efforts should be influencing your customers to try, buy, share.
Public relations (PR)
Broadly speaking, PR is ensuring a brand’s identity and messaging are received positively by its stakeholders. This is done by influencing, engaging, and building relationships.
The customer relationship-building and communication aspects of PR have increased in importance as the internet has become increasingly integrated throughout people’s daily lives. Today, a brand’s online footprint, in the form of reviews, social media, and online word-of-mouth, is one of the largest factors dictating consumers’ purchase decisions.
The way you relate to the public is of critical importance but still, your brand must be the basis of your public relations strategy. Every press release, media kit, and social media update should be aligned to and guided by your high-level story, messaging guidelines, and visual identity system. Having a cohesive PR strategy that ties back to your brand story builds trust. It shows the world they can count on you to be consistent and reliable, helps your audiences recognize your communications as “you”, and in times of crisis, uncertainty or change will bring a level of stability that is crucial for retaining customers.
While branding, marketing, and PR serve different functions, they are all critical, synergistic parts of a brand’s marketing mix. A strong brand helps keep messaging strategy across marketing and PR consistent, which in turn strengthens your brand and makes it more memorable. Be consistent on the messages your brand sends out to the world, as there should be one brand story to tell, and your service and products are what matters to your consumers.