The difference in “marketing,” “advertising” and “branding”

People use the words marketing, branding, and advertising interchangeably. Though they are clearly related, it is helpful for any businessperson to understand the difference.

Advertising refers specifically to media that “gets the word out” by interrupting your day with some useful and memorable message. I use the word “interrupt” not because ads are inconvenient—though many are—but because they tend to find you, not the other way around. Good advertisers predict why you might like a given product, what you might be up to today, and how to use the right words, visuals and tactics to make you consider using that product. Advertising is typically handled by a separate agency, and is measured in short-term results.

While advertising can have huge payoffs, it is expensive and has almost nothing to do with making the product better, or keeping customers happy, and is therefore often the hardest thing for companies to invest in.

Advertising is but one tool in a broader marketing and brand strategy.


Marketing is the whole set of tactics that describe a company’s efforts to gain business, and is therefore mostly an internal function. While a company can choose not to advertise, there is no such thing as not marketing. The philosopher and theologian William Craig once said that “the question isn’t whether Christians will be philosophers or not, but whether they will be good philosophers.” Thus it is with marketing.

Good marketers spend time learning about what you want, then they use that data to either show you how their company can meet your needs, or they help the company produce better products. They can set prices, lead new R&D, plan events and promotions, launch ad campaigns, create web content, and develop an endless variety of strategies to ultimately turn you into a customer.

Many companies believe marketing is so central to their business model that they appoint a Chief Marketing Office (CMO) to operate at the highest levels of executive leadership.

Still, marketing is just part of what makes up something even larger and harder to define: branding.


Branding is the business—or at least the way it is perceived, and as the old saying goes, perception is reality. Branding seemingly has no boundaries, because it is the sum of experiences, promises and values of an organization, which establish its reputation. The brand is shaped and measured over time and is the single most valuable thing a company can improve. Why? Because it determines the window of opportunity for everything else. A negative brand will kill all other efforts. A positive brand will buy forgiveness. Companies like Apple, Google and Whole Foods are masters of branding.

In a sense, almost every branch of a company owns the brand—yet, in the real world that means none of them do. This is why many companies have created the CBO (Chief Brand Officer), whose job it is to root a company’s various branches in a particular vision and identity. This is particularly useful when a CEO either lacks the requisite strengths or prefers to spend his or her energy on other aspects of the company. A solid branding strategy gets to the core of what makes a business meaningful, and works to rally the entire organization around this central idea in order to build momentum, excitement, loyalty, focus and purpose for every current or future customer, employee or investor.

As communication is the primary tool for this rallying activity, the tools of marketing—and, by extension, advertising—are critical parts of brand building, but are quite different things in themselves.

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