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

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Design & Marketing

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.

Houston schools should keep their names/mascots

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Houston / Political Commentary / Society & Culture

Back in April, the Houston Independent School District unveiled four new high school mascots after their previous names were deemed too “culturally insensitive.” The offending mascots included the Indians, the Redskins, the Warriors and the Rebels.

The argument that these names are somehow discriminatory is absurd. School mascots are chosen because they’re awesome—something to emulate and admire. Students take the identity of the mascot upon themselves: “we’re the Indians!”

But there are plenty of people for whom protesting is a cause unto itself, and it’s just enough to make everyone’s day miserable. That means that even such awesome and innocuous names as warriors and rebels were marked for banishment.

Someone decided all this was worth the $250,000 required to change the mascots. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

Jump ahead a few months and it looks like the names of some schools are also up for the chopping block. In particular, schools named after Confederate-era figures. After all, why should we make heroes of people who were obviously on the wrong side of history?

I suppose, while we’re at it, we should look through our history books and national monuments and eliminate those individuals whose views might be out of step with today’s enlightened perspective.

The Washington and Jefferson memorials should be razed at once, since they participated in slavery. And even though Abraham Lincoln fought to end slavery, he still held racist views, and for that he was a necessary evil at best. Pretty much every president up until, well, halfway through Obama’s term, believed same-sex marriage to me immoral, or at least unwise. Perhaps we should just teach children that no prior president, including first-term Barack, really deserves our respect.

That’s ridiculous, of course. The point is that society evolves and our definition of what is acceptable today may not be tomorrow. If we get into the habit of shaming everyone who preceded us and fails to match our ever-shifting—but always superior—cultural norms, you may be the one your grandchildren refer to as “that ignorant bigot.”

There are a lot of bad ideas in books. We don’t burn them. There are a lot of historical figures who made bad decisions. We don’t shame them. We let them live, and continue to debate them, because the only guarantee of a wise and virtuous people is the freedom to engage with all ideas, to understand the evil we’ve overcome, and  to learn that even being wrong has a role to play in helping us all get it right.

This video is more than funny, it’s the next trend in advertising

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Design & Marketing / Humor

Being a male, there isn’t much I can relate to in this short video about a young girl faking her first period. But I can still appreciate the humor. But beyond the hilarity, there’s an interesting concept that indicates an emerging trend in advertising.

Publishers and advertising agencies are struggling to find solutions to an industry that appears to be losing steam. There was a time when families sat around television sets and provided a captive audience for advertisers, but today’s media landscape has changed dramatically. Media consumption has been increasingly fragmented, mobile users digest media in ever-shorter spurts, and the subscription-based model of companies like Netflix completely eliminate advertising as a revenue stream. How can companies gain the attention of consumers in an on-demand environment, where the audience controls the screen?

Without a captive audience, advertisers can no longer rely on the one-way approach, where ads are imposing and interruptive. Nor is it enough to trick consumers with “native” ads that look like normal content, but operate like a typical product pitch. For ads to gain attention, they must deliver something of real value. The right approach to native advertising doesn’t just look like interesting content, it really is interesting content.

The genius behind this video—a cleverly packaged promotion for HelloFlo—is that it never feels like an ad, and even when you realize it is, you don’t mind. This is because you genuinely enjoy and appreciate the content. The product message is embedded into the story—they want you to say “hey, this is funny, and that’s not a bad idea.”

This particular ad is designed to be shared online, and comes with a clickbait-style headline. People who don’t even need the product will share it with friends, simply because it’s funny—it’s up to almost 8 million views as of this post. But this could just as easily be a television commercial.

Despite what some are saying, traditional advertising is not dead. If that were true, the most expensive and talked about ad buy every year wouldn’t be a 30 second  Super Bowl spot. People love Super Bowl ads because they are entertaining. They’ve become part of the home viewing experience.

The particular medium for an effective marketing strategy depends on the audience, but it is clear that advertisers have to start thinking more creatively about how they bring value to the consumer, not just publishers or clients.