The Critical Difference Between Brand Strategy and Marketing

There’s a little misunderstanding about marketing that’s been going around for as long as I can remember. This misperception is probably the very reason why I chose marketing as my career.

Basically, it comes down to the idea that marketing and brand strategy are essentially the same thing.

Here’s why it’s problematic (and just plain wrong).

When brand strategy and marketing are considered to be the same thing, a young company may think all they need is a logo, maybe a tagline, and the marketing results will follow easily. And it may work for a time when the brand is shiny, new and excited. Tactics like flyers, promotions, and discounts to customers are effective to a point.

However, once that company has grown and become more established, there will likely come a plateau when it comes to growth and sales. From a branding perspective, this lull often coincides with years of piecemeal branding – language that isn’t consistent, visual assets that vary wildly from platform to platform, images have been over-edited or that no longer reflect the latest products or packaging.

At this stage, the company now faces a scattered, incohesive digital imprint and no real ability to discern what’s working. This miss here is jumping right to execution without creating a comprehensive brand strategy, of which visual branding is a part of, sure, but its not the whole equation.

Just in the same way that our bodies need a variety of exercises to yield results, companies cannot be built by simply doing the same thing over and over. To truly become a beloved brand, they need more than simply a logo and a single color to maintain audience/customer interest over time.

Essentially, the difference between marketing and branding is one of tactics versus strategy. When I work with companies who need an updating mindset around the importance of brand strategy I use the below graphics to begin a conversation around which communication approach is running the show. Too much push without achieving results is a signal to map back up to strategy.

Marketing is used to gain short term results through sales, discounts, and promotions, etc. Branding is strategic and is what so many experienced marketers love to do – it’s all about the long-term loyalty and value of the product or service. It’s a big vision versus day-to-day.

A strategy does a lot from defining the future direction of a company to defining the competitive advantage a company may have. More importantly, a strategy sets a specific long term vision for how a company wants to grow and prosper. Brand strategy sets the foundation upon which to build out the campaign tactics that provide customers with opportunities to engage directly and to act as word-of-mouth ambassadors and a built-in referral team.

Brands who have been built based on marketing tactics and not a clear brand strategy need to go back to the beginning and do the structural work to first establish a clear brand identity, personality, voice/tone and long-term vision. This work is not simply product X or service Y, but the bigger mission behind the company as a whole. Once clarity has been achieved around why a company does what they do, marketing can be one way to bring that vision to life.

About This Author

With 20 years of marketing experience in a broad range of industries, I learned everything on the job. From hospitality, agency, and tech to digital, real estate, finance, franchising, and junk removal, I have had the pleasure to work for some of North America's best companies. As co-founder of the Smart Cookies, we’ve appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show, CNN, New York Times and much more educating women on basic financial life skills. I started Andrea Holscher Consulting to help companies develop and evolve their brand by telling their story through an effective and customized marketing mix. Marketing is my jam and I tell it like it is.