Branding Versus Marketing

Recently I have had a number of discussions where the terms marketing, advertising and branding have been confused. Clarity on definition is important if you are responsible for working on developing a branding plan for your community, also, make sure to hire the company once you understand these terms, they will help your company grow.


“Advertising is the non-personal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media. You can check out our Free local SEO training – to know fully of what it is.” (Bovee, 1992, p. 7)

I like the following as a working definition – An insight informed communication idea that is executed synergistically across relevant touch points, designed to maximize the idea’s impact on a chosen target audience’s behavior.

Advertising is a very specialized form of communication. Great advertising is built on an insight into your target audience’s buying habits that allows you to position your product or service in a way that opens their mind and heart (and ideally wallet).

In economic development, advertising is the non-personal communication of information about your location. Typically, your target audience is capital investors. And, to be effective your advertising campaign will be built around a unique insight about the capital investment decision process, and the message will connect with the capital investor on both a rational and emotional level.


According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” (Approved October 2007)

Marketing focuses primarily on communicating (or correcting) and ensuring consistent delivery of your product or service image, many businesses opt to use the multi location marketing programs in order to achieve a great marketing strategy.  The emphasis is on making certain the promise you make is understood and authentic.  That promise must be relevant and competitive in order to be compelling.

Advertising is one tool used in marketing. So are social media and promotional efforts to support capital investment lead management. Any interaction or communication about your location can be considered part of the marketing mix and will benefit from being in alignment with the core promise. Learn more about Calescence to gain more visibility online, get found organically, close more leads and sales.


My working definition for branding is the proactive management of your product or service identity.

The single biggest differences between branding and marketing are –

  1. Marketing focuses on communicating or correcting the product or service image (present) while branding focuses on creating the identity (future).
  2. Because it is identity focused, branding includes a strong emphasis on strategic product development.

A way to think about it is branding ensures your core promise remains relevant, competitive and authentic year after year. Good branding plans will have a 5 – 10 year planning horizon and a process for ensuring the plans are responsive to changes in the competitive environment.

In economic development, branding guides choices on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform.


When you are asked to brand (or re-brand) your location, take the time to clarify what the real expectation is. Often, the community leadership is simply asking for either a new advertising campaign or a marketing plan. Get aligned on what is really required and what resources are available.

When talking with an Advertising Agency who is promising to create a new brand for your location, clarify what they will actually deliver. Typically it will not be a strategic plan that includes guidance on your community’s core promise and recommendations on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform. If it turns out the Agency is simply promising a new logo and tagline, walk away. It is a signal that they know very little about branding and you are about to waste your money.

Another challenge that seems to come up in discussions I have with economic development professionals is that no amount of branding will make your location more competitive for capital investment if it lacks required assets.

The fundamental wording of the challenge is convoluted.

No amount of advertising will make a bad product (or location) good. That is absolutely correct. As one community leader once said to me “You can’t put lipstick on a pig and hope to win a beauty contest”. And, he was absolutely right.

If your location is inherently non-competitive, job #1 is to invest in getting it competitive. My advice would be to not invest in advertising or marketing until you have a plausible chance for success.

I would argue this is when branding is mandatory. You need a blueprint on how to make your location competitive. You need alignment on what the core differentiating promise is and the identity you want to create. Then you need to make informed choices on creating the right assets, investing in the right infrastructure and enacting the right public policy reforms to make your location promise authentic.

The problem most locations have is that branding takes time, money and emotional commitment. Branding is about building prosperity that will stand the test of time. Branding requires genuine statesmanship and stewardship. Both of which are often in short supply.

Additional Reading

Place Brand Building



What has your experience been?

Leave a comment and share your experience with advertising, marketing or branding. How are you successfully using social media in your marketing mix? Thanks in advance.

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