Branding vs Marketing vs Advertising; What’s The Difference?

We’re all guilty, now and again, of using terminology people outside our industry don’t get. But when you’re in the business of communications, that’s a mistake you simply shouldn’t be allowed to make. We do try to steer away from buzzwords as much as possible, but some of the bigger concepts, we’ve come to realise, also suffer from a bit of confusion. 

And to be honest that’s probably our fault – as an industry. If you put a group of marketers, branding and advertising folk in a room together – and asked them what’s the difference between branding, marketing and advertising – you’d be there all day watching them debate. 

So allow us to attempt some definitions, and then a ‘possibly controversial’ summation of how they all relate.  

So first of all, what is marketing? 

Depends who you ask, but let’s cut to the chase.

The classic definition of marketing: 

Marketing is everything you do to get your service or product, into the hands of customers. 

For some, that’s kind of a problem, because everything you do is pretty darn broad, so let’s look to a wiser mind than ours for clarity.  

Phillip Kotler who is widely regarded as the father of modern marketing summarises marketing as “human activity directed at satisfying need and wants through exchange process”. ‘Human activity’ might be under fire now thanks to the growing use of .ai, but let’s not get side-tracked!  Kotler is the guy who famously broke marketing down into the ‘Four Ps’ that you’ve probably heard of. They bear repeating. 


What is it, exactly, that you are selling? And how does it satisfy the needs of your prospects?
Maybe you may need to engage in some market research to know it’s right. Maybe it used to be but isn’t anymore and you need to develop an entirely new product or service to cater to a change in the market. All of this is marketing, and you need to get it right, for anything else to work properly. 


Have you priced it correctly? What margin do you need to be profitable? Are you too expensive compared to your competitors? Should you offer discounts or sales now and again – or will that devalue your proposition? Should you set a single price everywhere or do you engage in local pricing? Financial considerations, yes, but all part of marketing. 


What’s your distribution model – are you in the right place for your ideal prospects to easily find your product? This could mean securing a distributor, getting your new product into a retail chain, opening and interstate sales office or taking a conference stand for your B2B target market, opening an eCommerce channel or being listed on an online market place.


Many people mistakenly think marketing is just this! It’s where you tell the world about your service, or product, and try to actually make a few sales. Sure this is where advertising sits, but it’s much more than that too. What are your tactics, what media or other channels do you use, what’s your brand strategy, what’s your messaging and creative, what are your offers, do you use PR, influencers, partner marketing….?  

Granted, this may be what your marketing department spend most of their time and money on, but it’s really just one part of the marketing whole.

So there you go, all of that together is marketing. 

  1. Making sure you have the right offering
  2. Pricing it correctly
  3. Getting it to your prospects
  4. Shouting from the rooftops loud and clear 

Now, what is advertising? 

We’ve already explained that it’s part of the ‘Promotion’ side of marketing, but just to be crystal clear. 

The classic definition of Advertising: 

Advertising is communication to a potential customer, in a public forum, and it’s generally paid for. 

Or to put it more colourfully, some would say it’s the art of interrupting a person to tell them about something they didn’t know they were interested in!  

We’re all pretty familiar with advertising whether on TV, YouTube, a billboard you drive past, a banner ad you see online, a radio ad you hear on the way to work, the ads you see when you do a google search, the catalogue in your letterbox and even the sandwich board outside your local butcher. 

The most obvious purpose of advertising is to sell a service or product – sometimes called direct response – however, there is another kind of advertising, which you could argue, doesn’t ask you to make a purchase at all. 

It’s called brand advertising, and this is where some of the concepts start to overlap a little bit. So what is brand advertising..? Glad you asked. 

Brand advertising is a specific kind of ad that doesn’t ask you to do anything! It’s not trying to sell you a TV while it’s on discount or trial Xero in the run up to the end of the financial year. Brand advertising tries to influence the way you think about (and remember) a brand -so that when you’re ready to buy, you’ll lean that way.  You can trust PWC, for example, or that Commonwealth Bank is the bank that CAN, whatever it is you’re trying to do, or that Volvo is the safe car. 

And that brings us nicely to our last definition.

What is branding? 

This is probably the least understood of the three, especially outside of the industry, so let’s give it to you straight. 

The classic definition of Branding 

Branding is what the market thinks about your company, product or service when you’re not there to tell them. 

Branding is your attempt, as a business owner, to get inside people’s heads so as to influence them favourably in your direction, as opposed to your competitors.  

Your brand consist of many components, ideally all working in beautiful unison; your company name, your brandmark, the way your staff talk on the phone, the kind of staff you hire, what your facilities look like, the kind of language you use and the attitudes you portray in your marketing, the music people listen to when they’re on hold, the tone of voice used in your emails, your product and packaging design, your blogs, your business card, your comments on LinkedIn, even where you well your products…. In short, it’s everything that you put out into the world that potential future customers can see, hear or experience. 

Branding is a process that’s going on whether you like it or not, so you should take charge, and try to guide perceptions the way you want them. 

So once again, a little like marketing, branding is a collective of actions – in some ways everything you do is branding. Even if your business is just you delivering a service, it’s how you come across and how you deal with your clients, as much as the actual service you deliver – that’s branding. 

marketing vs branding

So how do Branding vs Marketing vs Advertising all relate? 

Hopefully, we’ve cleared it all up a little bit, so to finish off, let’s position them all in relation to each other.  

Now some people will say that branding and marketing are separate activities with significant crossover, and we’re not going to argue with that – however, even if you’re a global corporation with numerous executives devoted to ’brand’ – they all work in the marketing department. 

So branding is part of advertising and both are components of marketing 

Here’s another way of putting it: 

Marketing is deciding what to do, and then doing it.
Whereas Branding is the way that you do it. 

So it’s almost like Marketing is a verb.
And Branding is an adverb. 


What do you think? Have we cleared it up or confused matters even more? 

Do you agree, or disagree…?  


And we’ll leave you with a final thought. 

“Nobody likes advertising – until they lose their cat.” 

Marketing, advertising, public relations, branding

Read more about Inside-OutHouse services here. Inside-Outhouse was created by specialist SME marketing consultancy Permission. Read more about Permission here.