There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding among business owners, and the general public, about the difference between branding, marketing, and public relations.
There is often bleed-over between these three business functions, and many agencies and practitioners claim they can effectively offer one or all. You’ll find public relations agencies that assure they can provide quality brand messaging and positioning, branding agencies that claim they are capable of being the marketing arm of your business. Today, many marketers insist they can do it all. There are also management consulting companies that promise the same suite of services.
It’s no surprise that few business owners truly understand what branding, marketing, and public relations are and can do (or not do).
The best way to think about the differences in these functions is as follows:
They Provide Very Different, Distinct Purposes
Branding is the highest and most abstract level of planning in business. It deals with the character of the firm, the quality of its leadership, of thought leadership, of adaptability, innovation, communications, culture, vitality and strategic growth at the highest levels of leadership.
Your brand is who you are (identity wise) in the eyes of your customers and presents the essential value and character your product or service brings. It is communicated through visual, verbal, aural, and experiential means across all mediums, from logo and tagline to color palette and photography to the words you use when speaking to your customers. Branding is the process through which your core identity is realized through actual consumer experiences over time. Every touch point that either stands out and satisfies or irritates and annoys really matters in the formation of a brands image over time. It is the sum total of positive feelings that determines how many net promoters a brand has, which in turn determines the top brands in the category and how they are regarded.
Many people think that branding is just another word for marketing and it’s easy to see how the two are confused, but here’s the truth: if you skip branding and go directly to marketing, you run the risk of inconsistency in messaging, inaccuracy in targeting, and potential misdirection in the specific marketing tactics you employ.
While branding is an ongoing relationship that informs how you interact with your customers, it is not the interaction itself. That’s where marketing comes in.
Marketing is tactical and goal-oriented. It employs the brand in a specific effort to achieve a desired result. It’s the process, strategy and techniques of bringing your product to the intended audience and promoting it among your customers and prospective customers with the intention of making a transaction occur.
Public relations is the strategic communications effort to create a presence and relationship with the public and/or investors. Its processes, strategies and techniques focus on building and maintaining an image through the media. The objective of public relations is to utilize media to alert people to your business and products or services, and create a favorable image or opinion of your business. Public relations also drives and supports the communication of important information about your company including relevant news or happenings, manages its public image, and addresses issues as needed to ensure the public is informed about your company and its products or services. Public relations can be critical for start-ups that need to be seen as achieving important milestones with key investors.
When you understand the differences in function and objectives of branding, marketing, and public relations, it’s easy to see how each are very different and require a different skill set, expertise, and approach.
They Are Measured And Managed Differently
Branding, marketing and public relations are also measured and managed uniquely to each other. Their ongoing objectives and metrics vary significantly and are inherent to their individual purpose and function.
Every company is operating under an identity linked to the brand name and logo. Nike sells tens of thousands of products; at last count it is participating globally in near 700 different fields of play. But there is one Umbrella Brand Name and Identity that carries all those products along and its the Nike name and Swoosh.
Branding at the Umbrella level is looking for the most meaningful stories, narrative, messages, products, spokespeople, events, etc. in a given year and putting together new chapters in the brands story in order to keep the brand salient, relevant and resonant. If brand managers neglect brand positioning updates, then very quickly marketplace dynamics will make the neglected brand look stale and tired.
Brand research can be the most effective form of business research if it is done right.
Brand positioning work brings out the profile of all brand identities within any category and looks at the attractiveness of these identities as perceived by the people who matter most … the most important buyers in the category.
Custom research tools that identify ongoing brand strength metrics can also measure the effectiveness of your branding effort. Brand Strength Monitoring allows you to customize an ongoing survey to get key impressions of how the top brands in the category are personified and viewed. You can see the effectiveness of your branding through visual brand audits, customer response, market presence, and sales.
In a well-managed brand, the intangible value of the company as measured by shareholder equity and goodwill on the balance sheet. This intangible value often far exceeds all the value of all the physical assets on the books. Such is the intangible value of forming strong relationships and a strong public reputation. In the stock market this is sometimes seen in a high P/E ratio. This essentially means the management of the firm is managing public expectations around the expected future value the company will deliver to shareholders and consumers with new products and services and a strong brand image.
The marketing department (marketing is actually a process and not a department) in most companies has goals set around financial objectives: Sales, Profits and Margins are set objectives. As a result, most marketing functions are product line driven. Product line sales objectives and market share are still the main way of measuring success. Companies with online sales functions also track sales by product lines.
Most of the strategies and tactics of marketing driven organizations are focused on product positioning, product sales, product advertising, and product promotions. It’s product focused. And because products can also wear a brand name and be viewed as brands, sometimes this marketing activity is confused with umbrella branding (the identity of the company).
The success of the marketing function is measured by product line income, market share research and online sales and community building metrics.
Public relations is usually gauged by the number of articles, the quality of articles and publications they place the brand in.
They also manage top executive media interviews on different Network and Cable channels and with the major financial newspapers and magazines, as well. For most companies, PR is more investor facing, in how stories are developed, than consumer facing. Usually, PR firms are put on a retainer and then bill additional fees for special projects above and beyond a baseline of press related work.
PR agencies are experts at knowing how to spin stories in such a way that various media outlets desire. They also cultivate personal relationships with the press and media, to the point of developing evangelist for brands and providing news flashes to some media outlets first, in exchange for favorable story treatment.
The nuances and characteristics between these three different business functions are clearly defined in measurement, management, and execution. Knowing this, it becomes much more clear to see and understand why branding, marketing, and public relations are not interchangeable – and in fact are very different business functions that serve an inherent purpose.
Many companies make the mistake of believing marketers can handle the task of public relations and branding in addition to marketing. Or they feel that they can market or publicize a business, product, or service without branding all together.
The result is often ineffective, if not disastrous. You wouldn’t enlist a podiatrist to do your cardiac bypass surgery, just as you wouldn’t have an accountant develop your products. Equally, without having an intimate understanding of the needs and aspirations of your audience along with a multi sensory identity for your business, it is impossible to effectively utilize the marketing and public relations channels.