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  • Writer's pictureBrian Fleming

Marketing or branding – which comes first?

I want to talk about the relationship between branding and marketing and the different views and approaches people have.

See, the relationship between marketing and branding is a little bit… well, it’s almost a little bit like sex. Like, where does one start and the other end? Which one is on top and which on the bottom? Which one comes first? Which one spoons the other? You get the picture.

So, let’s talk about some of the different, er, positions on this matter.

Marketing as the dominant partner.

In this scenario, it’s marketing that calls all the shots and acts all alpha. It doesn’t only tell branding what to do, it also hands out orders to advertising, PR, merchandising, direct mail, event marketing, content marketing.

Here, branding is just one toy in marketing’s cluttered toy chest. If branding is the fragrance, hair style, clothes and accessories marketing uses to attract a customer, then advertising are the pick-up lines; PR, the wingman; merchandising, the dance moves; direct mail, the business card; event marketing, the dinner date; content marketing, the conversation… I’ll let you come up with the rest.

With this approach, branding isn’t a reflection of the company or product being marketed, but a reflection of what marketing thinks will attract people. Marketing is like a pick-up artist and branding is the way it peacocks.

It works, the same way pick-up techniques work, the same way peacock feathers work (at least for peacocks). But it’s not authentic and, as a result, not as powerful or attractive to customers. That’s because customers, ultimately, want to connect with something real. Authentic branding helps them do that.

Branding as the real boss.

In this scenario, branding is the real boss, but it’s the kind of boss that wields its power, influence and charm without seeming to lift a finger, give an order and ever appearing to try too hard – a little bit like George Clooney.

It uses marketing to communicate itself to customers in a way that connects with them, but if it’s a true brand, it doesn’t have to peacock, because it’s style is a reflection of its personality. It doesn’t need pick-up lines, because it steps up and introduces itself with a confident “Hello”. Wingmen are great to have, but it’s confident enough in its reputation not to need them.

That’s because branding is fundamental. It’s not part of a plan. It’s part of the company.

The moment you have a vision for a company or product is when you have the beginnings of a brand, whether you know it or not.

The moment you sell your first product or service is when you have the beginnings of a brand, it just needs to be brought into sharp focus.

How is this?

Because branding is in the eye of the customer, not in the eye of the company. Even if you do nothing as a company to create a brand, what your customers think of you is already creating your brand for you – for better or worse.

A company can survive – up to a point, at least – without marketing, but it can’t survive without being a brand because being a brand is inseparable from being a company, just like having a personality is inseparable from being a person.

Who comes first?

So, who’s on top? Who spoons whom? Who comes first?

In the first scenario, it’s clear that marketing thinks it’s on top and wraps its powerful arms around branding and holds it close.

But in the second scenario there’s no attraction and definitely no, um, intercourse without branding – because a person without a personality, just like a company without a brand, doesn’t exist. It’s dead in the sack.

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