Branding vs. marketing vs. public relations (and why you need all three)
Every New Kinder hears the same handful of questions all the time:
“What is branding, even?!”
“What’s the difference between branding and marketing? Public relations? Campaigns?”
“How do all of these pieces fit together (and why am I paying for all of them)?”
As a tech marketer, you’re constantly faced with tight budgets and quick release dates. So it’s helpful to know exactly where you’ll need to turn to get the best return on your time, energy, and budget.
To do that, you need to know the distinctions between branding vs. marketing vs. public relations, what role each plays in shaping what your customers think of you, and how and when to leverage each of them.
So let’s set the record straight, shall we?
Your brand is the full expression of your organization—the public’s perception of how you look, sound, and act. Ultimately, your brand is your reputation.
Branding is the strategic work that goes into forming this reputation and how you present yourself to the world. It’s the sum total of your story, your visual identity, and the messages you share.
Contrary to popular belief, your brand is much more than your logo alone.
Take Nike, for example. Most people could recognize the Swoosh anywhere. But the Nike brand experience is about a lot more than just their logo. Alone, it looks like little more than a stylized checkmark. What makes Nike, *Nike*, is the meaning that’s been carefully built into that symbol—and every other brand touchpoint—over time.
The feeling of athleticism, even invincibility, that the Swoosh represents. The endorsements and images of athletes winning championships and crushing world records. The stories of unrelenting perseverance and human triumph. Nike’s brand—their reputation—is one of victory. And it’s the promise that you, the consumer, can own a piece of that experience by aligning yourself with the brand (and by buying a pair of those sweet new kicks).
The best brands tell a cohesive story throughout every touchpoint. Their mission, vision, values, story, voice, and visual identity all align to create an experience that customers will learn to recognize (and expect) over time.
They clearly and consistently articulate their purpose, perspective, and personality—combined, these elements make up what we call the Brand Layers.
- Purpose — Why you exist. Your mission, vision, values, and story.
- Perspective — What you stand for. Your unique view on the world and how you are uniquely positioned to make it better.
- Personality — How you look, sound, and act. The traits and behaviors the world will come to know and expect from you.
It’s helpful to think of your brand (and the process of branding) as the foundation of all your communication efforts.
The strongest brands are designed to be long-lasting and evergreen. Particularly in the fast-moving and ever-evolving tech industry, your brand should serve as the anchor that steadies your organization when all other aspects of your world are in flux. And while brands do get facelifts every once in a while (Slack recently unveiled a new identity), they shouldn’t be so fluid that they change every time the wind blows.
In other words, your brand story is not the place to tackle fleeting, topical, or largely ephemeral brand perception issues. It’s not the place to argue with your detractors to try to make them see your point of view. And it’s not the place to address an attack from a competitor or an unfavorable story in the press.
An authentic brand story and identity should still look and sound and feel like you three, five, even ten years from now. That means keeping things positive. Staying true to your roots. Reminding yourself and your customers why you are uniquely positioned to solve a meaningful problem.
If your tech company is new to the world, or if you feel as though you aren’t hitting the right mark with your audiences, come back to your branding. Are your communications rooted in the story of what’s always been—and will always be—true about your organization? Is your visual identity lining up with what you want people to know about you?
Equipped with a solid brand foundation, you’re ready to start thinking about the tactical ways you share it with the world.
Marketing is the tangible execution of your brand to build engagement and drives sales. It’s how you communicate your brand, products, and services to convert leads into customers. And it’s how you generate demand to ultimately drive revenue.
Some organizations build marketing teams based on the specific channels they target. For example, in “High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People,” Elad Gil divides marketing into several different functions, including growth marketing, product marketing, and social media marketing. But at their core, they all serve the same purpose: building customer engagement and driving sales.
Here are some common examples of marketing in action:
- Email marketing (nurture or drip campaigns, newsletters, etc.)
- Customer testimonials
- Case studies
- One-pagers, brochures, and other pieces of printed collateral
- Social media campaigns
- Themed / seasonal campaigns
- Search engine optimization (SEO) / content marketing
The best brands align marketing and brand—story, messaging, visual identity, mission, vision, values—to create cohesive, “on-brand” campaigns and assets.
The worst misuse or flat-out ignore their brand, resulting in marketing materials with a wildly different look and feel from what customers thought they were getting. This disjointed approach causes confusion, erodes affinity, and diminishes loyalty.
Your company’s marketing efforts should be shaped and informed by the foundation of your brand. But marketing campaigns, which are often more “seasonal” or timely in nature, are the perfect place to test out various messaging approaches to see what works best in terms of inspiring action.
Your brand’s story should tell the world what your company stands for. Your marketing efforts should influence your customers to try, buy, download, share.
Public Relations (PR)
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” At its core, PR is about influencing, engaging, and building relationships with an organization’s stakeholders.
PR helps organizations across industries generate positive perceptions (and/or counteract negative perceptions) through media relations and an ongoing focus on reputation management. It’s also largely responsible for the dissemination of time-sensitive or urgent news, like crisis communications.
Remember those detractors we talked about earlier—the negative perceptions you may feel tempted to tackle with your brand story (but shouldn’t)? Your PR strategy can be the right place to counteract the arguments of your detractors. The quick, issue-specific nature of PR lends itself well to this kind of communication—and shows that you can be both receptive and responsive to feedback.
PR is also a valuable outlet for messages intended to advance your agenda or relay your point of view on a timely topic. Again, the time-sensitive nature of PR—which often revolves around the media and news cycles—makes it the perfect avenue for responding to pertinent issues as they arise.
That said, your brand still influences your public relations strategy. Every press release, media kit, and social media update should be aligned to and guided by your high level story, messaging, and visual identity system. Having a cohesive PR strategy that ties back to your story helps build trust—showing the world they can count on you to be consistent and reliable. It helps your audiences recognize your communications as *you*. And in times of uncertainty or change, that level of stability can be crucial for retaining customers.
While branding, marketing, and PR serve different functions, they are all vital elements in the best organization’s communications strategies. Particularly in the world of tech—where the playing field is crowded and change is rapid—cohesiveness is key.
Consistency in your messaging strategy can mean the difference between building lasting trust amongst your customers or giving up market share to competitors who may be telling a more compelling story. And because your branding, marketing, and PR efforts all live within the same system—intended to grow your market share from different angles—knowing how and when to lift each of those levers at the right moments can help set you apart from the rest.
Is your brand the backbone of your organization’s communications efforts? Let’s think it through together. We’d love to help.