What’s the Difference Between Branding and Marketing?

June 28, 2017

We receive many emails from city leaders, practitioners and students around the world. From time to time we share some of the responses with readers.

I had an email from Sharon at a chamber of commerce on the East Coast of the USA, “Some members of our Board are confused about the difference between branding and marketing a city. I am finding it hard to explain. Can you help me?”

Sharon, your Board members are not alone in their confusion because I often hear discussions where the terms “branding” and “marketing” are mistakenly used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be. There are distinct differences.

City branding provides a framework for organizing, differentiating and focusing around your city's competitive and distinctive identity to ensure that its messages and experiences are as distinct, compelling, and rewarding as possible. Most importantly, it’s a promise that must be grounded in truth and reality.

Marketing, on the other hand, comprises the processes and actions for communications, product development, pricing, and promotions directed toward facilitating transactions with end customers. It involves deploying and following elements of the brand strategy such as positioning, personality, core experiences and tone of voice.

We can consider branding as long-term and strategic, while marketing is supposed to be strategic (or at least should be), it is usually short-term and mainly tactical. Brands are distinctive, where marketing isn’t.

You can consider marketing as being a part of branding. Not the other way around. And marketing alone can’t build your city’s brand. In essence, marketing is what enables you to communicate your brand messages or promise to customers, while branding relates to your competitive identity and how you keep the promise.

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