One of the top questions and points of confusion for my clients is centered around marketing vs branding. What is the difference? What do I need? Which should I start out with?
Lord knows if you google this question you will get a TON of answers, many of which are complex because marketing and branding are complex and are utterly entwined with one another. To many it can feel a lot like the chicken or the egg… which comes first?
In a strange way, I am going to say BOTH. But before I unpack that a bit, I’m going to give you a definition that really helps my clients understand the fundamental difference between marketing and branding. Then we’ll talk about which one comes “first”…
Think of branding like building a house. You’ve got your strategy, vision, mission, values, positioning, attributes, voice, tone, colors, logos, identity pieces, etc… These all make up the foundation, walls, windows, roof, chimney, doors.
Marketing, on the other hand, is inviting people over TO your house so that you can serve them. So that you can enjoy their company, cook them a meal, provide an experience for them.
Marketing is putting yourself out there (“hey I have this great house that is cozy and welcoming and I’d be honored if you’d come so we can hang out and I can serve you a meal”), while branding was crafting the house in the first place (“what does MY special place need so that I can create a place of warmth and connection? What do I want people to FEEL like while they’re here and what kind of curb appeal do I need so my guests can sense the spirit of friendship before they’ve even stepped in the door?”)
Both branding and marketing are completely entwined because BOTH involve empathy and serving.
Branding helps you to anticipate your ideal client’s needs so that you can meet those needs in a deep and authentic way. Because our “gut feeling” is formed in one third of a second, branding is the art and science of seizing that opportunity to shape perception in a way that gives us the chance to start a conversation with the right people.
Marketing is also serving when you learn to make it not about you. Forget flashy, blitsy, loud or interruptive. As Seth Godin puts it, effective marketing is about understanding our customer’s world view and desires so we can connect with them.
Both branding AND marketing done right are about connecting with people so you can solve their problem in the way that they need. You need both. At the same time. From the beginning.
But how is that possible? How do you market something you haven’t branded yet? (ie, how do you invite people over to the house you haven’t built yet?)
Well think of it this way. If you are a genuine, hospitable person and you’re in the process of building a house, do you disconnect from all your relationships until the house is complete? No way! You find ways to engage with friends and family during the process. Maybe it’s over coffee. Maybe it’s at a restaurant. Maybe it’s in your rental. The point is, you still find meaningful ways to connect and engage and serve the people in your world through empathy.
In the early stages of your business, put yourself out there but do so with the lenses of empathy. Take new clients and jobs as they come in, but while you serve, seek to listen and understand what people need from you. Think beyond the literal here. You might be a plumber and think, Lyndsey…. Seriously, all people need is for me to come fix their sink. True. On the surface.
But put on those empathy lenses and be them for a minute, Walk in their shoes. What was their day like before they called you? As their sink backed up and they realized they weren’t going to be able to make dinner in time to get out the door for their kid’s soccer game but they didn’t have time or money to eat out (budget’s tight!!)… What are their immediate needs? What do they fear right now as they make a call to you? Do they trust you? Do they have full confidence that they’ll be treated fairly and you’ll fix their plumbing issue? How can you bring something unique to the table that other plumbers overlook in terms of care and offering peace of mind to your frazzled and disheartened customer?
As soon as you put yourself out there and start operating in this way, your marketing will start happening for you. Word will spread.
Here’s another piece of brilliance from Seth Godin: “Marketing is a force of change. A marketer is only effective if he creates change.” Serving creates change. Meeting seemingly tiny, insignificant, often overlooked needs creates change. Showing up authentically and caring for people genuinely creates change.
Forget mass exposure and hype. If you have even just a humble handful of people ready for your services, put your all into serving them well. Create CHANGE for your clients. Find out what they need and do the unexpected. People will start talking. Your brand will start being built. Discoveries will be made and when you’re to build the house – taking the plunge with professional, strategic branding – you will have guests ready and waiting to come in.
Always my best,