Branding vs. Marketing – What to Invest in as an SME

In today’s competitive business landscape, it is increasingly challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to thrive. In order to better establish themselves in their industry and attract their target audience, SME owners need to consider investing in the branding and marketing of their business.

We’re going to explain some common misconceptions about branding and marketing, and their distinctions. We’ll also explain how they work hand in hand to ensure the long-term success of any business.

Common Misconceptions About Branding and Marketing

1. Branding is Only About Logo Design

A key misconception about branding is that it only involves logo design. There is much more to branding than just an effective logo. 

Branding involves a business’ mission, core values, voice, and communication style. These key qualities are presented through visual elements like the logo, but also through colour schemes and typography. 

Together, these elements help to establish a unique identity that sets a business apart from its competitors.

Branding is much more than just logo designs, as it includes other elements like the mission, core values, and voice of the business.

2. Branding and Marketing are Interchangeable 

Another misconception is that branding and marketing are synonymous. Although they are closely related, each plays different roles.

Branding is focused on building a unique and memorable identity for a business. On the other hand, marketing refers to the various methods used to convey this identity to consumers. These methods inform and attract them to the business’s products or services. We’ll return to their distinctions later in this article.

3. Branding and Marketing are Quick-Fix Solutions

Another misconception is that both branding and marketing are quick-fix solutions that lead to immediate and significant returns on investment. In actuality, both require a long-term, strategic approach to be effective, so businesses should not expect quick returns within a short timeframe.

For branding, the time needed to establish a strong brand identity depends on factors like the project scope, participation by stakeholders, and availability of resources. This can take anywhere from three months to a year.

Similarly, the timeframe for a marketing campaign depends on factors such as the overall budget and clients’ expectations. This would usually take around three months.

The success of brand identity and marketing campaigns can be measured using key performance indicators (KPIs). Commonly used KPIs include:

  • Impression and Engagement Rate – which measures the level of awareness generated about a brand among customers on a platform.
  • Social Share of Voice – which is used to measure the proportion of conversations about a particular brand across social media, relative to its competitors.
  • Conversion Rate – which represents the proportion of users who engage with marketing materials, such as signing up for a newsletter.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost – which refers to the amount of money it takes to convert a potential lead into a customer.

4. Branding is for Large Businesses Only

As brand studies mostly highlight large corporations, SMEs may believe that branding and marketing are only for large businesses with huge budgets. However, all businesses can benefit from branding regardless of their size

The difference lies in the level of complexity. With a reasonable budget, even the smallest of businesses can achieve great results through branding.

5. Marketing is Advertising

Many have the misconception that marketing only involves advertising. In reality, marketing comprises a wide range of offline and online methods that help to draw attention towards a business’ products or services. 

Businesses often make use of different combinations of methods in accordance with their needs. SMEs should take the time to explore these methods and identify what is best suited for them, given their own requirements and available resources. 

What Distinguishes Branding from Marketing?

In a nutshell, branding focuses on who you are as a business, while marketing focuses on what you do.

Branding Explained

Branding establishes the unique identity of a business and presents it effectively through a cohesive visual identity. Done well, branding can help businesses establish brand equity and brand loyalty. 

Brand equity refers to the unique value a brand has when consumers hold a positive image of it. This helps a brand stand out from its competitors and allows it to charge higher prices for its products or services.

Brand loyalty refers to the continued support consumers show a particular brand, prompting them to return to it again and again. Together, both these qualities help a company achieve increased sales and a stronger market position. 

Branding comprises visual elements like logos, colour schemes, and typography, as well as the core values and mission of the business.

Branding is important for all types of businesses regardless of size, and its purpose is to help them in the following 6 ways:

  • To stand out in a saturated market
  • To stay competitive with their products and services 
  • To connect with new target audiences who share the same values and goals as the business
  • To improve the overall image and reputation of the business
  • To humanise the business and make it easier for their customers to relate to them
  • To take hold of a business opportunity, which requires a branding exercise 

As part of the branding process, the business owner needs to answer these important questions

  • What is your business mission?
  • What are its core values?
  • What makes your business unique?
  • How do you want to be perceived by your target audience?

Marketing Explained

On the other hand, marketing comprises various methods that help businesses promote and sell their products or services to their target audience. The aim is to convert the audience into customers.

Marketing is carried out through various offline and online methods. Examples include:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Print Campaigns
  • Television Ads

Which Comes First—Branding or Marketing?

Branding forms the basis of a successful marketing strategy. 

Since branding helps businesses to identify and understand their target audience, needs, and preferences, the marketing campaigns will be strategised better to connect and resonate with them. 

Furthermore, a well-defined brand can forge strong brand loyalty among its customers, causing them to return for its product or service. Such customers are brand advocates who can spread the word about your brand to their networks and social circles.  

How Do Branding and Marketing Work Hand in Hand? 

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

USP refers to a distinctive characteristic of a business that makes it stand out from its competitors. It’s the secret sauce that makes customers prefer one brand over another.

After a brand figures out its USP through a branding exercise, it will promote it using different marketing methods. 

The unique selling proposition (USP) is a distinctive characteristic of a business that makes it stand out from its competitors.

Targeting the Right Audience

But what audience is these marketing methods speaking to? 

Again, a branding exercise will define the target audience of a brand. By doing so, it is easy for SMEs to decide on the appropriate marketing strategies that speak to the desired target audience.

Over time, marketing insights will help refine the brand’s understanding of its target audience. By analysing customer behaviours and preferences through focus groups, surveys, and more, SMEs can further tailor their branding message to meet the evolving needs of their customers.

Building Brand Loyalty

A business has to attract new customers to grow, but retaining existing customers is just as crucial. When designed to attract the desired target audience, a well-crafted brand identity will do better in creating a meaningful bond with this audience. 

Marketing efforts play a vital role in maintaining and strengthening that brand loyalty, by continuously engaging with and providing value to returning customers. For example, a brand can personalise content catering to specific audiences, special promotions, and offers, or exceptional customer service.

Establishing Social Media Presence

Posting content on social media platforms is the most prevalent way of staying connected to customers. Branding ensures that all content maintains a consistent look and feel to establish recognisability and familiarity. 

Subsequently, marketing focuses on driving traffic to these social media platforms.  Doing so creates more brand exposure, leading to a growing consumer base and more potential customers.

Facilitating Strategic Partnerships

SMEs should seek to build long-term strategic partnerships for business growth.

With a strong brand identity, a brand can recognise the appropriate potential partners to reach out to. Also, a well-crafted brand identity makes the brand more appealing to these potential partners. 

On the other hand, marketing activities help to raise awareness and enhance the visibility of the SME within its industry. Through targeted campaigns, content marketing, and industry events, SMEs can demonstrate their expertise and build long-term relationships with potential partners. 

As businesses collaborate, they effectively tap into each other’s network of customers, expanding their reach and potential client base.

Conclusion – Which is More Important to Invest in, Branding or Marketing?

Branding and marketing are like two sides of the same coin. As important as it is to promote one’s products and services, it is equally important to invest in building a unique and memorable brand that audiences won’t forget. Instead of choosing one over the other, think about how to invest in both effectively.

If you’re looking to develop your brand, be sure to reach out to a branding agency for further guidance on developing a good go-to-market strategy