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Marketing, Branding and Selling: What’s the Difference?

Learn the differences between branding, marketing and selling, and how each part works to build your business.

What are the differences between branding, marketing and selling? In the world of the marketer, these three words are used interchangeably. They aren’t interchangeable, however. There’s quite a bit of difference between the three.

The Differences Between Branding, Marketing and Selling

No matter how often selling is confused for marketing, or marketing is confused with branding, there’s quite a difference between their uses and processes.


Branding is the baseline of your business. Your brand communicates your company’s values to customers. It helps people build a clear picture in their head of what you stand for. Brand isn’t the “buy now” button. It’s the About Me page with your brand story. When marketing has made its last hurrah and the ad has stopped, branding is still there.

Brand,” with the big “B,” is your logo and tagline, but it’s more than that. It’s the idea about your company that you want people to have. When they picture your logo or hear your name, your brand is what pops up next.

Think about a car. Better yet, think about your car. What kind of car do you own? -And when you answer that question, what’s the first thing you think of?

For example, most people won’t say, “I have a V90.” They’ll say, “I have a Volvo V90.” For you serious car enthusiasts, you don’t say, “I have a Levante.” No, no. Because it’s the brand that really says it all. “I have (pause for effect) a Maserati.”

Branding Promise

Now, maybe marketing got out there and talked about how great a Maserati is or how it handles. Marketing says, “Buy me. I’m beautiful.” But the brand, the brand whispers, “Luxury. Sporty. Stylish. High performance.”

Branding has to deliver on its promise. If, for instance, your Maserati wasn’t really top-of-the-line quality, word would shortly get around. However, because your Maserati upholds what the company’s brand says it does, there’s a kind of awe when people see it. A whispered, “Wow, man, look at that Maserati.

This kind of follow through with branding turns customers into brand advocates. Cheerleaders. Die-hard “I’ll never buy anything but a Chevy” people. It’s vital for the success of the business, as well as any marketing plan put out there. Your copywriting and message are going to matter!


If branding is the idea, marketing is everything you do to reach out to people with that idea. Marketing reaches out into the unknown to find prospects. It finds the Sallys of the world that need vacuum cleaners and the Franks that need lawn mowers (or vice versa).

Although similar to selling, marketing and selling teams often times don’t even communicate in the same company. It’s a shame, because companies that integrate these departments and keep them talking to each other tend to have better performance.

After branding, marketing is the preparatory message. It warms people up for the sale using things like television ads or social media. Video marketing, snapchats, direct mail, it’s all marketing.

Marketing says, “Come on in and test drive a Maserati!” However, marketing has to work with what it has. For example, a carrot is orange. Marketing can’t sit there and tell you it’s purple. Why? Because when you get to sales you’ll find out that darn carrot is orange, just like you thought it was, and you stop trusting. -And trust is a big company builder.

In short, marketing brings the prospective customers in so sales can reach them better.


Eventually, somebody is going to come into your store or onto your website. At this point you step into sales. Now, while you’re not going to convince somebody that they need what you’re selling, you might convince them that they need what you’re selling.

For example, a thirsty person may need a drink. You, lucky salesperson that you are, happen to have a drink. However, so do thirty other people. Marketing lets people know that you have a drink. Sales convinces people that – out of thirty other people – you are the one who has the right drink for them.

Sales is the power of peaceful persuasion and perceived value. You aren’t trying to convince someone they want a drink after they just drank an ocean. You’re showing someone that your drink will quench their thirst better.

Branding, Marketing and Sales: The Triad

If you’re hoping to grow online, having this triad go to work for you will bring strong results, but you must use them correctly. In reality, they’re parts of a holistic whole; you can’t do one well without the other.

  • Branding tells the prospect about the company and product
  • Marketing points the prospect to where they can find the product
  • Sales tells the prospect that you have the best version of the product for them

Using these terms interchangeably is fine; use them however you want. But remember that they really aren’t the same. Understand the difference between branding, marketing and selling so you can apply them as they deserve. Each one serves an important part in the robust growth of your business.

The 4 Layers of Brand Marketing

With the above definitions, brand marketing is letting people know your brand – out of the many out there – is the best brand to use for XYZ.

-But it’s easy to get stuck in the mental mud hole of names. For example, we market ourselves as organic marketers and SEO specialists. With that in mind, you might look at our blog categories and think, “Well, it makes sense that SEOs would share information about optimization. What would they know about brand marketing, though?”

I’ve never been a fan of titles since they really mean zero when you run your own company. We could have called ourselves the Branding, Content Development, Digital Marketing, SEO, Social Media and Reputation Management Company, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue. It has no flow. It’s hell to type… and can you imagine the business cards? Moving right along.

How do all these actions – branding, content development, SEO, social media and reputation management – tie together in digital marketing?

[Infographic] 4 layers of online brand marketing

The Base of the Digital Marketing Pyramid – Your Brand

Think of digital marketing as a pyramid. Your brand is the base. It’s the base because, while all these things are what you do, your brand is what you are, in the business sense. It’s how your customers perceive your business. You can’t hire SEOs, copywriters, reputation managers, etc. and let them roam free without at least a little bit of guidance, because all these things affect your brand.

So the first layer of the digital marketing pyramid is your brand.

Second Layer of the Digital Marketing Pyramid – Your Website

Your website is the second layer; a lot of things are involved in this: design, structure, content, SEO. All four can directly affect how your brand is perceived. They can directly influence the message your brand is sending out. This is where the ROI of digital marketing starts affecting your brand’s bottom line.

Alright, hold up. I was with you until the SEO. What does SEO have to do with branding?

Let’s look at all the places on page SEO touches your brand:

The Alt Attribute

To you, this may just be an SEO “trick” – a minor piece of code. For visitors with images turned off, however, this is an extra bit of information. How that information is shown – misspelled, repetitive, uninformative (for example) – can have a negative or positive impact on how people see your site, and thus, how they see your brand.

Page Titles and Descriptions

A real SEO, a hard core SEO, would know that page titles and descriptions have to be crafted. They aren’t written; they’re built. These two pieces have to:

  1. Carry enough relevance and key term weight to rank well
  2. Be written well enough to attract potential visitors’ eyes
  3. Entice the visitor to click through
  4. Carry through with the brand’s message

In short, you can’t have Key Term | Key Term | Key Term – Company Name. No matter how you write this formula, it all looks spammy. You need to incorporate other words, such as learn, read, find out – action words that cause them to act.

Anchor Text

When you have several links on a page and they all say the same thing, this can have a negative impact on how your brand is perceived. Like titles and descriptions, anchor text has to be chosen for both optimization and visitor usefulness.

These are just a few of the places on page SEO touches your brand; an in depth SEO campaign has to be carefully configured to compliment the message your brand is trying to convey.

Third Layer of the Digital Marketing Pyramid – Content Development and Off Page SEO

The third layer isn’t so much about your site as it is about your digital marketing, and it includes content development and off page SEO.

Now, off page SEO has a lot to do with link building – although link building isn’t the end-all-be-all of it. With link building and content development, you still have to take in brand consideration. It’s not how many places link to you, or how many sites accept your guest posts; it’s who.

As an extreme example, don’t you think you’d gain more authority from an article on Oprah Winfrey’s site? Compare that to the questionable returns from an article marketing directory like eHow or Associated Content. In other words, whether it’s building back links or creating content, it’s not so much quantity as it is quality.

A good SEO – a true optimization specialist – may use lower quality links for a massive push, but the goal is the high-quality authoritative links. They’ll work with a strong content developer to create quality articles for a hand-picked set of guest posting sites, as well.

Ummm… How does this work with branding?

The more authority these articles and links give you, the more authoritative your brand is perceived to have – by visitors and search engines. A bunch of crap articles on crap sites with crap links… well, crap rubs off on brands just as it does on people.

Top Layer of the Digital Marketing Pyramid – Social and Reputation Management

If you aren’t involved in your social and reputation campaigns, shame on you. These two processes are almost synonymous, and can make or break a brand. This layer of the digital marketing pyramid is the absolutely public layer, where it all hangs out for the world to see.

Your social and reputation have to be managed with kid gloves. Your brand (not the SM firm or RM firm) will be interacting with the public.

Digital Marketing and Branding Become Selling

At each point of the digital marketing pyramid, you should be there, because it all supports your sales enablement and, ultimately, your bottom line. This doesn’t mean watching every move; you have to trust your SEO providers, content developers, etc. to have your best interests in mind. However, you do need to check in.

It means asking, “Do you understand my brand’s message?” It means looking at the first few optimized pages and sending feedback, “Hey, I’d rather have that little arrow thing in the page title than the bar.” It means reading the articles provided by your content developer, because those articles will represent your brand. In short, it means being involved in your brand’s efforts – at least on the ground floor of each level.

If you have a small company, you’re probably doing most of this on your own. You can’t get more involved than that. So what it means for you is that, at each level, you have to check your campaigns and efforts to make sure you haven’t lost site of your brand’s message.

A company’s brand is one of the most important – if not the most – considerations, no matter what the campaign is. Once it’s tarnished, it’s really hard to get it to shine as brightly as it once did, with few exceptions. Treat yours with respect.

If you don’t have these cornerstones, you’ll never make it to “Oh yeah, I love that brand!”

If you need help with your digital marketing, branding or selling points, contact us. We’ll get you started on the road to success!

The 4 Layers Of Online Brand Marketing Updated: March 30, 2022

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Learn the differences between branding, marketing and selling, and how each part works to build your business.

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