Brand, Marketing, Design & Advertising: Are They Really That Different?

In 2010, I was first hired as a Creative Director at one of the largest credit unions in Upstate New York. In the 60-year history of the company, I was the first ever “creative” that was hired in the small-town-rooted financial institution. No one knew what I did. I recall someone asking me “So, what exactly do you do here?” after being there for a few months (incidentally, they knew my job title).


I wouldn’t expect them to know what I did, since their background was in finance. They are two completely different worlds. At that time, the fact that they didn’t know what I did was also an indication of how much they needed my help.

After about 2.5 years and with some huge help from my hard-working colleagues, we successfully rebranded the company with huge results to show for it. After that, the company knew exactly how much all of the above terms made a difference in the company’s increased awareness, engagement, conversions and profit.

There is a lot of confusion between the differing terms Branding, Marketing, Design & Advertising.

In some cases, like my former colleague, there is cluelessness of what each (or any) of those terms mean. Each one has a different meaning in the context of relation to the other. However, they definitely overlap with regard to how it is applied within business and sales. I think this overlapping relationship causes a lot of confusion as to what is what, which is why this will be the first “meaty” post for this blog. Helping to define these terms will help pave the path for the rest of the articles that I’ll be posting in the future.


[quote title=”Title” Text=”No one knew what I did. I recall someone actually asking me ‘So, what exactly do you do here?’ after being there for a few months (incidentally, that person knew my job title).”]


Here are my modern day definitions of each term, in hopes of more clearly defining and differentiating from one another:


This is probably the hardest for me to define because of the factors that are involved in branding a company. I see this as the overarching umbrella that your marketing, design and advertising campaigns fall under. The brand of your company is the manner by which your company can differentiate from others from an emotional impact. What I mean is that your brand can, and should, emotionally impact your influencers (c-level execs, employees, existing customers, potential customers, your grandma, etc).

Brand is the essence of your company by way of your values, your mission, the promise to your customers, and the personality that you broadcast to influencers. It is also the strategy of which you organize your products, services, and even yourself, within the structure of your company.

To be clear, a branding is NOT just getting a logo designed. Stepping off of my soapbox now… Please feel free to keep reading.


Marketing is the strategy behind how to implement your brand. Marketing includes how, when and who you broadcast your brand to. An example of this would be if you are a technology company that is focused on targeting teens, you’re marketing would include communicating your brand through Facebook as opposed to LinkedIn, which focuses more on career-oriented adults. In order to boost your reach, you would want to consider using SEM or PPC methods.

Visual design (web, app, print, etc.), copywriting, photography, and video would be tools that you use to market to your audience.


Design is the visual interpretation of your brand and the vehicle by which you market to your audience. Visual design would dictate how your logo looks and the color palette you choose, how your website interface looks, what your digital letterhead of SlideShare presentation looks like, your social media infographics, etc. etc. The key here is to be consistent in order to truly communicate your brand. I’ll cover best practices in future posts!

Disclaimer: I do consider photography and copywriting to be just as important as visual design, and is often looked over as an important asset to brand. My assumption is that most business people will categorize copywriting and photography into the subject of design.


In my personal opinion, this term is outdated. In basic terms, advertising is an announcement of a product or service whether it’s via print or web. This term originated when print ads in magazines, newspapers, and television were the main media for companies to market. Today, lot has changed with regard to people’s habits for sharing and receiving information. I would consider “advertising” being replaced with the term “campaign”. So instead of running a print ad, companies now invest time, energy and money into social media campaigns and messaging. I’ve found that most of the time, companies will avoid spending their energy on print ads, and opt for outbound marketing in the form of targeted banner ads. However, those banner ads typically will fall under a campaign of some kind.



These definitions supplement what you’ll find online. I’ve linked each term to both Webster’s and Wikipedias definitions just for reference below, but I’ve found that those definitions to be abstract and a little confusing:


Throughout my career I’ve seen and heard these terms used interchangeably. I mean, heck, I’m guilty of mixing up these terms myself! Hopefully, further defining and expanding these terms for you will help to communicate more clearly to creative, sales and/or marketing teams and strategists.

Actually, writing this post was a good refresher for me so even if no one else reads this, at least I personally benefitted from it. ☺

Have an opinion or question? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and feedback in the comments below.

~ Christine