What’s the Difference Between Advertising, Marketing, and Branding?


Branding is one of these three terms that is most underestimated. When most people think of branding, they think of a name, a logo, and maybe a color scheme. To say that’s just the tip of the iceberg is a massive understatement. 

Branding is the outward declaration of what a company is, does, and stands for. If done right, it should be a consistent, cross-platform expression of how a brand can positively impact their audience. 

While this does include basic branding elements like a name, a logo, etc., it goes far beyond that. How retail locations are structured, how a brand communicates across all channels, how & where a brand chooses to advertise, what marketing strategies a brand employs, how team members talk to customers, these are just some of the critical branding decisions a company has to make.

A logo doesn’t define the entirety of branding any more than a shirt defines the totality of your personal style. It’s just one element that has to work in harmony with a dozen others to create a cohesive result.

You’ll notice that when talking about branding, we mentioned both advertising and marketing. While these both contribute to the establishment of a brand, they are their own entities unto themselves.


Of the three terms we’re defining, advertising is the most cut & dry. Whether you’re advertising via traditional media, digital media, or experiential media, the definition is much the same.

Advertising is simply paying for placement with a third party, giving your brand a platform to advocate for itself. These third parties can include radio stations, television networks, social media platforms, billboard companies, websites, and much more. 

Since advertising is the avenue by which you’re most likely to reach a mass audience of people unfamiliar with you, it is a vital component of branding. This is many potential customers’ first touchpoint with your brand. How you present yourself, what you say, and how compelling your pitch is, decides whether they’ll take any additional steps or just ignore you.

While advertising is a straightforward endeavor, its importance can’t be understated. And despite what some will say, it’s more important now than ever. Attention has become currency; paying for that attention is one of the only ways to impact the uninitiated. 

When it comes to attention, you can either buy it or vie for it. We’ve covered buying it, so now let’s talk about vying for it.


Marketing is the term that those not in the know use most carelessly. Possibly because companies have Chief Marketing Officers but not Chief Brand Officers or Chief Advertising Officers, people assume that marketing is the blanket term that covers everything. However, many things they consider marketing we’d call branding, and many things they wouldn’t think of as marketing do fall under its purview. 

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

To us, the keywords in that definition are creating and delivering

Let’s create a quick hierarchy. Branding is about how a brand presents itself to the world across all touchpoints. Advertising fits entirely within the umbrella of branding. Marketing, however, has one foot in branding and one foot outside of it. 

What most people consider marketing to be is covered by the words we didn’t deem keywords – communicating and exchanging. How a brand communicates through un-paid, non-advertising channels is part of the marketing strategy. How the customer experience is handled at the point of sale is part of the marketing strategy. But the unsung heroes are creating and delivering, which both speak to a topic that most don’t think of as part of the marketing strategy – product development and value prop identification.

As we discuss in our We Can’t Market For You blog, there are four key elements to a marketing strategy called the Four P’s: 

Identification, selection, and development of a product or service.

Determination of its price.

Selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer’s place.

Development and implementation of a promotional strategy.

At best, we come in as the outside agency during step 3. At worst, we come in at the tail end of step 4. For this reason, we reject the title of a Marketing Agency since we don’t help brands develop new products, determine their price, or determine the place where it belongs. Those aspects of marketing live outside branding’s umbrella, while step 4 is certainly under it.

We hope this discussion of branding, advertising, and marketing helped shed some light on their similarities, their differences, and, most importantly, the relationship between each term. All three are valuable, and to grow a successful brand, you need to do all three well.

As a final note, for anyone wondering, General Public defines itself as a Brand Strategy Agency. We handle advertising, but our relationships are designed to cover the totality of the branding ecosystem, including those aspects of marketing that we consider a branding-adjacent activity. We can’t market for you, but we can help you build one hell of a brand.

What Is Branding?


Let’s Get To Work.