Skip to main content
TLDR: I Think, Therefore I Brand.

All boundaries are tenuous. Whether marked by a handshake or a stretch of steel bollards, the strength of a border ultimately comes down to authority. Who has it. Or, more importantly, the power to enforce it.

In the absence of clear authority, or deterrent, conflict escalates. Each side emboldened to lay claim to their rightful territory. Crimea. The East China Sea. Kashmir and the Gaza Strip. Tensions simmering, or at full boil, that not only have implications for the parties involved, but humanity as a whole.

All companies experience similar territorial disputes, whether between lines of business, departments or individuals. They may not play out on a global stage, but given the recent departure of Jony Ive from Apple, it’s clear that even the most successful businesses are not immune. And while some conflicts arise in the wake of a change to the business, such as Apple’s alleged shift in priority from design to engineering, others take the form of ideological divides that consistently flare at both organizational and industry levels.

One example of this type of border-hopping, tribal conflict is the ongoing enmity between branding and marketing. Whether under the same roof or part of a multi-organizational tangle, these factions have for years (forever?) struggled with where to draw the line of demarcation. Or at least an agreed upon DMZ. Politics. Revenue. Egos. Regardless of the underlying cause for these tensions, there exists a baton pass, or grenade toss, between these uneasy neighbors that has larger implications on the greater whole — the business.

Part of the challenge stems from this dualistic view of branding and marketing as related, but separate parts. In his fantastically titled Meditations On First Philosophy In Which The Existence Of God And The Immortality Of The Soul Are Demonstrated, René Descartes argued the mind and body held a similar status. That a human was a composite entity of mind and matter, with the mind a mental substance — the soul or conscious thought — and matter a physical substance — the body or thing that exists. However closely joined, theses substances were fundamentally different in nature.

Depending on which side of the wall you hail from, this may sound like a familiar, and appropriate, analogy for the roles of branding and marketing. After all, your brand is your essence. Your soul. How you think, what you believe, why you exist. Marketing, in this view, is the physical manifestation of that essence. The form you take to the outside world, how you connect to it and receive stimuli from it. A simple, clear hierarchy that says a strong, well-defined brand will drive strong, well-designed marketing efforts to deliver strong, well-deserved results for the business.

A happy composite entity.

The danger with this line of thinking lies in the implied, linear relationship between brand, marketing and outcome. As logical and pragmatic as that hierarchy may be, it fails to account for how the external world impacts your brand, a process driven by feedback and learning that only the external world, through its conduit marketing, can provide.

Perception is reality, but it is a shared one.

Descartes too struggled with how to account for the layer of interactivity between his joined, but separate elements. His theory relied on the pineal gland, an inconspicuous organ located in the epithalamus, near the center of the brain for those of you dissecting at home. Though today we know the pineal gland as a producer melatonin that regulates sleep cycles, to Descartes it was the smoking gun, or better yet, “principle seat of the soul” that connected the immaterial mind to a material body. Despite the catchy name, the pineal gland was not universally recognized as the universal authority, kicking off the ongoing 380 year search for a better solution to this Mind-Body Problem.

For some of Descartes’ disciples, the solution was to kick responsibility upstairs, declaring that all mind-body interactions required the direct intervention of God. An easy out, you could say. But this need for a unifying force is at the heart of the struggle between branding and marketing as well. Despite the different roles they play and value they deliver, they are ultimately parts of a greater whole. And while operating at different ends of a spectrum, the two exist as a single entity in the eyes of your company and your customers — your brand.

On one end of the spectrum you have branding, an inward focused effort designed to define the beliefs, vision and values of your business. It codifies culture through words, images, symbols and behavioral norms to establish a shared identity for the stakeholders and agents of your brand.

On the other, you have marketing, the outward focused effort to communicate this brand culture externally to generate awareness and interest in your company or product. Shaped by the desired audience and mediums for reaching them, marketing packages culture into enticing propositions that connect the value of the brand’s output with the brand itself.

Authenticity. Trust. Consistency. All the things people are looking for in brands today come from this alignment of culture and communication. Mind and body. Two pieces of the greater whole, your brand the unifying force and ultimate authority.

In this view your brand not only defines your value, but validates it with those you wish to deliver it to.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how these components interact or where you draw the boundaries between them. It comes down to the innate need for authority. A single vision that unites them, and all the other components of your business, to move together toward a shared goal.

To provide the universal commonality where others see distinctions.

When the questions arise about whether it’s a brand issue or a marketing issue, you can look to the spectrum for your answer, starting with the core and working outward. Does your brand still reflect the values and vision for who you are and why you exist? Has the market or methodology for how you deliver value changed? Are you targeting the same people and are they in the same places?

A change in your vision or business starts with branding. A change in how, where or what you’re communicating about it starts with marketing. And in the middle, a boundary defended and maintained by a clear, absolute authority.

Your happy composite. Brand.

Header art by: John Michael Comstock