It’s Not Marketing. It’s a Brand Ecosystem.

Posted by: Megan Conway

Marketing has become an all-encompassing term. Most people tend to lump brand, public relations, advertising, social media (and sometimes even design) all under the “marketing” umbrella, which can get quite confusing, and for some (me), downright frustrating.

I’ve made the mistake of referring to my mom’s crocheting as knitting one too many times to know that the frustration is very real. Does the end result look the same to the naked eye? Absolutely. It’s an adorable baby sweater – who cares if it was done with a needle or single hook? (for the record – I totally care, Mom).

The point is that there are important and distinctive techniques, skills and strategies involved in each of these processes, with one common interest: the brand. When it comes to building, evaluating or evolving your company’s brand, it is critical to know these differences and what role they will play.

Brand: The Definition

The brand is the crucial building block of your company’s foundation that precedes any marketing efforts and answers the three important questions: Who you are, What you do and Why it matters. It is where you define values, identities, audiences and most importantly, the story. The brand is the promise you are delivering to your customers or clients and ultimately will determine the sustainability of the company.

It might be the most time consuming, both mentally and physically, of all the processes, but is what drives the subsequent design, marketing, pr and advertising strategies.

Marketing: The Delivery

While brand is strategic and organic, marketing is tactical. It is the overall process of delivering the brand to your audiences. Marketing is also actionable. It is where you will develop and implement your business plan goals and strategy, set your product/service pricing, identify your market and select your distribution channels.  Often sales and data driven, it focuses on both existing and potential customers and includes market research, strategic campaigns and promotions.

Note: Digital marketing is still marketing, just the channels are different. This includes anything “digital”: Web, SEM (search engine marketing, SEO and Pay per click advertising), smartphones, mobile markets, email marketing, online banner advertising.

Now, this is where it can get confusing. It is very easy (and common) to refer to advertising and public relations as marketing because they are actually the methods that fall under the marketing strategy umbrella. It’s easiest to think of advertising as paid media, and public relations as earned media, or as the old saying goes: “Advertising is what you pay for, PR is what you pray for.”


Advertising is a paid, media tactic that is considered a method of persuasion for your customers to buy your product or service. The traditional channels of advertising include television, radio, print and billboards. Most recently, companies are beginning to dive deeper into digital advertising through paid social media and search engine advertising, which has become an almost $10 billion dollar industry.

Public Relations

While advertising usually involves detailed strategies with a clearly defined end goal to measure and analyze, public relations is all about relationship building. The main focus is on the maintenance of the brand’s reputation in the eyes of the general public and any important stakeholders/investors.

Some argue that  public relations is the most invaluable to a brand because the stories written about your company or brand were not paid for, but instead verified by a unbiased third party, and therefore deemed more credible and valuable.

And Then There’s Social Media

Social media has introduced an entirely new category into the brand ecosystem, further blurring the lines of everything I just attempted to distinguish in the paragraphs above. We are now fully immersed in the era of digital marketing and social media is king. This is not to say that traditional marketing efforts are dead, just that the means by which the brands and messages are getting through to the customers and how we are measuring that success is evolving.

There also seems to no longer be a strong separation between B2B and B2C marketing, but rather a more fluid and nebulous communication between the two. In an ultra-mobile world, anyone with a phone and wireless access can become a brand ambassador, marketer, researcher and consumer, all rolled into one Twitter account.

The Brand Ecosystem

Even though each of these tactics have a specific definition and purpose, when done correctly, all of them work together towards the same goal: reinforcing the brand. Each process should compliment the other while enhancing and communicating the brand to build customer loyalty and solidify market sustainability. And as things are beginning to shift more to the digital/online platform, brands will have to work even harder to be heard above the noise. We think this means our jobs just got a little more fun.