Branding and marketing appear inextricable. At least that's what thousands of handshakes and responses to "I build rebellious brands," has let me know. So let's set the record straight.
Branding expert Marty Neumeier phrases it, "marketing is any effort to get customers, branding is any effort to keep them." Or, branding is the emotional glue that makes someone prefer your business after you've shown that you can meet their needs.
It's kinda like this, any guy can draw the attention of a woman by showing that he is, in fact, a man (assuming she's looking for one). However, it's not the size of his muscles, the amount of money in his wallet, or the car he drives that creates a lasting impression. It's his character and the fact that his character doesn't waver. He markets his features, but wins the heart by triggering emotions. Without them, he's a commodity.
Here is when marketing and branding enter into conflict:
When marketing efforts get pushy/spammy without emotionally priming the customer.
Good marketing doesn't feel like marketing. An example of this is when you get an email from a company you love and happily open it. Without a doubt, the opposite happens too. you know, those emails you get that let you know this company is looking to get into your wallet. At that point, it's clear that the brand has been tarnished. Good luck getting your reputation back.
When the brand is not placed in front of the right people.
It's no surprise that the creative side has trouble putting things out there. The most well-thought-out and cohesive brand is worth nothing if no one sees it. Good marketing puts the brand out in the open to the right people, at the right time, and with the right message. Remember, good marketing doesn't feel like marketing.
You need both and they need to work together.
Everyone loves ice cream, but getting people to agree on a flavor is difficult. You gauge a room of people to see what they want and no one will seem to agree. Especially if someone suggests mint and chip.
My guess is that most people are indifferent, but there are those who vehemently oppose the flavor with everything they've got. Hell, someone even wrote an article on how terrible is it.
Here's the thing though:
One of my closest friends absolutely LOVES mint and chip ice cream. It's her favorite, she will go out of her way to get it and she'd happily argue with the author of that article about why it's a good choice.
Branding a startup works the same way. Some people will love it, some will not. You have to be ok without pleasing everyone.
It's a common misconception that you have to be a designer to be a branding expert. False.
Branding is the art of making people feel a certain way about your business. Design is crafting with intention, be it in the physical space, digital, interior, whatever.
The point is that they are different skills. And while they do overlap within people, they are not the same. For example, if you know your values, who your customers are, and how you make them feel, you've got a solid understanding of your brand. But, it doesn't mean you've got the creative prowess to translate those emotions into a logo, a website, or any other marketing collateral. Likewise, you could be the best designer in the world and not know a damn thing about positioning, user profiles, deriving brand values, or even navigating the process of extracting them from a client.
Branding is king. If you had to forgo knowing your brand and being design-conscious, the brand is more important. But, that doesn't mean you can expect to achieve greatness without design. Why?
Because design turns something ordinary into something spectacular, makes complicated things, like a website, easy, and adds the spark of delight that makes a brand irreplaceable.
It's kinda like this: you want a significant other who is a good person and well-intended. Someone who is confident in themselves and has a spirit to match. That's the brand.
But it'd make it easy to start the conversation if they were attractive and well put together. That's design.