Branding Vs Marketing

Big Idea: “Branding is what makes your marketing effective.”

Without great branding, you are flushing your money down the drain with marketing. Without great marketing, your branding is going to hit a ceiling of effectiveness. You need both if you want to grow your business and become an authority in whatever product or service you provide. This is especially true with service-oriented businesses, and that is the angle that I will be thinking of most in this article.

How does this idea have to do with Real Estate Photography? A lot.

You see, I have not always been a real estate photographer. Before this career shift, I used to be a top sales rep for the #1 Lead-Generation service in America. I’ve talked to literally thousands of small business owners, and have had the unique opportunity to hear how they handle their businesses. I learned a lot from that experience.

Today we are going to cover this idea of marketing vs branding. One thing that stuck out in my time speaking with small business owners is how they have NO idea how to brand themselves and market, or they THINK they have an idea...but still really have no idea how to be effective.

This lack of simple knowledge and understanding in how to market and brand literally costs small businesses thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. They, and perhaps you, are passing on the opportunity to either grow and expand your business to a limitless margin or, for other personality types, working less and making far more money.

So before we can merge the ideas together, we need to define each concept and break each down into its individual parts. Let’s Begin.

Marketing - Getting your product or services “out there.”

This means generating visibility and attracting interest to whatever product or service you offer.

Marketing is a four letter word to many small business owners, and I could not even mention the word ‘marketing’ without having potential whiplash of the business owner shutting down entirely. As soon as you say the word they immediately grab the side pocket of their jeans where their wallet is located to make sure it is still there.

Did you Know? In 2019, GEICO spent almost $2 Billion on Advertising.

The average company spends around 10% of their total revenue on advertising.

For many companies, marketing makes money. That’s why they do it. Without advertising, many companies would be either drastically stunted or go bankrupt. Why? Because it works.

While a good portion of scaling a business can benefit from paid marketing services, spending a lot of money on these services is not necessary. This is especially true if you do not intend on growing rapidly. That’s because the building blocks of marketing have a wide-range. Here are the 9 most common building blocks, listed in the order of cost (order can vary by company).

Building Blocks of Marketing:

  1. Word of Mouth

  2. Business Cards

  3. Website

  4. Social Media

  5. Digital Material

  6. Print Material (Flyers, brochures, post-cards, etc.)

  7. “Display” Material (Yard signs, car magnets/decals, etc.)

  8. Paid Ad/ Lead generation services

  9. Additional Paid Services

If you are the type who enjoys reading, here’s a break-down of each item. If you, like me, prefer skimming, then feel free to jump down to the Branding section (it’s worth a skim).

Word of Mouth- This, for many people, is the bread and butter of their business. This is especially true for service-oriented businesses and skilled trades. Depending on the demand, market, and type of service, you may never really “need” to move on to many other marketing blocks. If, however, you are reading means you probably at least want to learn to grow more or be more effective.

Business Card- Pretty straightforward. I personally believe having a high-end business card is important, but we will cover that more in the branding section.

Website - A simple website is critical in today’s online society. I would also include a Google My Business page and other websites, such as Yelp, in this block where you can have your companies basic information able to be found online.

Social Media- Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the heavy hitters here. If you are going this route, however, I would start by choosing the one that you vibe with the most and stick with that. Try to post at least 3 times per week (very minimum) to show your audience that you are available, qualified, and active. The majority of your jobs coming from Social Media will be people who see a post at the right time and they need your service and call. This is why the more posts you have, the better. It also gives your company authority in your market so you will stand above your competition.

Digital Material - This is where targeting marketing begins. Digital Material is your email blast campaigns, writing blog posts, being featured on other companies’ websites, having people tag you and mention your services, etc. This is where you answer the question, “how can I become visible to another company’s/partner’s audience?”

Print Material (Flyers, brochures, post-cards, etc.) - Similar to digital material, but physical. Find where your target audience hangs out in a physical location and put a stack of business cards, flyers, brochures, etc. This is getting yourself out there where people physically gather. Using my Real Estate Photography as an example, I partner with a few local brokerages where I have my business cards and flyers advertising my services available.

“Display” Material (Yard signs, car magnets/decals, etc.) - This is less-targeted than Print Material, but can often have higher yields and returns on investment. Depending on your company, having a car magnet and yard signs can be equally as effective as word of mouth. Much of marketing is about being where your targeted audience needs you when they need you. Your audience seeing your car magnet or yard sign could trigger that “Aha” moment that they have been waiting for.

Paid Ads/Lead Generation Services - When you are ready to begin growing more rapidly, paid ads can be the very catalyst for your business to take off. There are two scary parts to this: First, different paid ads for your company will be far more effective than others. Second, it can be impossible to find out which work and which don’t work without spending considerable amounts of money. That is where additional paid services can come in place.

Additional Paid Services (Think marketing specialist for your website, SEO, etc.) - When you have a considerable amount of money to invest in growing, but not a considerable amount of extra time, additional paid services are available. Here is where you bring on, or outsource, a marketing specialist to make your ROI for paid advertising more effective, hire a website builder to make the website better, or create content that brings customers to you. When you start thinking about $10’s of thousands of dollars spent on marketing, these professionals are essential.

No matter where you are on this marketing journey, developing each of these blocks will help you grow. Start with your word of mouth and work to each next step once you establish the previous block. Once you hit your sweet spot, it is up to you to decide if you would like to scale up and go to the next block of marketing.

Branding - Your Business Identity.

“Branding is what makes your marketing effective. Branding is everything.”

"When I think of (Your Company), I think of/how X, Y, and Z"

Before moving on with the importance of branding, let me state a disclaimer, “If you are in an industry where your services are scarce, then you will probably generate plenty of business regardless of your branding or marketing.” This is what I refer to as “false branding success syndrome.” It is the idea that you are a master at marketing and branding because you are making a lot of money. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it is a great sweet spot or honey hole to be in. This post is designed to help people in a more competitive market or who want to increase their market share and scale more.

Now let’s jump in:

If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

A great quote to sum up the idea of branding provided to us by Alexander Hamilton. The principle he spoke of resonates strongly here. Branding is everything. It is the clothes you wear, how you answer your phone, the card stock used for your business card, the quality and composition of your flyers and online material….everything. Every interaction you have with anyone, whether direct or indirect, is a direct reflection of your brand.

Let me give a math example:

Company X :

Branding Effectiveness: 10%

Yearly Marketing Budget: $10k

ROI on Marketing: 10x

Revenue from Marketing: $100k

Branding effectiveness is a term I made up, and I am attributing a made up percentage. For this example, branding effectiveness is the ROI from marketing efforts. Branding effectiveness can be your floor for marketing, or it can be your ceiling.

What I mean here is this, let’s say you do not have a website or phone number or address or anything. Your branding effectiveness would be 0%. You can spend $1 Million dollars on ads, but if the client cannot click or call, then it is worthless. On the other hand, let’s say, for example, Apple’s Branding Effectiveness is 30%. That means when they run commercials and paid ads, they are having 30% of the target audience click and buy their product at some point.

Back to the company, but this time increasing branding effectiveness:

Company X :

Branding Effectiveness: 20%

Yearly Marketing Budget: $10k

ROI on Marketing: 20x

Revenue from Marketing: $200k

This time, Company X made $200k on revenue from the same $10k in marketing because their brand was better.

The beauty of branding can be seen in trackable instances like this, but what about the nontrackable ones? What about the clients who never called back because the secretary was rude? How about that time at the restaurant where you felt like the hostess was preoccupied and the server looked irritated? You may have loved the food, but all you remember was the negative experience that caused you to decide not to ever go back...and tell other people to never go back either.

Another way of saying this is, everything you do impacts the overall experience for your targeted client. The clothes you wear, how you answer your phone, the card stock used for your business card, the quality and composition of your flyers and online material. Sure, you want to increase your paid marketing ROI, but simple steps can help you increase your Word of mouth many times over.

So let’s go back to our marketing blocks and add what positive impact branding looks like:

Branding in your Marketing:

Word of Mouth- You look and sound professional. You make it easy for your clients and provide exceptional quality services or products.

Business Cards- Basic card stock is ok, but does your logo look like you care about quality and professionalism? If your card is complicated and confusing, it is safe to assume you will be as well.

Website- Make sure it works. Answer the questions your clients have when they go. Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for. If you can assist here, they will have no trouble paying you to assist in the bigger items.

Social Media- My biggest question when looking for a professional on social media: “Are they still in business and do they do quality work?” Posting shows you are available for your clients and that your work is not something you should hide.

Digital Material - Sales is a service. Are you making it easy for your clients to find you and hire you?

Print Material (Flyers, brochures, post-cards, etc.) - If it doesn’t look good, don’t do it. There’s nothing worse than seeing poorly made print material and thinking that you would only hire this person if you absolutely needed to.

“Display” Material (Yard signs, car magnets/decals, etc.) - Basic is fine. Simple, elegant, design with a phone number is all you need. Logo is optional, but if you use one just make sure it shows that you are professional and not going to cut corners. (No clip-art logos)

Paid Ad/ Lead generation services - REFERENCES ARE EVERYTHING. Since the customer is being blindly pointed to you without any personal connection or reference, all they have to go off of is your inferred references. That can be actual reviews (like Google reviews), or things like post engagement on Facebook and if your website looks good.

Additional Paid Services - If you get to this point in your business, then congratulations! It takes work and it means you probably already have a good handle on marketing and branding. Additional paid services just help you take it to the next level.


  • You already market. And you already pay for marketing in some way (the gas to get to a job, your business cards, etc).

  • There are Building Blocks for Marketing. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

  • “Branding is what makes your marketing effective.”

  • Branding is everything you do. It is the thoughts, feelings, and perception that your audience has about your business.

  • Branding helps your trackable ROI, but also the nontrackable ROI like if your previous client refers you to their friends or family because of Y. Better branding helps both.

  • Branding will be the ceiling for your growth...or the floor. But you will need marketing as well to be overall effective.

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