Branding & Content Marketing: 2 Definitions of the Same Thing?

richard bransonThese days, there’s a very fine line between a company’s “brand” and its “content marketing.” The two terms are almost beginning to appear synonymously. (I’m certainly not the first to suggest it.) But before we get into this messy symbiotic relationship, let’s lay down some definitions to guide the conversation:

Branding: Any and all efforts to control how a company is perceived.

Content Marketing: The creation of content with the intent of engendering positive brand associations and (eventually) higher sales figures.

(These aren’t universally agreed upon definitions – just the ones I’ll be referring to in this blog post.)

The Branding/Content Marketing Union

With content marketing so doable for literally every kind of business, that control over perception (i.e. “branding”) is more feasible now than ever before. The wide spread prevalence of content marketing needs no other evidence than the fact that in 2011 businesses spent more than $40 billion on content marketing.

“Okay, okay,” you say, “but content marketing isn’t the only way to do branding!” No, of course not. Non-content forms of branding include:

  • Logo Design
  • Visual Appearance
  • Development of the Company’s Voice
  • Copy on Products, Service Descriptions, etc.

… plus a whole lot more. For those reasons and others, I contend that there is a distinction between content marketing and branding, but that distinction is growing smaller with each passing quarter.

Content Marketing = Affordable, Fluid, Mass Branding

Content marketing can help build your company’s brand in three ways that stagnant, traditional branding can’t. After all, full-scale re-branding is expensive, and not always successful – just ask JCPenney.

  • #1 Affordable: Content marketing isn’t cheap. After all, big corporations will pay top-dollar for great content strategies. But there are definitely some affordable content marketing options for every price point. Heidi Cohen has ideas if you’re at a loss.
  • #2 Fluid: Content marketing is so liquid. Create it, re-shape it, bury it, revive it with new data next year, etc. Your brand is constantly changing and developing. Content marketing allows your image to move along with your brand, without going through a full-scale re-branding.
  • #3 Mass: ‘Going Viral’ is the Holy Grail of content marketing. It’s what we all dream of. Those near-scrapes with “viral-ity” are kind of like the modern day marketer’s fishing stories. When you brand your company through traditional means, your company’s image tends to stay very localized, only visible to those that interact directly with you. When you brand your company through content marketing, you have the opportunity to create impressions on the masses.

Always the Role Model: Richard Branson

Any time I start researching any remotely creative thought on content marketing or branding, I find that Richard Branson’s already been-there-done-that. Branson’s Virgin Mobile brand is doing a terrific job of branding itself through Virgin Mobile Live, a streamlined, content-packed website that features interviews, music, memes, photo galleries, and more.

According to Forbes, gets more than 1 million unique views per month. However, Virgin Mobile Live isn’t just an online publishing house. Ron Faris, head of Brand Marketing, says, “It’s also about deepening the level of engagement we have with our fans in the social communities they hang out in.”

Richard Branson knows that he can’t fully replace his brand image with content marketing. However, based on what I see with Virgin Mobile Live, I would expect that Branson would agree with me that content marketing can shoulder a significant amount of the work load that branding used to have.

What’s your take on content marketing and branding? Do you see a hazy dividing line between the two in 2013, or is it as stark as ever?

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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