The Art of the WordPress Startup: Part 20


This post is part 20 of a series on how to launch your startup on WordPress. Last time I talked about why SEO isn’t dead despite what you may have heard, and which tactics are still effective. Today’s post is about branding and why most people don’t seem to get it. This is the final post in the series, which will be turned into an eBook shortly and emailed to those who signed up for the list using the link below.

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How are advertising, marketing, and branding different?

If you can’t quickly contrast and articulate the difference between the above three disciplines, then you’re not alone. In fact, most people can’t. They think they’re all kind of one and the same. So what is the difference? Let’s define advertising and marketing quickly so we know what they are first.


This is the one that’s probably easiest to define. It’s any paid announcement to the public aiming to get them to buy what you’re selling, whether it’s goods or services. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, then you know advertising. If you haven’t, then try binge watching season 1, since it’s fantastic and also educational. The methods and tactics may have changed since the 1960s, but many of the thought processes and strategies have remained the same. I worked inside the largest advertising company in the world, WPP, and I can assure you the show is surprisingly accurate (except for the in office romance and drinking of course). Things that fall into advertising in the modern world include ads for TV, radio, and print; plus the more recent developments such as AdWords, sponsored tweets, banner ads, text-link advertising and more. In simple terms, you send a desired message towards a desired audience using a particular medium (e.g. satellite radio).


This refers to business activities that aim to bring together your company with buyers of your product. So it’s a bit more broad, and that means advertising is a single component of the marketing process, but not the only one. In a large company in fact, they will have a marketing team that corresponds with an outside advertising agency. At P&G for instance, each brand (e.g. Swiffer) has a “brand manager” and a marketing team at their disposal that comes up with the marketing strategies, some of which are then relayed to the advertising agency to broadcast across particular mediums.

For example, the Swiffer brand manager and marketing team might decide that a good marketing strategy is to giveaway 10,000 mops via a sweepstakes to build buzz for a new design/feature. They might contact the advertising agency with this idea who then comes up with an ad campaign detailing their thoughts on the best way to get the word out. Another use of marketing would be to come up with ideas for the packaging on a product to further enhance the brand or drive repeat business. That’s why some packaging will include a coupon you can tear off or something similar. You can thank the marketing team for that.

In a large business, the most expensive line item for marketing will typically be advertising, followed by PR, and then other things like market research or community involvement will follow suit. So marketing can have many line items and advertising is just one of them.

OK, so what is branding and why is it important?

A brand is anything that helps get potential customers to become loyal to your product or company. This can include company names, logos, icons, symbols, taglines, and even design. A lot of newbie entrepreneurs suck at branding, and it’s not their fault. It took me a while to truly understand its power, and I had it hammered into my head in b-school for 4 years in undergrad. Here’s how you can tell if someone doesn’t get branding…

  • Terrible company name
  • Shoddy website design
  • Logo looks like it was made for $10
  • Products/features aren’t named in a memorable way
  • Domain name is terrible
  • Little to no usage of trademarks, whether ™ or ®

Take a look at your own startup and be honest. Are you failing the above test? Have you created a real brand or just a pile of s***?

When someone mentions a household name or well-known brand, you should have expectations and experiences come to mind. McDonalds? Fast, unhealthy food. Apple? Quality, reliability, premium, expensive. Walmart? Low prices, long lines, zero people to help you find anything. Google? Engineering, scale, intelligence. WordPress? Open-source, free, scalable, ubiquitous, flexible.

Many people think branding is overrated, but here’s some data to back up my claim that it’s not. Here’s Forbes reported valuation of the top 5 brands are as of this writing, and keep in mind this doesn’t include company assets, IP, etc. it is purely an estimate of what the trademark/brand is worth if the company wanted to sell it. The next time you dismiss branding, think back and remember this list.

1. Apple $104.3B (market cap $545B)

2. Microsoft $56.7B (market cap $337B)

3. Coca-Cola $54.9B (market cap $179B)

4. IBM $50.7B (market cap $186B)

5. Google $47.3B (market cap $379B)

Notice something interesting in the above list? Coca-Cola’s brand is more valuable than both IBM and Google, however their market caps are much larger. Also, notice that their brand’s value is nearly as much as Microsoft’s, yet MSFT has nearly twice the market cap. The Coca-Cola brand is one of the best ever created, and I’m saying that objectively as someone who prefers Pepsi (Pepsi Next to be specific). After all, it’s just sugar water in a can and somehow only Pepsi has been able to compete globally. IBM and Google have moved mountains technologically to get where they are, and some company with a piece of paper in a vault in Atlanta has the more valuable brand?


Ok, so now we know what the differences between advertising, marketing, and branding are, and we know that Coca-Cola are apparently branding geniuses, what do we do with this newfound information?

First, think long and hard about what you want your startup’s brand to convey, and make sure your company name, tagline, logo, icon, design, and more reflect that. Second, come up with a marketing plan and strategy, making advertising just one piece of it. Run your brand by the smell test given above and see if you measure up. Then try to figure out how to reverse engineer Coca-Cola’s branding. I’m still working on that myself.