“What’s the difference between a brand and a campaign? And which one do I need?”

We hear these two questions all the time from clients and potential clients in many industries: higher ed, financial services, healthcare, retail, and more. Over the years, we’ve thought a lot about the answers. So here’s what we know.

The brand and the campaign are both essential to your marketing efforts, for different reasons. Let’s strip away the jargon and start with some general definitions.


Brand work centers on identity and experience.

A brand platform focuses on who and why: who you are and why you exist. Its scope should be comprehensive and long-lasting (at least five years), and it should consider everyone you come in contact with, internally and externally. And because it links back to your organization’s purpose, a well-developed brand can become a powerful tool for making decisions and changing perceptions, both inside and outside your company walls.



Campaigns focus on something more specific.

A campaign platform, on the other hand, emphasizes what you offer and how your audience benefits. Campaigns tend to be shorter-term initiatives (often less than a year) that promote a specific product or service. And the goal and audience are both narrower, too: you’re looking to inspire a particular set of people to take action, with near-term results.

Here’s how we sometimes compare the two, side by side:


Traditionally, organizations think about these two ideas very differently. First, they look inward to define the brand, and then they turn their attention outward, creating various campaigns with various objectives.

But that’s no longer the only way (or even the best way) to approach these marketing efforts.

Brand Campaign


A different approach

Though there are some differences between building a brand and developing a campaign, there’s often significant overlap as well. And the lines between the two are blurring. Strong brands like Target and Nike now regularly create campaigns to promote broader, brand-sized ideas, and to powerful effect.

We call it a brand campaign. Simply put, a brand campaign is a sustained marketing effort to communicate what your institution or organization stands for—not your products or services.

When you look at your marketing budget, you may think the idea sounds like a luxury, something that only huge corporations can afford. But with the intense competition we’re seeing in virtually every industry, we’re convinced that it’s critical for brands of all sizes. And if it’s done right, the results can be compelling.

Let’s take a look at a few brands that do it well.



How they do it: The campaign is an invitation for consumers to become part of a community that genuinely cares about them as individuals, and to experience all the benefits that go along with being a member of Nationwide. It spotlights Nationwide’s mutual structure and heritage: that the company doesn’t have to answer to shareholders (because it doesn’t have any) and instead always puts members first.

How you can apply it: The main idea for your campaign must be rooted in authenticity. And it should showcase how your brand benefits your audiences in real-life scenarios, which will make it easier to connect with them.

Michigan State University

How they do it: The campaign showcases the tremendous contributions of MSU’s Spartans—from developing the cancer drug that saved Lance Armstrong’s life to battling malaria in Africa. It also tells various stories of university faculty, students, and alumni who have tackled difficult problems, leapt at challenges, and made the world a better place in large and small ways.

How you can apply it: Like MSU’s Spartan mascot, a piece of your brand may already have great equity. Find a way to tap that value for your brand campaign.




How they do it: The campaign takes aim at changing how people think about public research institutions. By taking common “public” phrases and pairing them with striking images, the campaign makes a bold statement with strong support from the UC system’s rich body of academic research.

How you can apply it: Like any campaign, a brand campaign should emphasize more than your attributes. You should always link the message back to a benefit for the audience.


When you’re developing your brand campaign, keep in mind that successful campaigns sell an idea, not a thing. They convey a brand’s essence in tangible ways in order to shape perceptions over time. They help rally audiences around a common theme or brand philosophy. And best of all, you don’t need deep pockets to make a brand campaign work for you.