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There are a million different ideas about branding and marketing floating around. The words are frequently interchanged, so it’s easy to lose sight of what each means individually. 

To clarify the distinction, we’re kicking off a two-part mini-series looking at how branding and marketing are different from one another and how they support each other. 

Recently, we sat down with Kathryn Morrison, President and CEO of SunStar Strategic, to hear her thoughts on marketing and branding. Part two, an interview with our own Melissa Murphy, can be found here.

Prior to starting SunStar, Kathryn worked as a producer and writer for CNN in Atlanta. She then moved to the DC metro area where she served as the Director of Public Information Services for the Investment Company Institute. Both of those experiences were heavily involved in public communications, and particularly focused on crafting strong messages to be distributed on behalf of various companies, many of which were up and coming in the fund world. Kathryn worked closely with companies such as Fidelity and Vanguard, learning their branding and marketing from the ground up.


“Strong marketing follows strong branding”

Kathryn’s familiarity with both the journalism and fund industries has shaped her view of branding and marketing. “Strong marketing follows strong branding,” she says. “A company’s brand is its identity—the one word or emotion that consumers associate with that company. Marketing is everything that comes after establishing that identity.”


A success story

Kathryn points to Southwest Airlines as an example of company success growing out of a strong brand. When Southwest first took off in 1971, four years after being founded, air travel was expensive, elitist and complex. Flying anywhere was a major undertaking, and one that was out of reach for many people. To combat this, Southwest defined itself as the everyman’s airline—committed to inexpensive, fun, and simple flights serving everyday people. Flights were divided into two categories—nights/weekends and weekdays. Even now, Southwest holds to this principle by having only one cabin: economy. By staying true to their brand identity as the everyman airline and focusing all marketing efforts on projecting that image, Southwest has become the most profitable airline in history without ever having a first class cabin.

Certainly, strong marketing has played an equal role in Southwest’s success. Their Rapid Rewards program allows members to earn travel points on any flight and in any seat. There are also very few restrictions on redeeming those points. Even that program, though, speaks to Southwest’s everyman image. Most people don’t have the means or desire to pay extra for a seat just so they can earn rewards points on it. Neither do they want to limit their vacation selection to fit around an airline’s choices in dates and destination. By eliminating those restrictions from their rewards program, Southwest remains inexpensive, fun, and simple.


The SunStar brand

It should come as no surprise that Kathryn founded SunStar Strategic around the same principles of strong branding. Twenty-five years ago, the company grew out of Kathryn’s personal knowledge and network, her commitment to serving quality clients, and achieving results. SunStar’s brand, then and now, represents knowledge, quality, and results. Today, SunStar occupies offices in Alexandria, VA, New York, NY, and Chicago, IL and devotes itself to identifying and serving the highest quality clients it can. By focusing on a clear and powerful brand and growing marketing campaigns out of that identity, Kathryn has driven her company to a success that radiates far beyond her personal influence and draws clients to the firm as much as it drives them to praise SunStar’s work.


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