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The Uber-Important Difference Between Marketing and Advertising

In this episode...

Most people calling themselves Marketers cannot articulate the difference between marketing and advertising. In fact, we’re all guilty of using the terms interchangeably. But there is a huge difference between marketing and advertising.

One particular problem in the Marketing industry is the confusion between what Marketing is and what advertising is. It sounds funny and I am deliberately making fun of people when I say this but most people calling themselves marketers typically cannot articulate the difference between marketing and advertising. In fact, we’re all guilty of using the terms interchangeably. But there is a huge difference between marketing and advertising.

So, I am going to start with this.

Here’s the difference between Marketing and advertising… Marketing is the understanding of a marketplace and the resulting strategy involving the four P’s.

  • Product, also services
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

Advertising is the part of the promotional execution of a marketing strategy. It involves using market knowledge and branding elements defined in the marketing strategy to promote your product or service.

You might be wondering why it matters – the difference between marketing and advertising. It matters because when you buy marketing services you should know what you’re buying. Knowing this difference can improve your odds of success dramatically.

There is a real difference. The problem in understanding the difference is exacerbated because companies that call themselves marketing companies sell services completely out of order. They’re typically selling mostly advertising without any real marketing effort, at all.

Think of what you are sold – Google Rankings, Social Media, Radio, TV, Print – They’re all forms of advertising – not marketing. Marketing would tell you which mediums, tactics and approaches you should use and how to use them. Good marketing firms may already have a handle on a particular market, and they seek out companies within those markets. Most of what you are sold as a small business comes from companies with no real market knowledge. What they do have is some experience in advertising tactics like SEO, Social Media, Digital and what have you.

In fairness small businesses in particular rarely want to spend the money on real marketing. They are much more willing to buy advertising. It’s immediate, it’s right now. Advertising is far more tangible than marketing and marketing feels expensive because it results primarily in a plan and not execution of the plan.

The water gets even muddier because companies now split digital and traditional marketing, which is also a complete fail in the understanding department. More on that in another episode. Regardless of how services are sold to you, you’ll hep yourself to know that SEO, Social Media, PPC, video, print, tv, radio and every other thing your being sold, are advertising channels and tactics that, when properly done are born from your marketing plan.

Most small businesses are fairly confident that they know the marketplace as well as anyone and want to develop their brand on their own. If you’re in business long enough there’s a good chance you’ll eventually get it right. Besides, doing something is better than not doing anything, right?

I am a firm believer in empirical knowledge but having been involved in a number market research projects, I can tell you that they are far from perfect and the differences between winning and losing with even the best market research comes down to how it is used. Therein lies the rub.

Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of excellent firms out there that do excellent work but finding a firm that gets great data and knows how to use it, is more of a challenge. The most successful projects I have been involved in use separate companies. One does research and one uses the data to formulate a plan. My takeaway has been that when the same company does the research and creates the plan, they tend to draw a conclusion first then they seek out data to support their theory. In other words, if the same company does the research that provides the service – there is a high likelihood the research will find that you’ll need the exact same services the company offers. It’s a crime.

At the end of the day good market research will identify and help you understand

  • Customers
    • Where they are
    • What they want from what you offer
    • Any gaps in service or supply in the marketplace
    • Demand for your product or service
    • Segments
    • Trends
  • Competitors
    • Who they are
    • What are they good at and what do they lack?
    • Pricing
    • Positioning – any gaps in positioning
  • Suppliers
  • Economic conditions and trends impacting your business
  • Industry trends, regulations

A good marketing plan, rooted in solid marketplace understanding will help create elements like messaging, tone and imaging that will be used to exploit opportunities, identify challenges and work within your strengths, limitations and budget.

All of the advertising and promotion of your business will use that information to position you in front of prospects and customers in a way that is more likely to convert them to a new customer or a better customer.

I’ll do future episodes on how to get good market research and good interpretations of good market research.

But for now, let’s assume one of two things – you either A.) have done and understand market research or B.) you’re like most small businesses and will move forward with your gut’s understanding of the market you’re in.

In either scenario, let’s also assume the info you’re acting is good. It’s time to put yourself out there. It’s time for advertising.

Since this episode is about the difference between marketing and advertising, I want to clear up one more thing.

By today’s standards there are a number of other confusing buzzwords like:

  • Social Media marketing
  • Digital marketing
  • Traditional marketing
  • Inbound marketing/outbound marketing

Most of this terminology started between 2009 and 2012. In my opinion, and it is my opinion, it primarily started because it was the tail-end of the great recession and everyone who lost their job started fragmenting the marketing landscape by becoming a social media expert or an inbound marketing guru.

The confusion started because it worked. It was something that companies who could still buy marketing services were eating it up. These approaches were hot and were good at getting to where prospects and customers were.

So, the spineless marketing agencies of the world, who were also still licking their wounds from the economic disaster, jumped in and started using the same terminology. While it created a ton of confusion that still exits, you can blame us – it worked, and it kept the lights on.

I will argue with anyone at length and annoyingly loud manner that these are not new marketing disciplines or techniques. These are new tools we can use while executing our marketing strategy.

Simply put these platforms are new additions to the tools we use to advertise. just like print, radio or TV. Even though not completely accurate, the most savvy today call them marketing channels.

I’ll have a whole series on choosing the right channels at but for now let’s get back to defining advertising in contrast to Marketing.

As far as advertising goes we see ads on TV, web pages, we hear them on the radio and see them in magazines. Those are ads. Ads shouldn’t just happen, they should be derived from the marketing plan and include all of the branding elements defined from the research – tone, messaging, imaging. The context of an ad should be defined both by the opportunity or consumer need outlined in the research – and by your organizational goals.

When ads are properly derived from plans everything feels like it should. The ad feels like the company, product or service and when a customer engages with the company it also matches. That’s when things are done well. Think of McDonald’s commercials. In the course of a day you can see or hear many ads on TV, hear them on the radio or whatever. They may each have different focus but they feel the same, they look the same and when you stop by a McDonald’s it feels the same there, too.

To me the best reason for a small business to do market research is to make everything match the organization and the consumer’s needs and created in a manner that is most likely to convert customers and prospects to customers and better customers.

Sure, you can advertise without all the market research but expect to pay for and spend time in a learning curve. The bottom line is marketing and advertising are better when they work together.

To make your ads more likely to succeed, you need an understanding of the marketplace. You’ll also need to understand how to apply the knowledge of your marketplace to create effective ads.

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