Making Your Mark: The Difference Between Marketing and Advertising

Marketing vs Advertising, which one is right for you?

Whether you’re a brand-new company, an organization searching for a way to develop their online presence, or simply a business who needs a boost in customer engagement, then the chances are you’ve thought about the terms “advertising” or “marketing” before. Unfortunately, while these two terms, marketing and advertising, are incredibly well-known, they’re also hugely misunderstood. In fact, a lot of modern companies seem to be convinced that there’s no difference between the words at all.

It’s not surprising that marketing and advertising come with their fair share of confusion. If you head to the School of Visual Arts online for a definition of branding, you’ll find more than 100 different explanations, from 100 different “experts”.

So, how do you cut through the complexity and find an interpretation that’s easy to understand? How can you determine the difference between marketing and advertising, and make an informed decision on how to spend your budget? By the end of this article, you’ll have the answers you need.

What’s the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising?

On the surface, advertising and marketing seem synonymous – two words that can be used interchangeably to describe a process designed to help companies sell more. Except, these ideas aren’t as identical as you might think. In fact, being able to differentiate between the two could even help you to create a more comprehensive plan for achieving your business goals.

So, what means what?

Well, if we take a look at some of the opinions shared by experts online, we find that “marketing” is a set of processes, strategies, and solutions used to communicate, create, and deliver offerings that provide value to customers. Since that definition is a little complicated, let’s just say that marketing is the systematic implementation of activities that help you sell things.

On the other hand, advertising is more of a “sub-set” of marketing. It’s the process that we use to capture the attention of the public, through paid announcements, social media campaigns, and billboards on the side of the road.

While marketing is the overarching idea of connecting with your audience, advertising is the avenue through which you make that connection.

Still confused? Let’s break the ideas down a little further.

What is Marketing and How Does It Work?

Marketing is a word used to refer to the communications between a company, and the target audience it wants to establish loyalty in. The American Marketing Association offers a complicated and wordy definition, but let’s just say that marketing is all about letting your customers know who you are, what you have to offer, and why you’re better than your competitors.

Marketing as a concept can be broken down into several subsets and techniques, such as user persona creation, market segmentation, and market analysis. These are simple strategies that companies use to make sure that the advertising techniques they adopt are right for their target customer, and perfectly poised to create engagement.

For most people, the “marketing” aspect of increasing brand awareness and building relationships with your audience might be the boring part. It’s the science that informs the art of advertising, which means that if you want your marketing to work, you need to be willing to do a lot of research before you do anything exciting.

Ideally, the best thing any company can to do ensure the success of their marketing campaign is to create something called a “marketing plan”. This is basically a blueprint that you can use to determine what kind of message you’re going to send to your audience, and how you’re going to convey your unique ideas as a company.

Your marketing plan contains plenty of useful information about your marketplace, your customers, and your unique selling point as a business. This ensures that you’re properly informed when it comes to making decisions that will help to differentiate you from your competitors.

While advertising comes down to things like social media messages, leaflets, and even video advertising content, marketing looks at how you engage with your customers on a broader level. It ensures that every aspect of design used in advertising represents the unique image of your brand as a whole and assists in creating deeper connections with your customers.

Marketing Strategy and the 4 P’s

As we mentioned above, marketing is the “strategic” part of connecting with people as a company. In today’s highly competitive business world, customers want to buy from companies that they feel an affinity towards. This means that you need to carefully personalize and adjust every aspect of your marketing mix to suit the needs of your target audience.

To help simplify the concept, a man called Neil Borden broke the marketing mix down into four distinct categories called the 4 Ps. Today, there are actually 7 P’s that some companies take into account when creating their advertising campaigns, but let’s start with the traditional four in this article:

  1. Product: This refers to the services and products that your company delivers to the marketplace to fill a gap and meet consumer demands. Basically, the term “product” is what you sell to make money, and it needs to be unique if it’s going to have an impact. With your marketing efforts, you focus on showcasing the value of your product to your customer.
  2. Place: This term refers to how you bring your product to market. For instance, where do you get the parts you need to build the item, or where do you source the software that you sell to your customers? Place can include strategies for selling like distribution, franchising and eCommerce outlets.
  3. Price: As any marketing expert will tell you, if you want to capture the attention of your target audience, and earn their loyalty, you can’t just have a great product – you also need a reasonable price. You’ll need to choose something that’s competitive, but significant enough to make a profit.
  4. Promotion: This is the space that advertising comes under. In your marketing mix, you need a way to communicate the impact of your products to your customers. You can relay your message through countless strategies, from social media to traditional content.

This break-down of the marketing strategy offered by Neil Borden shows us that the term essentially means “anything and everything you do to define your product and make buyers aware of it.” In other words, it’s your overall plan, which you can break down into a collection of smaller facets, including advertising.

How to Create a Marketing Plan

Marketing might seem like a complicated idea, but it’s something that all businesses need to invest in if they want make an impact on their target market. The key to good marketing is remembering that it’s an investment in your business, not a chore. It’s how you contribute to brand awareness, and without a good marketing plan, you can’t hope to have an effective advertising strategy.

So, how do you establish a marketing plan?


Step 1: Set a Goal

The key to a successful campaign for any company is knowing exactly what you want to achieve. If you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish, then how will you measure your success?

Here are some examples of marketing goals:

  • Awareness (measure this through your social media advertising results, and the amount of inquiries you get from new customers)
  • Better conversion rates (measure this in your profits, and the number of new people buying from your company)
  • Target new customers (measure this by examining your customer profiles and finding out how many new niches you can appeal to)

Step 2: Conduct a Situational Analysis

As mentioned above, great marketing plans are all about doing your homework. If you’ve dabbled in the world of marketing before, then you might recognize a “situational analysis” as being like a positioning statement. Basically, it’s a piece of paper or a document that you use to outline all the elements that make your company stand out in your current space.

A situational analysis requires you to look at what competitors in your area are doing with their marketing dollars, and determine what you could potentially do better. For instance, if your biggest competitor is currently using social media to connect with customers on Facebook, could you get better results if you added video advertising to the mix?

Situational analyses can also include something called a “SWOT” analysis, where you examine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as a brand. Usually, you’ll conduct one of these examinations when you’re building a business plan, but they can be just as effective from a marketing perspective too.

Step 3: Create a User Persona

Finally, if you want to create a killer marketing plan, then you need to know who you’re trying to communicate with. For most brands, this will mean developing a user persona, which allows you to create an image of your ideal customer and define the characteristics that are unique to them.

A user persona can help you answer important questions that will inform your marketing decisions, like how you’re going to price your product, and what you’re going to do to advertise yourself. For instance, ask questions like:

  • Why do your customers prefer buying from you? (If you know that your customers are drawn to your excellent service or your low price, then you can build on that with your advertising).
  • Are my buyers a specific age, come from a specific location, or more likely to be a part of a particular group?
  • Where can I find my ideal customer? (The more you know about where your customer spends most of his or her time, the more targeted your marketing becomes).

What is Advertising and How Does It Work?

By this point, you should be feeling a lot more confident about your understanding of “marketing” and what it means to your business. With that in mind, let’s look at the other side of the coin, and begin to better define the term: “advertising”.

Advertising is a strategy used to support your marketing plan by helping you to create the right level and style of exposure for your services or products. It’s a technique used to create curiosity in the minds of your audience and ultimately develop buy-in from the customers that you want to connect with most.

Once you’ve used your marketing plan to decipher who your target audience is, where you are in the marketplace, and what you need to do to differentiate yourself, you can then begin looking at advertising strategies that will help you to stand out in your sector.

While you can use marketing to convince potential buyers that you have the product or service they’ve been looking for, it’s advertising that allows you to communicate the presence of the product to your audience, so you can begin to influence buying behavior.

Making sure you communicate with potential customers in the right way includes learning how to speak to them differently depending on their stage in the buying cycle, and their preferences. That’s why just like marketing, advertising can often benefit from the help of a strategic plan.

With an advertising strategy, you can begin to explain, and promote your offerings to the right customers at the right time through these key phases in the purchasing cycle:

  • The Cognitive Phase (Knowledge and Awareness): During these stages, your customers are processing the information available through both your marketing strategies and your advertising communication. Here, you need to use your advertisements to present information about your products and services that can inspire interest and engagement.
  • Affective (Liking and Preference): During the affective stage, customers are looking for ways that they can connect with and relate to the brand. Your marketing efforts should come in handy here because they’ll help you to determine who your customers are and what they want. From there, you can use advertising to communicate on an emotional level.
  • Conative (Purchase and conviction): During these stages, your consumers are either showcasing their intent to buy, or they’re actually buying something from your company. At this point, your advertising efforts evolve into nurturing practices that help you to transform customers into loyal fans.

Choosing your Strategies for Advertising

Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons that companies struggle with advertising, is that it costs money. While you can create your marketing plan almost entirely by yourself, without spending a lot of cash, advertising is the part where you need to take the bull by the horns and make an investment.

The problem is that in today’s incredibly saturated market, it’s hard to see an immediate return on advertising expense. Businesses need to invest in long-term strategies for success if they want to keep bringing in customers in the next five months, and the next five years.

Of course, we all want to see our investments paying off, but building a genuine relationship with your audience takes time, and that means that a lot of advertising efforts will require some patience. Only once you come to terms with the fact that you need to spend money to make money, can you make the most out of your marketing mix, with sustainable, effective advertising.

So, how can you get the most out of your advertising strategy?

  1. Begin by Defining the Right Advertising Methods

Just because advertising requires investment, doesn’t mean you should be spending money where it isn’t going to have great results for your brand. You need to make sure that you know how to connect with your audience, so look at your marketing plan, and choose advertising methods that support your overall strategy, such as:

  • Email advertising: When it comes to advertising, 59% of companies say that email is the most effective channel for revenue generation.
  • Social media advertising: Social media advertising budgets reached $31 billion in 2016 because they’re perfect for establishing strong, emotional connections with your target audience.
  • Content: The ultimate long-form way to establish trust among your customers, content advertising allows you to establish value in the eyes of your customers before you ask them to purchase a product. You can also use content marketing at the same time to show your authority in your industry.

Once you know which advertising solutions you’re going to use in your marketing mix, you can ensure that you set metrics in place that allow you to measure the performance of your campaigns in tangible terms.

The metrics you choose to track will depend on the goals you set in your marketing strategy. For instance, if you were looking for a way to boost engagement among your customers, then you might track things like social media messages and likes. On the other hand, if you’re simply focusing on awareness, you might track footfall in your retail stores, and traffic on your website.

Why Businesses Need to Advertise

No matter how small your marketing and advertising budget might be, advertising is something that no business can afford to cut corners on. Since Ancient Egypt, this strategy has served as a critical component in helping sellers to effectively compete for the loyalty and attention of their fans.

It doesn’t matter whether the products and services your company offers are a necessary, or a luxury, one-time announcements and word of mouth can only get you so far if you want to achieve a steady stream of customers in your business.

A strong commitment to advertising is an essential part of the marketing mix because:

  • It creates awareness for your brand: While marketing helps to convince your customers that they need your product, advertising creates that initial awareness that lets people know your business exists.
  • It adds credibility to your message: For some reason, marketing alone simply isn’t enough to make your business appear as professional as it should be. People are used to companies advertising their services, and they expect you to invest in promotion if you want to earn their attention.
  • It amplifies everything else you’re doing: When you’re advertising to create awareness for your company, you automatically amplify everything else that’s happening in your brand. Advertising can lead to press releases, media coverage, and even the impact of influencer marketers who give greater volume to your brand.
  • It helps you to retain long-term customers: Advertising transforms fleeting glances from potential prospects into the adoration of repeat customers. An ongoing advertising campaign can remind your customers that you’re still around, and still offer just as much value as ever. In a world of ever-competing companies and new developments, it’s important to keep at the front of your target audience’s memory.

Marketing vs Advertising: Blurring the Lines

At the beginning of this article, we were looking at the difference between marketing and advertising, and how to make the decision of which one was right for your company. However, the truth is that it’s not an “either-or” choice. Marketing and advertising might not be the same thing, but they do go hand in hand when it comes to building a reputable and recognizable company.

If you want your advertising strategy to capture the hearts and minds of your audience, and place you in front of the right people at the right time, then you need a marketing plan that takes your full brand identity into account. On the other hand, if you want to make sure that your advertising methods have clout, then you need to keep the basics of your marketing vision in mind.

Both marketing and advertising contribute to the same end goal, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the same concept. What it does mean, is that if you haven’t already established a comprehensive marketing plan, then you might not be ready for advertising.

Ultimately, advertising is going to cost you time, and money, which means you can’t afford to get it wrong. You need to start off by looking at your brand, and your marketing mix, then you can begin to think about how you can add advertising into your overall strategy for awareness, recognition, and reach.

Instead of looking at this topic as “marketing vs advertising”, companies should be considering how both strategies can work together with the right planning, to propel your company into the position of a memorable, household brand.