It’s easy to get advertising and marketing confused, especially as a small business owner juggling all areas of your business. Understanding what differentiates marketing from advertising is crucial for setting the right strategies in place to grow your business and audience.
Marketing, advertising, and public relations are similar, but each remains a different discipline for identifying consumer needs and promoting products to customers. Each approach offers a business owner specific strategies and tactics for growing their brand.
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Marketing describes how a company makes its audience aware of its brand and products or services. There are many different approaches to marketing, and it could be considered an umbrella term that encompasses both advertising and PR.
Advertising describes the practice of promoting products and services. Advertising campaigns appear in almost every medium, including on television, social media and billboards. Advertising works hand in hand with marketing, utilizing paid platforms to increase awareness. To successfully promote products and build brand awareness, organizations need to have strong marketing strategies with engaging advertisements.
PR describes the practice of cultivating relationships between brands and the public to organically promote brand awareness and customer loyalty. PR hinges on earned media coverage; businesses never pay for PR coverage, like they would to place an advertisement. It also involves controlling the narrative around news stories or managing brand crises as they arise. [Related content: 3 Ways to Offer a Customer Loyalty Program]
Although marketing encompasses a wide variety of business practices and goals, one simple definition from Merriam-Webster describes marketing as “the activities that are involved in making people aware of a company’s products, making sure that the products are available to be bought, etc.” In short, marketing spans a series of actions that vastly improve the chances that your business reaches its target market and audience.
If the dictionary definition of “marketing” seems too broad, you may better understand what marketing comprises after familiarizing yourself with these common types of marketing:
Advertising is a marketing subsector that involves your business paying for space on a billboard, website, magazine or elsewhere to promote your products and services. Although many companies will turn to an advertising agency to oversee their advertising strategy, you can successfully advertise your business without hiring an advertising agency as long as you understand the types of advertising and decide which methods might be best for your company.
As you’ll notice, there are many types of advertising whenever you go online, drive down the highway, or simply step outside.
If you’re still familiarizing yourself with marketing versus advertising, the starting place for any advertising and marketing plan should be a marketing communication plan. You should cover all of these areas in your plan:
Not all advertising and marketing methods are equally effective, because all businesses and their target audiences are unique. For example, if your goal is to sell more furniture to senior citizens in Alabama, Facebook ad data may point to a lack of market. However, the local newspaper may have a high readership of senior citizens; therefore, the choice is obvious in this case. [Learn more about creating an effective marketing plan for your business.]
After you have your marketing communication plan in place, you’re able to make informed decisions about which areas of advertising versus marketing you’ll do best to explore further.
Marketing and advertising go hand in hand. Often, businesses need to invest in an integrated approach to close the deal using several marketing and advertising channels – and content needs to run through trial and error to find out which medium works best.
PR remains a key part of the marketing process and is often far more cost-effective than traditional advertising. PR professionals build strategic relationships between organizations and their target audiences to build or enhance their reputation and create partnerships with the media to get more exposure for their clients.
Deanna Simonian, president and CEO of Mediafy Communications, told us that many small businesses are still confused about what PR is and why they need it.
“One of the most important things about starting a campaign is that having PR helps define the message of your company,” she said. “The first question we ask is, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do people care?’ … It helps fine-tune the message and keep it consistent.”
Without consistency, customers won’t understand or trust what your brand represents. A strong PR campaign creates a recognizable message across multiple media platforms. This is important for small businesses, which lack the name recognition of larger companies and corporations.
“When small businesses don’t have PR, things are all over the place,” Simonian said. “PR keeps things consistent.”
Paid advertisements are the way a company represents itself. A PR campaign, on the other hand, creates unpaid, organic contact between a business and its audience to build brand awareness.
“PR is about third-party credibility,” Simonian said. “This person is an unbiased person genuinely saying, ‘I love this brand.'”
The goals of public relations campaigns differ by company, industry and initiative, but all rely on partnerships with journalists, influencers or community leaders.
While organizations can control their own marketing and advertising messages, PR cultivates genuine, authentic reactions to the brand. A successful PR campaign accomplishes its goal when the public receives the message from a third-party organization, not the brand itself.
A sponsored post on Instagram, for example, is advertising. But when a company sends a blogger a product to use and the blogger likes it and posts about it, that is PR. Being quoted as a source in a newspaper, being featured in a magazine or being a guest on a talk show are other common forms of PR. Sending press releases for company announcements counts as PR as well.
“I think PR is creating the most positive image of your company that you can then share with the public,” Simonian said. “Whether that’s through traditional media or social media … PR means getting your name out there and building your business’s image.”
You don’t need a large budget for successful PR. Instead of hiring an agency, focus on creating relationships with local journalists, pitching stories that matter to your customers, and writing press releases that people will actually read.
Small businesses often wonder if media outlets will be interested in covering them or mentioning their products when big brands are much better known. Many times, though, that lack of previous exposure works in their favor.
“I’ve worked on IBM, Toshiba, Coca-Cola – and I’ve worked with really small brands too,” Simonian said. “I think media outlets find small business more interesting … they’re big fans of the ‘uniquenesses.’ For bigger clients, PR is more a matter of managing the press they’re already getting.”
Small businesses, by contrast, don’t already have a narrative or perception attached to their brand, which gives media outlets and influencers the opportunity to shape the story.
“It’s a lot more fun to help create that image and share it,” Simonian said.
Whether you’re working with a firm or handling your PR on your own, focus your efforts on people who are already influencing your target customer.
“PR is figuring out ways to build relationships, whether it’s with a reporter or social media influencer,” Simonian said. “Look for people who have a lot of clout, and build that relationship. Help them to understand your message and how their followers can relate to you.”
Successful PR builds trust between your company and its customers. Building positive relationships with the right media outlets is essential to creating that trust. If that relationship isn’t already there, you won’t reach the right audience, no matter how many places feature you. Learn how to build healthy business relationships that will be mutually beneficial.
By engaging with followers and creating content that resonates with them, organizations can generate positive publicity without hiring a marketing or PR agency. Through social media, you can directly communicate with your target audience and build a following by engaging in conversation and providing unique solutions. For additional buzz, you can send products or host giveaways on your social pages.
Sean Peek and Katharine Paljug contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.