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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Advertising vs. Marketing: What's the Difference, and Which Should I Use?

image for jacoblund / Getty Images
jacoblund / Getty Images

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 effectively grow your business and audience.

Promotion of your business all falls under the marketing umbrella. Advertising is a subset of marketing. The components of a marketing strategy include public relations, market research, newsletters, social media marketing and community, to name a few.

Advertising is the part of a marketing plan you're the most likely to see every day. Let's say you're on Facebook checking out your friend's wedding photos and you notice something in your newsfeed with a "sponsored" tag. That's advertising (and likely part of a wider social media marketing strategy). Billboards are advertising, too.

In contrast, marketing includes all the impressions your audience and target market get about your business based on external forces. Advertising certainly plays a role in that impression, but it's not the only factor.

"A jewelry store invites their top 10 customers from the past 12 months to a special in-store event showcasing a new line of products from one of their leading suppliers. That … is marketing," said John Robinson, business mechanic at Purple Monkey Garage. "In short, advertising is the exposure of your brand, and marketing is providing your target audience with the experience of your product or service."

 

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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:

  • Content marketing: According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is "a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content." In other words, this marketing approach focuses not on your products and services, but on developing and distributing online materials, such as blog posts, that educate your target market about your company and industry.

  • Inbound marketing: Through inbound marketing, your company creates experiences custom-tailored to individual consumers. Such tools may include chat boxes on your company website that direct consumers to your customer service team. An inbound marketing strategy emphasizes attracting, delighting and engaging customers.

  • Social media marketing: Through social media marketing, your company uses social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reach your target audience. Paid advertising on social media channels comprises a large portion of a social media marketing plan.

  • Digital marketing: This category includes all online marketing efforts. It includes social media marketing, many inbound marketing and content marketing strategies, not to mention all marketing campaigns focused on search engines, email, and other websites.

  • Traditional marketing: Traditional marketing stands in direct contrast to digital marketing. Traditional marketing describes marketing campaigns executed through channels other than the internet: print, broadcast, phone, postal mail and billboards are examples of types of traditional marketing.

  • Marketing communication: Marketing communication comprises many activities included in the other types of marketing. All marketing messages and media that your company uses, whether branding or advertising, are included in marketing communication.

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. 

Among the many types of advertising are:

  • Digital advertising: Digital advertising includes paying for ad space on social media, internet publications, mobile apps or other online spaces. The vast majority, if not all, of digital advertising is paid advertising.

  • Traditional advertising: Traditional advertising includes advertisements your company purchases in print publications, on billboards, or other outdoor surfaces such as bus stops, or via broadcast or postal mail. Like digital advertising, most traditional advertising is paid.

  • Ambient media: While digital and traditional advertising are the two dominant forms of advertising, ambient media has provided an interesting alternative for many businesses. Any unorthodox advertising method, especially ones that encourage consumer participation or interaction, falls under this category.

  • Product placement: Many brands pay for their products to be emphasized in TV shows and films. If you ever watch a TV show or movie and see a character use a heavily branded product, you've experienced product placement. 

If you're still familiarizing yourself with marketing versus advertising, the starting place for any advertising and marketing plan should always be a marketing communication plan that outlines your:

  • Budget
  • Mission statement
  • Branding and brand messaging
  • Objective
  • Short and long-term goals
  • Target market and audience

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 there not being a market there. However, the local newspaper may have a high readership of senior citizens and, therefore, in this case, the choice is obvious. 

After you have your marketing communication plan in place, you're able to make informed decisions about which areas of advertising vs. marketing you'll do best to explore further.

  • Facebook advertising. Facebook's ad platform is a powerful tool. A digital ad can easily be tracked, so you'll know quickly if your efforts are working. Facebook ads can be powerful when targeted correctly and created with engaging graphics and copy.

  • Google Ads.This is another measurable and flexible form of advertising that's highly relevant. Google Ads are among the digital ad types that produce the most relevant search results and ads possible.

  • Local publications. Don't discount more traditional advertising routes such as posting on a church bulletin, high school football ad journal, or a local publication's website if you're a small business trying to expand your brand awareness within your local community. 
  • Your website. Having a company website is more important than ever. Customers Google businesses and expect to learn about them on the web. Your company website is essentially one massive digital ad for your business.

  • Email marketing. Despite the growing number of emails that flood consumers' inboxes every day, email marketing remains one of the most effective marketing channels. An email marketing solution like Benchmark, iContact or Mailchimp makes email brand awareness and marketing campaigns easy and measurable.

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, commonly, content needs to run through trial and error to find out which medium works best.