Marketing and Advertising Are NOT the Same
Have you ever asked someone about marketing and ended up talking about advertising instead? Or, when searching for a marketing job, noticed that the “marketing” positions were actually all sales related? Mixing up the two is a common mistake. Marketing and advertising often go hand in hand, so it makes sense that when you talk about one, the other comes up. But make no mistake: they are NOT the same.
The best way to understand the difference between the two is to understand each one individually.
What is marketing?
Marketing encompasses so many things! It’s so multifaceted, in fact, that it is sometimes easier to explain what marketing isn’t. Different dictionaries will give you different definitions, but in a business sense, marketing is the practice of connecting with an audience to understand and nurture their needs and, ultimately, to convince them to take action. (See how broad that is?)
At Elevate My Brand, we like to think about marketing as an umbrella under which many strategies for connecting with an audience exist. To show what we mean, let’s break down our definition piece by piece:
- practice — We call marketing a practice (and even a process) because it’s not static. Marketing is not a one-and-done situation. Brands need to constantly evaluate and reevaluate their messaging, targeting, branding, etc.
- connecting with an audience — Marketing is all about building relationships. It’s a lot like dating in that if you only send someone one text per month, the relationship is likely going nowhere. You need to be as top of mind as possible. (And even though we say “an audience,” you’ll likely want to target multiple audiences, tailoring your communication to each one.)
- understand… their needs — A critical part of marketing strategy is research. The moment you think you know all about your audience is the moment you’ve lost the battle. The world is always changing, and so are people’s needs, so don’t get complacent.
- nurture their needs — Once you understand your audience’s needs, you need to make sure they know (and believe) that you can fulfill them. In some cases, especially if you’re a first-to-market innovator, you need to tell them they need you because they may not know it yet. (Also, note that marketing “nurtures” needs rather than “satisfies” needs. That’s a job for sales, which is a-whole-nother conversation.)
- convince them to take action — “Convince” can sound like a nefarious word here, but it’s not. A good marketer should never aspire to coerce an audience into taking actions against their will or best interests. This is why understanding and nurturing the needs of specific audiences is crucial. It’s important to note that you can never promise that an audience will take action—at least not right away. Marketing is a long game.
In short, marketing is a long-term, relationship-building process that connects brands with the people who need them. There are many strategies that marketers can take to make those connections, including social media management, event activations and website development. And also advertising.
What is advertising?
Advertising is one of three tactics—more on this later—that marketers use to connect with an audience to convince them to take action. One of the reasons why so many people confuse marketing and advertising is because both are broad, ambiguous concepts—and advertising can be part of nearly any marketing channel. Blogging, for example, is a great organic marketing tactic. But you can also run content ads, which means paying to have your blog posts shared to other websites. TikTok is another organic marketing channel where you can also run ads.
There are many avenues for advertising, aka paid marketing. The most popular are:
- Banner ads. Also called “digital display ads,” these are ads that run on other websites. Advertisers can purchase these through digital publishers.
- Content ads. Have you ever read an article online and seen a list of other articles “you may also like” at the bottom? Those are content ads, purchased through advertisers such as Outbrain and Taboola.
- Email ads. When you think about email marketing, you typically think about the organic strategy: a company sending out an email to their audience who’s opted in. However, on (semi-rare) occasions, companies will sell ad space in their email newsletters.
- Mobile ads. Mobile advertisements come in several forms, most notably SMS (or text messaging) ads and app ads. SMS has historically been a popular—and, in my opinion, underutilized—advertising avenue.
- OOH ads. OOH, or “out of home,” ads are print advertisements you see “in the wild,” so to speak: on bus stop shelters, on the sides of cars, on billboards, on wall murals, in the metro station, etc.
- Radio ads. Pretty self-explanatory, radio ads are the short audio clips provided by advertisers that you hear during the commercials on radio stations. While these may be dwindling in popularity, they’re still effective for specific (often older) audiences.
- Print ads. Print ads encompass direct-to-home mailers as well as publications, such as newspapers, magazines, conference programs, directories and more.
- Search ads. Often, the few results in a Google search are ads. These results will say “sponsored” so you know. Search ads are an efficient and cost-effective way to build brand awareness.
- Social media ads. Every social media network has its own ad program. Interspersed amongst the organic posts are posts that advertisers have paid to show you based on your interests—which you’ve expressed through your browsing and engagement history.
- Television ads. TV ads are audiovisual advertisements that appear within other videos and shows on TV. Most people who aren’t marketers would call these “commercials.” On the other hand, some marketers call these “video ads,” but since you can also run audiovisual advertisements on YouTube and other social media platforms, I prefer to use “TV ads.”
By no means is this an exhaustive list. And who knows when innovation will strike and a brand new advertising avenue will appear. However, these 10 options give a well-rounded view of what the world of advertising looks like.
Alright, what’s the difference?
The easiest way to clear up confusion about the difference between marketing and advertising is to think about advertising as “paid marketing.” There are three broad categories of marketing media:
- Earned media is organic. It’s content that others have shared, such as social media mentions or online reviews, that a brand can’t create on its own but benefits from nonetheless. Businesses can influence earned media but can’t control it.
- Owned media is also organic and comprises any content that a company owns and controls, typically with little to no cost or effort. Owned marketing includes organic social media feed maintenance as well as website and app management.
- Paid media is (obviously) paid. This is marketing content that comes at a price, such as the 10 examples mentioned above, and generally appears on or through a third party platform such as a billboard or TikTok Ads Manager.
Earned and owned media are organic marketing strategies, whereas paid media are paid marketing strategies. So, again, advertising is an essential part of marketing, but marketing encompasses so much more than just advertising.
So, what’s the TL;DR version?
Marketing is the practice of connecting with an audience to understand and nurture their needs and to convince them to take action. Advertising is one of many marketing tactics wherein you pay a third party (such as Meta, Google or The New York Times) to connect you with your audience on your behalf.
See? It isn’t that difficult to understand after all!
Cody H. Owens,