What’s the Difference Between Marketing, Advertising, Publicity, and Branding?

What’s the difference between marketing and advertising? How do they differ from other forms of promotion? These definitions explain each term and how to use each strategy to help your small business be more successful. 

Do you know the difference between marketing and advertising? What about the difference between marketing and sales?  Where do publicity, public relations and branding fit in?

Small business owners like you are experts in your business but often don’t have a clear understanding of the differences and the relationships between these and other methods of attracting customers and winning sales. The definitions below 
 will give you a better understanding of the terms, and when to use each strategy.

What Is Marketing?

Think of marketing as the entire process involved in acquiring and keeping business customers. It comes into play in everything from developing the ideas or concepts for products and services to determining what features will interest customers, who those customers are, how many there are, how to reach them, and how to get them to make the purchase. 

Marketers often refer to “the four Ps”—product, price, place, and promotional strategy. First, the decision makers of a company pick an existing product or service or they develop a new one. This is arguably the most important step in the process because great products are easier to sell. The wrong product comes with a battle that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.

A great product has to be priced correctly or people won’t give it a chance. Marketing teams will put it in front of their customer base and ask them how much they’re willing to pay for it. If they won’t pay enough to achieve strong profit margins, the team may go back to the product selection phase and reevaluate.

Because customers have so many ways to discover and purchase products, “place” becomes a big piece of the marketing plan. Will you sell this product exclusively online, in your brick and mortar storefront, or both? If you’ll be selling online, will it be from your own website, through Amazon, Etsy, eBay, an app store or somewhere else?  What about direct mail? You have to take distribution into account as well. Do you have an infrastructure that can handle large-scale demand, and deliver the product in a timely fashion to any geographic location? And, do you have enough product on hand to meet that demand?

Finally, “promotional strategy.” How will you get the word out about the product or service? Which methods and tools will you use to let customers know about what you sell? Are you planning to buy advertising, or will you need to rely on free and low-cost ways to promote your business? Will you use digital or print marketing? An Infomercial? In-store advertising? Social media? Press releases, interviews, blog articles, flea markets or purchasing booth space at a conference?

Marketing is the larger term that encompasses all of these other terms.

What Is Advertising?

Advertising is the fourth “p” in the marketing workflow—“promotional strategy.” It’s all actions that get the product or service in front of the eyes and ears of a potential buyer. Those include paid advertising as well as word of mouth marketing, networking and other free ways to get the word out. Advertisers often need to produce ads in multiple forms including print, digital, radio, commercial, billboard, infomercials, booth setups, and more.

There are plenty of advertising agencies to choose from. The largest agencies who serve big corporate clients and are likely too costly for most small business owners but smaller, up and coming teams are more reasonably priced. For occasional needs, look for a freelancer to work with. Your best bet is to ask around and choose people that come highly recommended. Anybody can say that they understand advertising but that doesn’t mean they should handle your marketing budget or that they can create ads that get good ROI for your business.

How Does Public Relations Fit in?

People like to do business with people they know, or think they know and with businesses that have a good reputation. Public relations helps build awareness for a business. It is also used to repair a business’ or owner’s reputation when the company or individual has had a misstep. Among the ways companies build a positive image is by sponsoring events, supporting a charity, working with schools or faith-based organizations, or partnering with local government. 

Public relations people may also try to position their client as an expert in their field by setting them up for interviews, working with journalists to get their name in text-based articles, and writing and submitting press releases.

Some experts say that hiring a public relations agency as a small business isn’t necessary since the business’s marketing budget is oftentimes low. If you hire a PR person, ask them for specific details on what they do and how you will measure their success. Some may only troll the Internet looking for ways to get your name in print. You could hire a virtual assistant or another Internet-savvy person to do that for you at a fraction of the cost—if that’s all they do.

RELATED: Public Relations Marketing

How Publicity Differs

Although similar to public relations, publicity isn’t the same. Publicity is what happens when you or your company get mentioned in the media or online (which is another form of media.) It may be the result of a specific public relations outreach,for instance, the local newspaper runs an article about an event and mentions your company sponsored it. It can also be the results of contacting reporters or influential bloggers with information that will interest their audience, and get recognition for your business. 

Small business owners probably don’t need a publicist at the early stages of their growth. Unless their personality is their business (public speakers, doctors, and lawyers, for example) they may never need a publicist.

RELATED: The 10 Most Common Publicity Mistakes

What About Branding?

When you see a silver apple, do you think of a certain technology company? When you see golden arches, does it make you hungry for a cheeseburger? When you see the iconic “swoosh”, do you think of a certain athletic company? Yes, Apple, McDonald’s, and Nike have all built brands easily recognizable. Ideally, when a person thinks of (insert your product or service) they think of your brand.

That’s called brand recognition in the marketing world. Branding is the process of building that recognition through the design of the entire look and feel including colors, fonts, word choice, music, and imagery. Branding experts like to say, “everything communicates” and they make sure that the brand is communicated correctly.

RELATED: The Secret Behind Successful Branding

Bottom Line

Each of these disciplines has people that want your business. Many small business experts advise owners with small budgets not to rush into formalized advertising at the beginning. Sometimes, good old fashioned “pounding the pavement” marketing is the best way until the business starts to grow and the business model is running efficiently.

If you’re building a product from scratch or your business is brand-new, consider a branding expert for logo development as well as the entire look and feel. A little money invested in branding at the beginning will save you a lot of money cleaning it up later.

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