You’re not the first person to wonder whether marketing and advertising are really that different. Learn more about how these two interconnected disciples are defined, how they influence each other, and what they look like in practice.
According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing is a business practice that involves identifying, predicting, and meeting customer needs.” Already you might be able to detect a difference between marketing and advertising, since advertising assumes you want or need what they’re selling. But marketing’s approach is so much broader. You can think of marketing as “surveying the market” and then, once you’ve learned what the market finds appealing, devising a plan to make the biggest possible impact on consumers. Let’s discuss some key parts of marketing:
How will you be able to identify, predict, and meet a customer’s needs if you don’t ask tons of questions about those needs? Research underpins everything else on this list, and the more you research, the more you learn and the questions you ask will get smarter.
Basic marketing research and principles involve thinking about who your brand appeals to and what visual and emotional impressions connect with the audience you’re targeting. Answer those questions, and you’re thinking like a marketing pro. Stuck on where to start? Learn from experts about choosing brand colors, how to take brand photos, what you should consider when creating your logo, and more.
You guessed it—research helps you discover the best way to capture your target audience, aka, who you think your brand will appeal to—and turn them into customers. This long-term, planned-out approach sets marketing apart from other consumer practices and helps ensure long-term success.
There used to be 4Ps—product, price, place, and promotion—and you would strategize your marketing approach around these components. This was called “the marketing mix” by advertising professor Neil Borden. But marketing evolves, and so three more Ps were added to the mix: people (your people, employees, rather than your audience), process (how your customers receive your products or services), and physical evidence (proof that shows the benefit of working with you).
Types of marketing
Traditionally, marketing has been divvyed up by medium—something it has in common with advertising. But technology’s growth means the world has broadened its communication opportunities and shrunk the distance between and places, and so has marketing’s approach. Here’s some types of marketing in use today, according to the American Marketing Association, and you might notice overlap in their goals:
This encompasses anything on the web such as blogs, email, and SEO, and includes both desktop and mobile devices in its scope. Social media marketing is an important subset of digital marketing which has some specialized rules and roles like influencers, and principles to maximize returns on each platform.
When a brand tries to standardize its messaging and look worldwide, or when it tailors its approach to a specific region, country, or even city.
Ironically, relationship marketing is one type of marketing that doesn’t have a relationship with advertising. Instead, a brand or business focuses on building the relationship and cultivating customer loyalty.
A theoretical and detailed branch of an already theoretical and detailed study, brand management involves studying a brand’s components, identity and services and seeing if there’s opportunities for growth. What if you changed your logo color, for instance, or started offering appointments at different times? These suggestions can improve a company’s image and create new opportunities for customers to fall in love with their brand. Not sure what exactly goes into building a brand? We've got you covered with expert advice on what you'll need to create a brand and help it grow.
Development usually implies something new and exciting is happening, and product development can involve introducing new products and services or revamping existing ones based on research—perhaps related to those suggestions from brand management.
By now, you’ve probably realized that advertising is narrower than marketing. It’s a vast field of its own, and advertising takes up a substantial chunk of the marketing puzzle, but it’s still just a piece. If marketing is theory, advertising is practice – or put another way, advertising is marketing in action. So, what does advertising look like? Given how many ads we encounter daily, with advertising, you often know it when you see it. Here’s a list of terms that can break it down.
The overall approach to raising awareness of a product or service (usually for profit, but not always). A campaign might have many pieces of individual content, or deliverables, in different mediums, or modes of communication.
Materials that contain the message the advertiser wants to share. It can be as short as the product’s name or a slogan—a catchphrase that crams most of a brand’s identity into one verbal package—or as long as this blog post.
The colors, pictures, or images that illustrate the idea or message of a particular ad or brand. Effective visuals usually include a brand’s logo so customers can understand who they should connect with to learn more or make a purchase.
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Types of advertising
If some of these seem like a repeat from above, remember that marketing is about strategy, and advertising is the tangible product of that strategy. For example, Facebook product placement is not just part of digital marketing strategy, but is, in fact, an advertisement. Here’s some common types of advertising according to the American Marketing Association:
The media you’ve heard of, like print, radio, and TV.
If you’ve ever been in a store with giant signs in the aisles about a holiday sale, or sampled a tasty treat while grocery shopping, you’ve been exposed to retail advertising.
These are your Facebook ads, the website pop-ups, and sponsored blog posts, and are a huge competent of digital marketing. Pay-per-click advertising is a subspeciality where companies can gather data about you through the ad placement and pay if and when you click on its link. These free Facebook ad templates from Microsoft Create can help save you time and effort.
This specifically refers to using your phone—smart or not—to send you text messages or connect with you in other ways. Clicked on an ad that immediately dialed a business’s number? Mobile advertising in action – and possibly pay-per-click too!
Think billboards, whether pasted-up paper along the highway or giant digital pixels in Times Square.
Comparing marketing and advertising
So yes, marketing and advertising are deeply entwined. Let’s highlight why—and even start unpacking some differences between marketing and advertising as we do:
Both require research
Neither marketing or advertising can succeed if they’re not curious about what kind of communication and message works in any given situation, and the rest of this list illustrates how important that research can be.
Both consider audience
Marketing takes a big-picture approach to identify potential audiences, their needs and desires, and ads become hyper-focused on constellation of particular demographics, location, and income data stemming from marketing research. You might create an ad design to grab the attention of, say middle class Black men from Pensacola, Florida, which marketing research says are an untapped market for your particular product.
Both employ strategy
What’s the best time of year to sell Christmas trees—a marketing question—is not all that different from, “What time of day are people most likely to see this commercial?”
Both consider medium
Marketing research can identify what type of people react best to what medium and if they’re the kind of people you want to target as customers. Advertising asks, “If we’re trying to sell a digital camera by bragging about its picture quality, does it really make sense to buy space on a podcast?” As the old saying goes, the medium is the message.
Marketing versus advertising: the contrast
But if marketing and advertising were the same thing, they probably wouldn’t be two different words. After reading this far, their differences should seem familiar, but here’s some new ways they show up in practice:
Techniques and approach
The scale of marketing is so much bigger than advertising, and the intent fundamentally differs too. Marketing wants to understand what people want, and based on that understanding, it gives birth to advertising, which assumes that want exists and tells you how to fill it. Advertising educates consumers on the existence and benefits of a product, while marketing only tells you who might be receptive to education.
Both advertising and marketing can be as spendy or as low-cost as you want, but while you may throw money at a marketing research firm to give you data that informs your strategy, thinking like a marketer is also something you can do for free. With advertising, you may not only pay for graphics and content creation—although that too has DIY potential—but you’ll likely buy space and time on a medium, or platform, to share your message.
A marketing strategy’s success can be measured in how many and what type of ads generated interest or if your ads reached the right crowd, or if buyers praise your product design or can remember your company’s name for more than five minutes. Advertising can be scaled up too, but fundamentally it wants to know if a campaign’s creative content generated sales, while marketing can give advertising teams advice about creating better, future ads. Want to dive deeper on metrics? Check out these tips from social media expert and coach Courtney Park for how to grow organically on Instagram.
The difference between marketing and advertising can be profound but understanding that difference can help refine your approach to sharing your ideas, goods, and services through advertising. And good news—reading this article counts as marketing research.