Revenue & Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
January 7th, 2020
Marketing vs advertising: What’s the difference?
Advertising involves a company paying to get its message in front of a target audience. Marketing is much broader: It includes all aspects of advertising, but also the research needed to serve those ads properly, to price those goods and services competitively, and to monitor the efficacy of all related efforts.
Due to the mostly binary roots of the English language, we often have two words that we use interchangeably.
In most cases, these quasi-synonyms each derive from one of our two ancestral linguistic sources: Latinate (that is, Latin, often coming by way of French) or Germanic (you know, Anglos, Saxons, Vikings, etc.).
That’s why words like "chair" and "seat" are frequently used with liberal swapping. Chair is Latin. Seat is German.
We have aches (Germanic) and pains (Latin); we give an answer (G) or a response (L); something is big (G) or large (L), small (G) or petite (L).
We enter wedlock (G) or marriage (L), which is lawful (G) and legal (L), when we find love (G) and feel amorous (L), hoping we haven’t made a mistake (G) or an error (L), planning to celebrate yearly (G) or annually (L).
Although, marketing and advertising are not from different roots (both are Latin), we often err and use these words interchangeably. However, they are not synonyms.
In fact, there is much greater difference between marketing and advertising than there is between seat and chair, so it is best not to confuse them.
Marketing vs. advertising
When I seek to understand the nuances of language, I always start with the dictionary.
The same source describes marketing as “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”
In other words, advertising involves the creation and distribution of content that seeks to spread awareness about certain products or services.
Marketing, by contrast, is much broader.
It contains all facets of advertising, but also includes the research needed to serve those ads properly, to price those goods and services competitively, and to monitor the efficacy of all related efforts.
Simply put, advertising is arguably a function of marketing.
Inbound marketing endeavors to naturally attract people to your business by way of content rather than interrupting their lives by inserting your messages, as traditional advertising methods are known to do.
This methodology presents an even more stark division between advertising and marketing.
Here’s a young and prescient Brian Halligan explaining:
Whereas traditional advertising practices put ads into TV programs, on billboards by the highway, and into magazines and newspapers, inbound marketing aims to reach them when they’re ready and looking for the information online; when they’ve already shown an interest or need.
The fact is, the way people buy has changed.
Today, we make the majority of our buying decisions long before talking to a salesperson or walking into a store. We use websites and social media to research our every purchase, from where to get lunch to what kind of car to drive.
We’re no longer paying much attention to the billboards we pass as we drive or the commercials that air between our favorite shows (if we’re even using a platform that airs commercials, that is.)
What’s more, people have increasingly come to resent such “outbound” ads, seeing them, as Halligan calls them, “interruption-based.”
In fact, eMarketer reported in November 2019 that the US has passed the peak of TV ad spend “and a 1.0% bump in 2020 from the presidential election and Summer Olympics will not stave off a long-term decline for ad spending on the biggest traditional channel.”
In Halligan’s view, marketing can be done without resorting to intrusive advertising.
“Google has become a primary way by which people learn and do research,” he notes.
But “how do you set up your website...so you can get found [by search engines] on important terms people are searching for who might be interested in buying your products?....How do you take advantage of this changing nature of shopping and learning to get found by more potential customers? And fill your funnel in a new way, and really grow the top of your funnel with sales leads, and engage your marketplace in new and interesting ways?”
By creating and publishing content, using search engine optimization (SEO) to get your website found, using landing pages to generate leads, sending marketing emails, and publishing on social media — among other things. These are all proven inbound marketing tactics that do not rely on paid advertising.
Considering Brian recorded this video in 2007, it’s amazing how accurately he predicted the world today.
But can advertising be inbound?
If you adhere to a more canonical reading of the inbound philosophy, you probably see advertisements as antithetical to inbound marketing.
However, in the world of 2020, new advances in data and technology allow us to operate traditionally outbound advertising methods in alignment with inbound principles.
Many social media platforms (like Facebook and LinkedIn), for example, allow us to show ads to highly targeted audiences.
Rather than blasting out an advertisement to everyone watching the six o’clock news, we can show our advertisement only to people who have visited our site before, or only to 25-30-year-old model train enthusiasts in southern Arizona who have a college degree, if that’s exactly who we're after.
If the founding objection to outbound advertising was that companies were interrupting the lives of many uninterested parties in order to reach the few who might buy, this new ability to target ads seems to offer a resolution.
Here at IMPACT, we focus almost all of our efforts on inbound marketing — and we encourage most of our clients to do the same.
Many people think of paid advertising and inbound marketing to be two separate tactics. The reality is they can absolutely be used to complement one another.
For example, After seeing great engagement on a campaign promoting one of our video services here at IMPACT, we’re now retargeting those prospects with some of our most valuable articles and content about video. In this case, we were able to capture a new audience through paid advertising and continue engaging with them through our existing inbound content.
In other words, targeted and retargeted ads, with the specific focus allowed by modern data collection, can enhance and support inbound efforts. In this way, advertising and inbound marketing are not mutually exclusive.
However, what will not change is the breadth of marketing — that it includes any action that seeks to spread awareness about a product or service, or to skillfully bring it to market.
Consider advertising to be a subset of marketing, and to involve the paid placement of messages in front of an audience, whether that be a traditional ad played during the Super Bowl or a highly-targeted LinkedIn ad that’s aimed just at a small cadre of “lookalikes.”
And, try to refrain from using advertising and marketing interchangeably. They’re related, for certain, but they’re not twins.
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