Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
May 20th, 2021
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.
There are words we use interchangeably without any noticeable difference, like chair and seat, and then there are words we sometimes interchange but shouldn’t. Although marketing and advertising are closely related, they are not synonyms.
Marketing is the much broader of the two terms. It describes a vast range of efforts designed to bring a product, service, or event to market. Advertising, by contrast, is a subset of marketing that involves actively putting a certain message in front of an audience.
Of the two, marketing is often the less visible, although it’s hard to escape advertisements that interrupt our YouTube videos, shout at us from roadside billboards and even tell us what to buy once we’re in a store.
Those are all advertisements, but it is marketing that coordinates those ads, determines the right messaging to use, discount to give, or audience to target — and evaluates the results.
Organizations allocate significant resources to marketing (and, by extension, advertising).
As a general rule of thumb, businesses spend around 10% of their annual revenue on marketing and advertising. According to LegalZoom, “The average [marketing] allocation usually ranges between 9-12% of the annual budget, while the smallest businesses may go as low as 2%.”
For larger businesses, we’re talking about a lot of money — all of which is focused on providing the right message to the right customers.
In other words, advertising involves the creation and distribution of content that seeks to spread awareness about certain products or services.
As consumers, we are all familiar with many of the most common types of digital advertisements today, but advertising can take many forms, including:
Internet display ads
Search and social media ads
Radio and podcast ads
Billboards and outdoor ads
Marketing, by contrast, is much broader.
What is marketing?
Marketing is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”
Marketing contains all facets 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.
Kathleen Booth, VP of marketing at Maryland-based clean.io, believes that “advertising is a subset of marketing.”
She sees marketing as focused on “accomplishing some sort of change in your audience,” whether that change is in knowledge, awareness, or belief.
“Advertising,” says Kathleen, “is about paying to get your message in front of your audience in order to bring that change about.”
“It, by definition, requires some form of transaction. It requires a payment to be made.”
By contrast, marketing can be done without any payment whatsoever.
Here’s a young and prescient Brian Halligan explaining inbound way back in 2007:
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.
Considering Brian recorded this video in 2007, it’s amazing how accurately he predicted the world today.
But can advertising be inbound?
At first glance, it’s easy to imagine advertisements as incompatible with inbound marketing.
However, new advances in data and technology allow us to operate traditionally outbound advertising methods in alignment with inbound principles.
Many social media platforms (such as Facebook and LinkedIn), for example, allow us to show ads to highly targeted audiences.
Rather than blasting out an advertisement to everyone watching the 6 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 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 services here at IMPACT, we’re now retargeting those prospects with some of our most valuable articles and content. 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.
Give your team everything they need to experience inbound marketing success.
IMPACT teaches companies the most essential sales and marketing functions through an intensive 12-24 month program of coaching, training, and strategy — resulting in better leads and more closed sales.
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