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Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Branding

Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Branding

Marketing Advice


It’s no secret that there is a lot of confusion between marketing, advertising and branding. But I think marketers are partly to blame.

So I thought I’d try a different approach to help make sense of it all.

Written for the small business owner. Not marketers.

Branding = Understanding Yourself

Who are we? Who do we serve? How are we different? What problem do we solve for our customers?

These are the fundamental questions of Branding.

Branding, also referred to as Brand Development, is the internal work that is the foundation for everything else you do in your business. And it all starts with you. Your business.

Before you can determine who you serve and what problem you solve, before you can build upon that foundation to grow your business, you have to understand what your business is about.

You have to know your story.

Your story is what gives your business purpose and sets you apart. It’s what inspires your team and connects you to your customers.

But, you can’t tell your story until you know your story.

It’s the core of all branding work. And, I’m not going to lie, it just scratches the surface of branding.

Things like brand strategy, logos, colour-schemes, messaging and maintaining that work are all part of the branding equation, but it essentially all comes down to figuring out who you are, what you stand for and what you offer customers.

Marketing = Understanding Your Customer

“Marketing” is such a confusing term because it is so broad in nature and covers a variety of disciplines.

“Marketing” is the whole enchilada. Market research, product development, pricing, customer support, websites, brochures, social media, SEO, publicity, public relations, event planning, blogging, community outreach, etc., etc. are all subsets of marketing.

As are branding and advertising (hence the confusion).

And while they all fall within the marketing bucket, they are each a different discipline that use a different skillset.

What’s good to remember is that marketing is a process.

It’s a process by which your business gets and keeps customers. How your business gets and keeps customers is going to be different from how another company gets and keeps theirs.

And it all comes down to knowing the customer.

  • Understanding who the customer is and what they need/want
  • Developing products and services that will appeal to them
  • Positioning those products and services in a way that will resonate with them
  • Communicating and promoting those products and services to them

So where Branding is about You. Marketing is about Them.

Advertising = Paying Someone to Tell Your Customer about You

People have a tendency to use “advertising” and “marketing” synonymously. Advertising is not the same as marketing.

I’m going to say that again. Advertising is not the same as marketing.

Like social media, event planning, etc., advertising is a subset of marketing.

Generally, when I hear businesses say that, “We’re not ready to market,” – and I hear that a lot – what they really mean is that they’re not ready to spend money on advertising. And usually they’re right. They’re not ready to advertise.

In simplest terms advertising is:

  • Creating an ad
  • Paying a third-party to run that ad on their platform

One of the reasons for the confusion is that advertising used to be a much larger – and expensive – piece of the marketing pie. If you wanted to promote your business you had to pay to run an ad someplace. And that someplace was usually TV, radio, print, direct mail, outdoor billboards or digital banner ads.

Social media and blogging changed all that.

The available options for how to get your message out have exploded. There is now an abundance of tools and tactics you can use in promoting your business – from maintaining a blog on your website to taking your own photos and uploading them on Instagram.

Unless you’re paying someone else to run an ad on a platform you don’t own, you’re not advertising. You’re marketing.


Branding = You
Marketing = Customers
Advertising = “Someone Else”

Is there overlap between the three? Sure. Do the lines still get fuzzy sometimes? Absolutely.

And while marketing, advertising and branding in practice are interconnected, the terms are not synonymous.

Why is this important?

Because “we’re not ready to market” can keep a business stuck. Not engaging in the marketing activities that will help keep them in business.

Because side-stepping the work of branding keeps you from setting yourself apart. Without knowing your story – without knowing who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing – you can’t clearly communicate with your customers and tell them why you’re different from your competitors.

Yes, when marketers fall too far down the rabbit hole of “marketing speak”, our words can become gibberish. But using the right word at the right time can make a difference. In business, it can be all the difference.

When we use the right terminology we can be better understood. When we are better understood, we can do better work. And when we are doing our best work, we can build a better business.