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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Marketing vs. Advertising: Know the Difference

One of the biggest challenges of being a small business owner is that you must become an expert on many facets of business even if you lack education and practical experience.  Just because you went to school and got an accounting degree doesn’t mean you know much, if anything, about advertising.  Yet, in order to succeed, you must gain at least some level of competency in all these different areas; at least enough to know if the people you’ve hired are doing a good job.

One area that I want to address in this post has to do with marketing v. advertising.  The reason is that the marketing world has undergone a sort of rapid evolution in the past couple years with the insane popularity of Web 2.0/Social Networking.  Web-based marketing, including affiliate marketing, is often good-old fashioned advertising (or worse, spam) dressed in sheep’s clothing.  It is important to recognize the differences between marketing and advertising to make sure you’re getting the most from your marketing budget; and since your marketing efforts are you company’s “first impression” to the public, you also want to be sure you’re representing yourself in the best possible light.

The best way to describe it is using the analogy of a toolbox.  Marketing is a toolbox full of stuff that you can use to represent your company; and advertising is simply one tool.  What that means is that you must have an overall plan of action in place before you make a decision about any kind of advertising.  An ad campaign that does not fit into your overall marketing strategy can actually do more harm than good.

Many advertising agents will try to sell you ad space/time using statistics, and get you to jump on a bandwagon with other companies similar to yours who are doing the same thing.  But you have to look at the big picture.  Your success depends entirely on your ability to stand out from the pack.  If you’re using the same “tried and true” methods to advertise and market your business, it doesn’t matter how good you are it’s not going to get you any attention.

The great thing about marketing is that it is actually a creative endeavor.  You can devise new ways of doing it which will become part of your company’s identity.  Much of the corporate marketing that is done is highly refined, created to appeal to the broadest range of people.  But recent success stories show that it is the unique, niche markets that have quirky personalities that are thriving.

The bottom line is this:  You’re not going to succeed at business without a solid marketing plan.  And that doesn’t mean buying premium ad space or giving away stuff with your logo on it.  It means looking at your overall market, comparing the strategies of other companies; being innovative with your writing, promotion, and advertising; and having a way to track the effectiveness of your campaigns.  It means basing your advertising decisions on more than just cost.

In the world of online marketing, you can get lost in the shuffle.  Each one of us is bombarded with emails, messages from our “friends”, and banner ads that it has become easy to tune these things out.  Remember:  the key to effective marketing is always going to be making a personal connection with your prospective customer.  So try to look at all your marketing and advertising with a fresh eye and imagine yourself seeing it for the first time.  What does it say about your company and your product?  Is it compelling enough to make you want to find out more?  Is it associated with other, controversial or unattractive concepts?  Be prepared to hear honest feedback and to use it as you constantly refine and redefine your marketing strategy.

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