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  • Writer's pictureErin Ratliff

Breaking Down The Differences between Marketing and Communications




When it comes to business strategy, the terms Communications (i.e Public Relations) and Marketing (i.e Sales) are often used interchangeably. While they do overlap in many areas, they each serve distinct purposes and employ different tactics to achieve their goals. Understanding these differences is crucial for small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to optimize their outreach and engagement efforts.


In this post we'll review all the similaries and differences to help you decide where to invest your resources and attention.


"PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering - it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape."

Laura Ries


Similarities & Differences between Comms & Marketing

One common misconception is that Comms and Marketing is solely service, support, or task-based work. In reality it's more about big picture functions, solutions and strategy. Marketing and Communications is about LEADERSHIP. MarComms professionals (the good ones, at least) are business advisors and consultants first, product-producers and order-takers second. We're helping solve problems, resolve conflict, avoid crisis' right alongside the executives.


Marketing, Sales, PR, and Communications all share the common goal of using human connection to drive business success. They focus on creating and delivering messages that effectively convey the value of a product or service, influence public perception, and generate customer engagement and loyalty. These disciplines work together to understand the target audience, craft compelling narratives, and strategically disseminate information to promote the brand, foster trust, and ultimately drive revenue growth.


There are key differences of course:


Focus: Communications/PR focuses on exchanging information through words, symbols, signs, behaviors that help maintain a positive image, while Marketing/Sales focuses on the ACTIONS of attracting an audience, promoting products/services and driving conversions.


Timeframe: Communications/PR often involves long-term strategies to build the brand and maintain reputation and relationships, while Marketing can include both long-term approaches and short-term sales campaigns and tactics.


Measurement & Analytics: Communications/PR is measured by metrics involving media coverage, public perception, and stakeholder engagement, while Marketing is measured by sales, leads, conversion rates, and return on investment (ROI).




"If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations."

Bill Gates


Strategic Communications & PR: Building & Maintaining a Positive Public Image

Communications is not just about sharing information. It’s about connecting people, aligning everyone’s goals, and building a culture that everyone feels part of. 


It's ultimate goal is to "Protect & Promote," elevating the brand and its reputation.

Effective communications requires

  • Clarity & Consistency - concise, direct tone of voice

  • Personalization - using data to increase engagement

  • Multi-channel Approach - meeting your audience where they are

  • Feedback - processes to see how message is perceived and translated


Key Communications Tactics


Branding

Creating a distinct identity for a product, service, or company through elements which distinguish it in the marketplace and fosters customer recognition and loyalty.

  • Visual/aesthetics: logo, colors, fonts, etc

  • Personality/voice


Design & Creative

  • Brand style guidelines

  • Collateral development

  • Photography

  • Videography


Product/Service Marketing

  • Naming

  • Pricing

  • Packaging

Positioning, Storytelling & Messaging

Crafting and conveying a compelling narrative that effectively communicates a brand's values, mission, and unique selling points to engage and connect with the target audience across website, social media, email, print and more.

  • Social Proof: Sharing success stories, case studeies and client testimonials to build trust and credibility with leads. Highlighting positive reviews and ratings on social media and the website to reassure leads of the value of the offerings


CSR & ESG Initiatives & Messaging: Ensuring stakeholders are aware of the company's commitment to ethical practices, sustainability, and social impact.

  • Third Party Certifications

  • Corporate Giving/Philanthropy


Strategic Partnership Management: Negotiating, fostering and maintaining collaborative relationships with key stakeholders and investors, leveraging these alliances to enhance brand visibility, credibility, and messaging reach.


Customer/Client Service & Support

Identifying the customer's pain points and providing solutions, taking a problem-solving approach with customized solutions and value propositions.


"Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad."

Richard Branson



Key PR Tactics

The purpose of Public Relations is to manage the reputation of a business or organization. This involves maintaining a positive public image, mitigating risk, building relationships with press, media, partners and other various stakeholders, and handling any issues that could impact the organization’s reputation.


Media/Press Relations: Developing and maintaining relationships with journalists and media outlets to ensure positive coverage. Strategizing announcement rollouts, issuing press releases, organizing press conferences, and responding to media inquiries.

  • Media Training

  • Pitching & Outreach


Online Reputation Management: Ensuring a positive online presence through various channels- social media, business directories, customers reviews and more.

  • Crisis Comms/Management: Addressing any negative events or publicity that could harm the organization's reputation. This includes preparing crisis communication plans and managing communication during emergencies.

  • Awards programming


Internal/Corporate Comms: Ensuring that employees are informed and engaged through newsletters, intranet updates, and internal events.

  • Employee experience

  • Change management communications

  • Executive communications/positioning


Community/Public Relations: Building relationships and engagement with the community through content, events, sponsorships, and CSR initiatives.

  • Event Management

  • Influencer/Ambassador/Spokesperson Recruitment & Management

  • Thought Leadership

  • Corporate/Charitable Giving - sponsorships, donations, etc


"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself."

Philip Kotler


Marketing & Sales: Promoting Products/Services and Driving Conversions

Marketing is focused on promoting products or services to potential customers and driving sales. The aim is to understand customer needs and create value propositions that attract and retain customers.


Key Marketing Activities

Market Research & Definition: your audience Understanding the target market, keywords, customer behavior, and competition to inform marketing strategies.

  • Audience/List segmentation

  • Trendspotting


Digital Advertising/Paid Media/Paid Aquisition: Creating and distributing advertisements through various channels such as social media, TV, print, search engines and other digital platforms.

  • Social Media Retargeting: Displaying ads to users who have previously visited the website but didn’t convert, encouraging them to return.

  • Display Ads: Using Google Display Network to show retargeting ads on various websites to re-engage potential leads.

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Increasing a website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through strategic advertising.

  • Strategic Content Partnerships- Advertorial


Growth & Performance Marketing

  • Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing a website's content, structure, and technical aspects to improve its visibility and ranking in organic search engine results.

  • Lead Generation: Identifying, attracting and nurturing potential customers through targeted marketing efforts to convert them into paying customers.

  • Engagement, upsell, retention, referrals

  • Funnel optimization

  • Organic search engine optimization


Inbound Marketing: Attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful. Utilizing online platforms to reach and engage with potential customers, launching targeted campaigns or offering special discounts and deals to boost short-term sales.

  • Email Marketing: Sending targeted emails to prospects and customers through newsletters, promotional emails, automated email sequences, personalized emails.

  • Social Media Marketing (SMM) : Using social media platforms to promote products or services through organic posts and content to foster interactions and direct traffic to conversions.

    • Giveaways, contests,

    • Influencer collaborations

    • Audience/Customer Groups

    • Post planning

    • Post copywriting


  • Content Marketing: Developing valuable content to attract and engage customers or demonstrate the value or benefits of a product or service.

    • Blogging

    • Video production

    • Infographic design

    • Editorial calendar planning


Event/Field Marketing: Promoting a product, brand, or service through in-person or virtual events

such as trade shows, conferences, webinars, product launches, workshops.


Affiliate Marketing: Rewarding affiliates for driving traffic or sales through their marketing efforts. Examples: Referral programs, affiliate networks, performance-based commissions.


Direct Mail Marketing: Sending physical promotional materials (brochures, postcards, catalogs, promotional gifts) to a targeted list.


Mobile (SMS) Marketing: Reaching the audience through their mobile devices through text messages, in-app advertising, mobile-optimized websites, location-based offers.


"Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell."

Seth Godin


Key Outbound Sales Tactics

Proactively reaching out to potential customers and building relationships.

  • Direct Sales: Selling directly to consumers through door-to-door sales, telemarketing / cold calling, personal selling/networking, retail sales.

  • Consultative Sales: Providing tailored solutions through needs analysis, personalized presentations, follow-up consultations.


Account-based/B2B Sales: Selling products or services to other businesses.

through relationship management, proposal presentations, corporate partnerships.

  • Inside Sales: Selling remotely, typically over the phone or online with Virtual meetings, email communication, online demonstrations.

  • Outside Sales: Selling in person, often involving travel to meet clients, involving Face-to-face meetings, site visits, networking events.


Traditional/B2C Sales: Selling products or services directly to consumers through e-commerce, retail, direct marketing, promotions, discount offers, flash sales, and other strategies to promote impulse buying and transactional sales.


“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.”

Tom Fishburne​ 




Marketing Specialists vs Generalists

Marketing and communications is often misunderstood because it encompasses a wide range of activities and strategies, making it challenging to define concisely and to delegate properly.


Additionally, the rapid evolution of digital marketing and the influx of data analytics further complicate the public’s understanding, as these areas require specialized knowledge and continuous adaptation to new tools and platforms.


No matter what type of marketer you are (or hire), the following are key.

  • Adaptability. Trends and technologies are constantly evolving so it's important to be able to quickly learn and implement new strategies as needed .

  • Problem Solving. You must be able to draw from a diverse skill set to find innovative solutions .


Marketing Generalists have a broad and holistic understanding of various marketing disciplines. This allows them to see the big picture and understand how different roles, teams and components of marketing align and work together to achieve business goals . Generalists can pivot easily, wear many hats and reducing the need for a larger team and allowing the business to grow more efficiently. The consequence of this?


BURNOUT.


I recommend getting to know the marketers in your life and finding out what lights them up. Remember, Marketers are PEOPLE too, with varying degrees of energy and preferences as to where they focus their time and attention.


Having a distinct focus or specialty allows a marketer or communications professional to develop deep expertise in a particular area, which can lead to more effective and innovative strategies. It can also be extremely helpful in reducing burnout.


Specialists have the ability to stay ahead of industry trends, apply best practices, and deliver superior results in their niche. This depth of knowledge is crucial in today's complex marketing landscape, where targeted, data-driven approaches often yield better outcomes than broad, generalized tactics.


Many people conflate marketing with advertising, sales, or public relations, not recognizing it as a holistic approach that includes market research, product development, branding, distribution, and customer service.


Similarly, communications professionals are not just catch-all admin professionals there to do the projects or tasks you don't want to do. We don't take orders. Instead, count on us to question, advise and connect the dots. We're high-level strategic thinkers who can map business goals to communications objectives and tactics. 


When an organization is properly staffed and running as it should (with clear roles, responsibilities, objectives and goals), marketers and comms professionals can be proactive and responsive, not reactive.  Be prepared for us to set our boundaries and redirect you without getting offended. We're simply focusing on our priorities - same as you!


Wrapping It Up

Both communications/PR and marketing/sales encompass a wide range of types and tactics, each with its own set of strategies and tools designed to achieve specific goals. By understanding and implementing a combination of approves above businesses can effectively reach their target audience, build relationships, and drive growth.


While Communications/PR and Marketing have distinct roles, they are most effective when blended together in a cohesive strategy that can amplify a brand’s message and ensure consistency across all channels. Understanding the nuances between Communications/PR and Marketing allows businesses to leverage the strengths of both to achieve their goals. By integrating these approaches simultaneously, businesses can create a comprehensive strategy that enhances their brand and engages their audience effectively.


A good marketer is a Jack or Jill of all trades, with a well-rounded working knowledge of all of the strategies above. However, there are only a set number of hours in a day, and one person can only do so much. It's only natural that you'd need a TEAM to make it all happen.


Do you need support? I have over 15 years of experience in marketing, communications and PR and would love to share my wisdom and expertise with you. I look forward to connecting soon!



"Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell."

Seth Godin



 

Erin Ratliff is a holistic business coach and organic growth & visibility marketer serving energy-sensitive, earth-loving, heart-led soul-preneurs, self-starters, and founders with the mission of personal and planetary healing.


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