If you don't understand the differences between marketing, advertising, and public relations, it could be keeping you from using the best communications tool for maximum results. There are entire bodies of knowledge for each of these strategies, and the clear-cut distinctions are disappearing as each strategy's different awareness-building efforts become more and more integrated.
A basic rule of thumb is that if the end result is to match goods or services to a customer need (a marketing function), advertising and public relations become tools for the marketing function. However, if the desired objective is to advance the entire organization (a public relations function), marketing and advertising become public relations tools.
There's an old joke that highlights the differences in the three. Imagine you see a person you would like to get to know. Advertising is when you go up to the person and confidently talk about how fantastic you are, how you are the greatest person on Earth and perfectly equipped to make every dream come true. Marketing is when you strike up a conversation and, during the conversation, you explain how he or she needs a friend and you are the right person for the job. Public relations is when he or she comes up to you and says admiringly, "I've heard how wonderful you are, and I'd really like to get to know you."
Working as part of an overall effort enhances each function, but here's a quick overview of the differences and where each falls in the awareness-building spectrum.
Ask five people to define marketing, and you'll get at least 10 different responses.
It's different from direct mail, infomercials, business cards, telephone solicitations, signs or banners, classified advertising, promotional items, and so forth. We've all seen those. We can define those. But if you put all these items together, you'll begin to scratch the surface of marketing.
Jay Levinson, author of Guerrilla Marketing, says to "see marketing as a circle that starts with your idea for generating revenue and completes itself when you have the blessed patronage of repeat and referral business." His books are filled with real-life examples of people using "Guerrilla Tactics" to build their business.
The five basic components of marketing are product/service attributes, marketing communications (this is where advertising, sales promotion, and public relations can support the marketing effort), market research, customer service, and sales management.
Marketing looks toward the future to determine which products or services should be aggressively promoted, which should be maintained, and which should be abandoned. It also helps businesses decide whether or not to acquire or sell and establishes priorities for new product development.
In this process, research is critical, and you should analyze market share, segmentation, product line extensions, pricing, distribution, cost efficiency, and so on. You should also spend time investigating your market for size, growth, competition, captive customers, and the opportunity to segment.
Advertising is the best tool to use if you need to control message delivery (often because you've got a totally sales-oriented message) or if you need quick results. Basically, if you've got enough money, you can buy the time or space to say whatever you want about yourself and your business (and sometimes even about your competition).
When advertising, remember the most important elements are the size, placement, and creative message of your ad. Logically, larger ads generally have more impact because they dominate the eye and have more room for persuasive text and graphics. You also want to consider the context of where your ad is placed. Requesting placement of your ad so it doesn't compete with other ads (you want it surrounded by editorial if possible) will also make your ad stand out on the page. Smaller ads can have significant impact if they're developed and placed effectively.
Your ad copy must be credible and persuasive, and it should prominently feature a "call to action." You want to talk "benefits," not "features," in your ad copy. Don't tell your prospects how fast your product or service is--tell them how the speed will benefit them.
"The key to selecting the right media for your company is to match the qualities of each medium with your target audience," says Kristin Perry, president of Spark! Communications, a full-service marketing communication agency. "For office products retailers, a business-oriented newspaper or magazine would be an ideal choice, and direct mail can also be effective if you can tightly describe your target market and can find a mailing list that closely matches your customer profile."
Just remember that even at its most effective, advertising can only induce your target audience to try you once. Make sure you're ready to deliver when customers come calling.
Finally, if you think marketing is hard to clarify, try pinning down an understandable definition of public relations.
Perry has a good one: "Public relations is about developing and maintaining beneficial, two-way relationships with the people who can influence your success--it's not just about writing media releases," she says. "Members of the media are a big influencer, but so are customers, employees, distributors, investors, analysts, industry leaders, government regulators, community leaders, and others."
The tools of public relations are quite varied. They include media relations/publicity, customer relations, advisory groups, financial relations, employee relations, industry relations, speaker's bureaus/speaker training, community relations, crisis communications planning, special events, sponsorships, and promotions.
Public relations is diverse, and that's why it's probably the least understood tool of the three. As with any other form of communications, public relations objectives that support your company's overall strategy should be determined before plans are developed.
Public relations objectives may include increasing awareness, changing behaviors, or shifting mind-sets. But be sure you don't make the mistake of tying public relations objectives directly to sales. Take a longer-term approach, and use the tools of public relations to establish credibility, increase awareness, and build competitive distinction.
The right strategy for you
What's the right strategy to reach your objectives? That depends on a number of factors, including the nature of your product or service, means of distribution, audience demographics, and budget. A key to selecting the right strategy is to include key internal and external audience members in the planning process. These might be salespeople, dealers, distributors, service employees, or customers.
To determine the correct strategy, you need to know:
* your overall goal
* your measurable objectives
* the opportunity (the sales or performance increase you expect and the value of that in profits)
* the cost (What percentage of incremental sales will you have to invest? Keep in mind that 5 to 8 percent is standard.) Remember, no amount of positive promotion can make up for an inferior product or service.
With all your marketing communications efforts, you need to ask yourself a very important and obvious question: Are our efforts generating reasonable short- and long-term returns on our investment?
"Unfortunately, many businesses open their doors without a concrete plan of action, buy a few ads, and expect the customers to come calling," adds Perry. "Most don't make it, but the ones that figure out you've got to get creative and do more than just run an ad--that you need to develop a long-term, strategic plan and stick with it through good and bad times--are more likely to be successful."
You need a strategic, targeted awareness-building plan, whether your business is conducted on a local or national level, whether you have internal staff or work with agencies or freelancers, or (especially!) whether your budget is big or small.
When developing your plan, remember it's not just about selling a product or a service... it's everything you do--looking at the bigger picture, figuring out how to truly help your customers, creating the right environment for a sale, responding appropriately to customer cues before the sale and during the sale, and providing follow-up after the customer has placed enough trust in you to commence a sale.
In addition to paid advertising expenditures, it's about being out in your business community, speaking to groups, writing informative how-to articles, providing free seminars, sponsoring small-business organizations, and so on. And, it's about communicating a consistent message each and every time.
Branding: working together
To recap, marketing matches products and/or services to consumer needs; advertising creates and places paid media messages; and public relations builds mutually beneficial associations with publics. The best scenario is when all three of these disciplines are understood and used to support each other in an overall branding effort.
Branding is a popular buzzword today, and it's often confused with "corporate identity" or "corporate image," but these actually have very different meanings. Corporate identity refers to a company's name, logo, and tag line that creates its visual expression or its "look"--most often affected by advertising. Corporate image is the public's perception of a company, whether that perception is intended or not, and it's most often affected by a public relations campaign or the lack of one. Corporate branding is planned, strategically focused, and integrated throughout the organization. It combines these efforts to create leadership, inspiration, and clarity of messages.
The powerful branding process affects all forms of communications and is the strategically thought-out declaration of who you are, what you believe, and why your customers should put their faith in your products and services.
All of these efforts require time and commitment, but they build the intangible, yet very valuable, assets that can influence customer and employee preference and ultimately strengthen your organization's bottom line.
Rebecca Hart, APR, helps businesses establish credibility and increase awareness to build competitive advantage by developing strategic marketing communications plans, then finding the most effective way to implement programs.