The difference between marketing and communication


Ach – it all gets lumped in together: marketing, communication, PR. They each have their forms and functions, but because there’s so much crossover (and because, let’s face it, communication is embedded into every damned thing), the lumping happens. But it’s important for a business or organisation to know the difference. Why? Because if you’re in a position to hire both marketing people and comms people, you’ll want to know how to get the best from each. And because if you are in a position where you can only hire one person to do both, you’ll want to make sure that both the marketing and the comms hit the mark. This is a real concern if – like most people called to this blended position – he or she specialises in only one of the two.

(By the way, also because next week I’ll be talking about the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy, and I want you all primed and ready. That’s me doing a little lumping together of my own.)

Now… we could drill down and define marketing and communication right down to the minutiae, but I want to concentrate on the two main differences under which everything fits. The differences are in purpose and target.

First, purpose:

Marketing is about what you want people to know.

Communication is about what people want to know from you.

In marketing, you have a product, you have a service, and you want people to know all about it so that then, hopefully, they’ll choose it. You set the agenda, and the agenda revolves around letting your people know about the product or service, how much it costs, and where to get it.

In communication, people have a need to know certain things about you, your business or organisation, and your product or service so that then, hopefully, they’ll continue to choose it in the long term. They set the agenda, and the agenda revolves around what is useful, valuable, and interesting to them, and them only.

Second, target. Even more simply put:

The target of your marketing is your market.

The target of your communication is your audience.

An audience may have a market inside it, and I hope for your sake that it does, but a market won’t necessarily have or be an audience. (It can, in fact, exist quite happily without one.) You must know whether your target is a market or an audience because that will define your efforts.

If you imagine marketing and communication as two lines, you can see many points where they’d cross over and intercept, but they are still separate and distinct. You can combine and smoosh together marketing and communication as much as you like, but if you consider them one and the same they will, at best, fall short of the mark. Most of they time, they will fail.

On the other hand, if you realise not just how different they are, but how complementary, you’ll tap into quite the thing: an ability to get the best from each one and an ability to combine the two for ultimate presence and branding power.

It’s the difference that makes all the difference.