man with ipad looking at graphs

Marketing, Advertising, and Sales, What’s the Difference?

“What are the goals for your social media plan?”

It’s a question I ask all potential clients when I sit down with them in our introductory meeting. Without fail, I hear the same words fall from their lips every time.

“To get sales (or leads depending on the type of business).”

Why do I ask the question if I already know the answer?

I ask because their answer naturally leads me to my follow-up question, the important one.

“What’s your sales strategy?”

And just as I can predict the first answer, I know this question will be met with a cocked head, quizzical look, and a somewhat nonplussed tone as they respond, “That’s why I’m hiring you. To get more sales.”

And there it is, the number one misconception business owners have when it comes to marketing their business. Marketing is not sales. Neither is advertising. Each is a component of a successful business plan to generate profit for any company, but each plays a unique role, and when they’re confused, money inevitably ends up wasted, business owners become frustrated, and success rates decline.

Over the years, after many such conversations and after witnessing many clients throw in the towel on their social media because they just can’t see the value in it, I’ve realized this lack of distinction is at the root of so much confusion and disappointment. Working in marketing, I’ve taken for granted that not everyone is as versed in these terms as people in my industry, and I feel it’s crucial anyone interested in running their own business knows the difference. So let me break it down for you.

Marketing is the strategy you use to lead people to your business. These days we call it brand awareness, and if you Google that term you will be met with over nine million results, most of which are blogs and articles published by almost every marketing and advertising agency in existence. Your marketing plan is the strategy you put in place for people to learn about your business, peak their interest in your product or service, and make sure your information is accessible so that when people decide they want to give you money, it’s easy for them to do so.

Social media is one piece of a marketing plan. It’s up to you if social media will be your sole platform you use to spread the word about your business or just one of many. But, you should look at it as your digital presence. In days past, before Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and delivered Facebook to the world, business owners would’ve hung a large sign on the front of their place of business. Preferably this sign would’ve been something large enough people could see it from a great distance and visually stimulating enough to grab their attention. In those days, they relied on their physical presence for discovery and the word of mouth of those who discovered them to help make more people aware of their business. Today, your Facebook page is your online sign post, your posts and the shares they get are your word of mouth.

Advertising is the process of paying to help generate your brand awareness and word of mouth activity. There are endless advertising possibilities out there. The age old billboards, phone books, newspaper or magazine, radio or television ads are still common and still expensive. Nowadays, you can advertise digitally in a myriad of ways, one of the most popular being to pay an affiliate company to place an add on their website. There’s also search engine marketing, which is paying to have your search result placed higher than the organic results. And, there’s advertising on social media.

Unfortunately, when it comes to social media marketing, many people are operating under an antiquated notion that you can sign up for a Facebook page or Twitter account, begin posting, and people are going to see your stuff. That just isn’t the case anymore. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, and all the rest found a way to make money – make companies using their networks pay to reach people – and they ran with it. 

Social media is now simply one of the avenues for advertising, and it takes money like all the rest. The advantage to advertising on social media isn’t that it’s cheaper – a misconception that leads to a lot of frustration –  it’s that it can be targeted. Unlike shelling out money for a billboard which may reach masses of people, but cannot possibly guarantee those masses are interested in your product, or for a television ad people tune out while waiting for their show to come back on, with an ad campaign on Facebook, you have the ability to dictate who sees your ad making every dollar reach further. Again, not to be confused with being cheaper.

Finally, this brings us to sales. Sales are the act of closing the deal. It requires interaction, engagement, and proactivity. It requires at least one person, a living breathing human being, who’s sole purpose is to sell the product. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest are not human beings. They are not your sales people. They are your market. You are your sales person. You cannot sell in an empty market, and you cannot sell if you don’t show up to the market.

They’re subtle differences at best, and it takes years of experience to understand them fully, but making that distinction is key to successfully marketing any business. Ignoring any one of these elements will ultimately lead to a low return on investment, and therefore low profits. If you have further questions about how I may help manage your social media as part of your marketing plan, or if you’re interested in signing up for my Social Media Bootcamp Basic Training, contact me today.